Conspiracy theorists with tinfoil hats became a topic of lengthy discussion in Tuesday morning’s commissioners’ court meeting, when the county commissioners addressed concerns brought by one local citizen over the U.S. Army's pending Jade Helm 15 operations scheduled to be held in southern Tom Green County in July.
Noting widespread internet alarm, blog posts and martial law theories that have followed the announcement of operations in seven states, local citizen Amy Brown began her address by stating that Bastrop County and Big Spring have held public forums with Jade Helm Operations Planner Thomas Mead, and expressed interest in doing the same in Tom Green County.
“I know that there is a lot of conspiracy theories and a lot of, you know, concern about [a] military presence…I don’t know what it is,” Brown said. “I don’t think we’re going to FEMA camps or anything, but…I thought maybe we’d be able to come and ask questions, alleviate any concerns we have as far as what we’re looking at as far as the military presence being seen or not seen…”
Brown said she felt her concerns were legitimate and wanted to know what to expect, for example, if camping out in Christoval, where some of the operations will be underway.
County Judge Steve Floyd said the commissioners have heard the concerns of the citizens and referenced a six-page document that has been disseminated to law enforcement and county officials which outlines the operations. He explained that the operations are slated to take place in the county and rural areas, rather than in the cities.
He then called on Sheriff David Jones, who explained law enforcement’s awareness of the matter and emphasized a deputy presence during Jade Helm 15.
“They have contacted us,” Jones said. “We will be contacted every day. We will have a presence in the area and they will notify us of what they’re doing. There shouldn’t be any problems. The military is very aware of the civilian population and they’re not going to do anything that would affect the civilian’s activities.”
Not satisfied with the sheriff’s response, Brown referred to the paperwork provided with the presentation, noting mention of civilian interaction.
“There are some things that say…’civil safety concerns’, I guess. It talks about interactions with the community and with civilians, and with gaining trust,” she said. “I mean, does that not apply to any of the residents of San Angelo? If so, is it just the private landowners that the missions or whatever are going to be practiced on? I mean, there are a lot of concerns.”
Brown’s question caused a stir in the room, followed by a shuffle of papers and a promise from Floyd to provide a copy of the report. Again, she reiterated her belief in the necessity of adequate military training, however stated that even her very conservative grandmother has grown suspicious of the government based on how Jade Helm has been presented to the public.
Responding to her unease, commissioner Bill Ford asked Brown to give voice and ask any questions she may have in an attempt to alleviate her concerns.
Chief among them was the approach, Brown responded, stating how to her recollection, no mention of previous meetings with the sheriff, police or local hospitals was made when Mead initially addressed commissioners’ court.
“…he comes to the court with kind of a written invitation after the fact,” Brown said. “It kind of seems [like he was] forcing an event…without giving them any opportunity to have any idea about it. It seems like it was kind of dropped in our laps and we got a newspaper article here and there…”
County Judge Steve Floyd agreed with Brown that communications had taken place prior to the commissioners’ court meeting, but said that the military has not been shrouding their plans in secrecy, contrarily being rather forthcoming with their intentions.
“They’ve been completely in the open,” Floyd said. “They had already briefed us and the sheriff and everyone, so we basically already asked all the questions we wanted to ask so there was no discussion.”
Floyd added that at the first meeting at which Jade Helm 15 was discussed in the county, no one voiced concerns or raised issues with Tom Green County’s participation. The first instances of concern began to arise roughly a month after the fact, he said, likely because reports on the county’s operations are somewhat muted in comparison to what is reported on city government.
Brown agreed, noting that she’d made “a barrage of phone calls” just the day prior trying to track down information, only to find that the operation falls under the county’s jurisdiction rather than the city’s.
“There are some concerns….” Brown reiterated. “Are we going to see them in the streets in uniform?”
Taking on a somewhat stern tone, commissioner Ford responded to Brown’s plea for answers. “Let me just give you some background on this. This is not a new operation for them. It’s new to us. It’s going to go simultaneously from July 15 to September 15 from Florida to Arizona to Utah, all through New Mexico, 16 locations in Texas and counties,” he said.
