The Pentagon has a message for Texas: chill.
Defense officials Monday dismissed as “wild speculation” an Internet-fueled claim that a massive summertime exercise called Jade Helm 15 for special operations commandos is a covert operation by President Barack Obama to take over Texas.
That claim was given legitimacy by Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott’s order last week for the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercises.
“Operation Jade Helm poses no threat to any American’s civil liberties,” Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday. “Operation Jade Helm is being conducted by Americans – by, specifically, American special forces personnel.”
Jade Helm 15 will be one of the biggest peacetime military exercises in six decades. Starting July 15 and lasting two months, thousands of Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALS and other special operations forces will simulate war missions in mainly remote areas of Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.
Jade Helm 15 will take place on tracts of both public and private land in the seven states.
“In every case, extensive coordination has been completed with whoever’s responsible for that land,” Warren said. “In the case of private land, we’ve spoken and made detailed coordination with the patriotic Americans who have volunteered their land for the use of this important training.”
The Texas State Guard said Monday it would follow Abbot’s order. Asked by the Star-Telegram whether it felt compelled to mobilize troops in order to monitor the exercises, Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, the unit’s public affairs officer, responded: “The Texas State Guard stands ready to support the governor of Texas when called upon to serve.”
Leaders of the Texas State Guard “are in the process of examining the best way to meet the governor’s intent,” MacGregor said. She said they are working with the U.S. Special Operations Command “in order to alleviate any possible public concerns.”
At the Pentagon, Warren said: “This is training that we’ve coordinated in great detail with both state and local officials in the various states that we'll be conducting it.”
Abbott’s order infuriated some fellow Republicans. Former state Rep. Todd Smith, a GOP lawyer from Euless who served in the Texas legislature for 16 years, posted online Saturday what he termed an “open letter” to Abbott.
“As one of the remaining Republicans who actually believes in making decisions based on facts and evidence — you used to be a judge? — I am appalled that you would give credence to the nonsense mouthed by those who instead make decisions based on Internet or radio- or shock-jock-driven hysteria,” Smith wrote. “Is there ANYBODY who is going to stand up to this radical nonsense that is a cancer on our State and Party?”
Democrats, too, expressed dismay.
“The first thing the governor should have done when he heard about concerns with U.S. military training is to support our troops and reassure the public that our U.S. military poses absolutely no threat to Texans,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.
Abbott didn’t back down. On Monday, he defended his decision.
“We are playing a pivotal role of government and that is to provide information to people who have questions,” Abbott told reporters after a prayer breakfast in North Austin, according to the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit media organization based in Austin.
The Texas State Guard, established in 1871, has 1,900 members. Unlike the Texas National Guard, it cannot operate outside Texas and cannot be pressed into national service by the president.