With Jade Helm 15 underway, all quiet on the Bastrop front

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Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Jay Janner | Austin American-Statesman

After the U.S. Army military training exercise dubbed Jade Helm kicked off in Bastrop, Texas, despite conspiracy theories and media hype, citizens of Bastrop reported — well, nothing out of the ordinary.

The two-month long military training exercise, Jade Helm 15, began in a dozen counties across Texas, including Bastrop, on July 15. After the announcement of the training exercise and after a map dipicting states as a fictitious battlefield by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, which labeled Texas as “hostile,” circulated online, several conspiracy theories about the purpose of the exercise spread and intensified.

A poll, which the Texas Politics Project from UT and The Texas Tribune conducted, reported June 25 that nearly 44 percent of Texans believed the federal government would likely send troops to impose martial law, and 43 percent believed the federal government would likely confiscate their firearms.

Conspiracy theories then grew to connect the shutting down of Blue Bell Creameries and the unusual amount of rain Texas received this year to the federal government.

In an attempt to ease citizen concerns, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the National Guard would monitor the exercise from start to finish.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria held a public forum April 25 in Bastrop, explaining the purpose of Jade Helm and said the exercise would help the military “hone their skills.”

Multiple attendees at the public forum questioned Lastoria about a possible federal government takeover.

Since Jade Helm officially started, Lastoria said he spoke with officials and residents of Bastrop County and that people are starting to settle down and understand the purpose of the exercise.

“The situation is not as contentious as it was back in April when it was viewed with a lot of concern and skepticism,” Lastoria said. “It is now met with understanding as people realize training like this is a necessity to ensure we have the best trained special operations forces in the world.”

Becki Womble, president and CEO of the Bastrop Chamber of Commerce, said she has not seen any suspicious behavior now that the military has arrived. She said having the military personnel has boosted the town’s economy while the town has always supported the military through the military base located in Bastrop, Camp Swift.

“Our economy is booming,” Womble said. “[These men and women] are buying our food, gas and other services we have to offer. Having Camp Swift — we have always had a good relationship with the military and we are happy to accommodate them.”

Devon Michalik, part-owner of Crosshairs Texas gun store with her husband, said she has experienced some “suspicious” activity since the exercise began.

Michalik said two men came into her store to try to sell their guns. She said she could not buy the guns because neither of the men were Texas residents.

“The first man that came in — you could tell was military,” Michalik said. “He looked Middle Eastern and had a very heavy dialect. After he left, one of our customers told us the guy was an Army translator. The second guy we saw was from California.”

Michalik said on a separate occasion, someone called the store and asked about what was going on in Bastrop. She said it sounded like she was on “a radio show” and someone called to “dig” for information about Jade Helm.

Despite these incidents, it is hard to tell if something controversial will occur, she said.

“Yes, we have dealt with some fishy incidents, but, so far, everything is very quiet,” Michalik said. “Whether something happens — I do not know.”