by JOSEPH TREVITHICK
Earlier this summer, conspiracy theorists and — well, just about everyone — went nuts when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on the State Guard to monitor the special operations exercise Jade Helm 15.
How much monitoring did the State Guard actually do? Turns out, not much.
Despite orders to keep its eyes on things, the State Guard appears to have never written or submitted any reports on Jade Helm 15. Instead, officials kept tabs on it with phone calls and a few text messages.
“The Texas State Guard did not produce any reports or documents related to this exercise,” the Texas Military Forces wrote in response to our state Public Information Act request. “The Texas State Guard provided verbal updates to the Governor’s Office on a daily basis after conferring with a representative of U.S. Special Operations Command.”
We did receive several text messages that State Guard commander Brig. Gen. Gerald “Jake” Betty sent to “Robert.” We assume this was Lt. Col. Robert Pawlak, an Army Special Forces officer that various media reports described as a Jade Helm representative.
“The remaining troops departed at 5:30 p.m. on a chartered flight,” Betty texted on Sept. 5. “Hope you have a great trip.”
If those messages are anything to go by, Texas officials were unconcerned about Jade Helm and disinclined to do anything more than the bare minimum to fulfill Abbott’s orders.
Scheduled to run from July 15 to Sept. 15, Jade Helm 15 involved Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force troops practicing their skills in half a dozen states. Elite troops used the opportunity to practice working with “local” forces in remote areas to either root out mock insurgents or back up friendly authorities.
The Pentagon calls these types of missions “unconventional warfare.” In the leaked briefing, Army officials had labeled Texas a “hostile” zone for the exercise.
Fringe articles and blog posts quickly theorized that Jade Helm was cover for federal government plans to impose martial law and seize guns from law-abiding citizens. Others crafted a painfully complex narrative involving an invasion by Chinese troops from Mexico under the direction of a United Nations-backed “New World Order” using tunnels dug into closed-down Walmart stores.
No, seriously, this far-out scenario gained some traction on the web. “Whether deterrence, display of power or something more covert or devious, let’s not come with any patronizing nonsense of impotence and simplicity when its origin is in Washington,” actor and martial artist Chuck Norris wrote in WorldNetDaily.
These outrageous and bizarre theories prompted Abbott to call in the State Guard on April 28.
“The Texas state Guard is NOT involved in any aspect of this exercise, other than to monitor the situation and provide updates on the progress and safety of the mission,” Betty wrote in an official announcement after receiving Abbott’s directive. “At this point you are asked to stay focused on our normal missions and be prepared to respond when called upon.”
We obtained a copy of that document through an earlier Texas Public Information Act request. A non-combat “militia,” the State Guard — not to be confused with the Texas National Guard — usually spends its time responding to natural disasters.
After telling the State Guard to keep watch over Jade Helm, Abbott was pilloried in the media, by former state officials and by many of his own constituents. According to emails Gawker got through its own public information request, angry messages bombarded the governor’s office from all sides.
“We all know the [Obama] administration hates Texas,” a Houston resident wrote to Abbott. “You are making a laughing stock of Texans,” a more critical resident of the same city said.
The Pentagon was fighting back too. “We are not taking over anything,” Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesperson, told CNN. “Operation Jade Helm poses no threat to any American’s civil liberties,” Warren added in another statement to the McClatchy news agency.
Pawlak, the Special Forces officer, even hosted town hall meetings to assuage local fears. “The intent of my coming out here is to address any concerns anyone has and provide information to anybody regarding the exercise,” Pawlak told commissioners in Otero County, New Mexico on July 9.
At it turned out, the exercise did prove dangerous. In August, gunmen shot at troops at Camp Shelby two days in a row in Mississippi. The Army base was hosting a special operations unit participating in Jade Helm. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the shootings.
In Texas, 12 commandos were injured … during a challenging parachute drop on the night of Aug. 26. “Two in local hospital under observation, one possible for tbi [sic] and one possible spine injury,” read another one of the texts, using an abbreviation for a “traumatic brain injury” such as a concussion.
By that point, the public had largely forgotten about the exercise. While local media in Texas reported the cancellation of an earlier mock airdrop, the soldiers sent to the hospital went unnoticed.
On Sept. 8, Betty forwarded another message from Pawlak that reflects how mundane much of the event actually was in the end. “Just wanted to touch base. No change from the other day,” the text explained. “The six (6) contractors are at Camp Bullis completing turn-in of equipment and After Action Reviews. Scheduled to depart on 11 September.”
Each one of the messages we received ends simply with “Thanks, Jake.” One imagines that Betty was just happy to be able to get back to more important business.