“The whole training exercise is something so new to train our troops to do something they have not trained to,” he said. “It’s called reality training. It will give them the ability to do the kind of—you would almost call it covert, but they’re doing it at night. They’re learning to live off the land in these areas in different terrains and different environments…”
After comparing the style of the Jade Helm training operations to the invasion of Nazi Germany, Ford said the military personnel would be working primarily at night and that if they were out in the day, they’d likely be dressed in civilian clothes. The training exercises would transpire on privately owned lands, he said, and only with permission from the owners.
In the information packet provided by Mead on Jade Helm, the reason for Texas’ selection was listed as a historically supportive stance with regard to the military and the necessity of performing the operations on large swaths of undeveloped lands with low population densities.
According to that information packet, the areas proposed pose real obstacles to challenge trainees during the execution of their tasks. Some of those “challenges” specifically mentioned in the packet include, “adapting to unfamiliar terrain, social and economic conditions”, “operating in and around communities where anything out of the ordinary will be spotted and reported (locals are the first to notice something out of place)” and “the opportunity to work with civilians to gain their trust and an understanding of the issues,” the packet reads.
“You probably won’t see that much of them if you do at all,” Ford said. “There probably won’t be any of them in San Angelo. Most of the operations we’ll see in Christoval will be between Christoval and Eldorado…”
Ford continued to list cities and counties that are participating in Jade Helm, which include Bastrop, Big Spring, Caddo Lake, Caldwell, Christoval, College Station, Dell City, Eldorado, Goliad, Junction, Leakey, Menard, Mountain Home, San Angelo, San Antonio and Victoria, per the informational packet.
The packet also states that over 1,200 service members will be participating in the state with 60-65 stationed locally and an estimated economic impact of $150,000 on the local community.
“Funding identified for this portion of the exercise will go straight into the economy in the way of supplies, food, fuel, lodging and services for exercise participants,” the packet states.
As Ford finished explaining his understanding of the operations, the dialogue transitioned to one of support for the military and their efforts to train to protect the homeland.
“These guys—every single one of them are combat veterans,” Ford said. “These guys are coming back from Afghanistan, different places around the world…I mean, these are the real deal. And I’ve been around several of them the last couple of months. Man, I’m proud to be around them. These are super guys…they think along the lines of what’s good for this country. They’re true patriots. They’re warriors. These guys, this is what they’re trained to do.”
Brown reiterated that her intent was not to come off as unsupportive. Then Kenneth Kuykendall, a Christoval native who was deployed twice to Iraq, stepped up to back commissioner Ford’s statement, adding what he knows about his fellow servicemen and the home-grown pride they hold in protecting their country.
“You said it perfect. These guys care more about America than they care about anything else,” he said. “There’s going to be no problems with this and I don’t foresee anybody really seeing them. As you said, these guys are trained to not be there.”
Judge Floyd paused to ask Kuykendall a question. “How many children do you have?” he posed.
“I have six,” Kuykendall responded.
“Do you have any concerns about them?”
“No, not really,” Kuykendall responded. “Not at all.”
Judge Floyd’s son, Christopher Floyd, was also present on Tuesday to speak on the matter, and told Brown and those present that he believed wholeheartedly that the operations were intended to be carried out as presented, denouncing conspiracy theories that caused alarm all over the nation.
“It hurts, it personally hurts my feelings, my pride and everything else to hear that these people are against this,” Christopher Floyd said. “The conspiracy theorists, whatever you want to call it…it hurts.”
Christopher Floyd is a veteran and spent 10 years in the military. He expressed that inviting the military to come in and train was a way of thanking them for their service.
“I took an oath at enlistment to protect my country against enemies foreign and domestic, period. Under God. And I didn’t just take it for the 10 years that I was in and in active reserve. I took it for life. These people need to understand that this is for the greater good of everybody. There is no martial law. There’s none of that.”
Again, Judge Floyd asked how many children the speaker has, to which his son responded, “two”. Floyd’s son said he also had no concern for their safety. Christopher Floyd has volunteered to participate in the exercises.
As the comments on the topic died down, Judge Floyd asked Brown if she had any further questions, and turned the talk to Goodfellow Air Force Base and the county’s relationship with them.
“Goodfellow is crucial to this area and we have a very good chance to grow that mission…” Floyd said. “I’m honestly proud of the community’s efforts to support our military.”
Floyd called for a motion on whether to allow the U.S. Army license to use Tom Green County property, which was moved by Aubrey Cordova and seconded by Bill Ford. The motion carried unanimously.