Operation Jade Helm 15, the military training exercise that captured the fancy of conspiracy theorists earlier this year, begins Wednesday in a dozen Texas counties and across the Southwest. It will continue through the summer.
The launch comes about two months after what the military describes as a benign training exercise became an international sensation, spurred by speculation that it is the beginning of a federal takeover, perhaps with the help of a string of mysteriously closed Wal-Marts. The anxieties seemed to reach a boiling point in April at a meeting of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court, where a military spokesman was peppered with questions about the operation's true purpose.
Gov. Greg Abbott gave the theories a high-profile platform when he asked the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on the exercise to ensure Texans' "safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed." Issued shortly after the Bastrop meeting, the directive drew bipartisan criticism, but Abbott stood by his order, maintaining he was simply responding to constituent concerns.
On the eve of the exercise, state Rep. John Cyrier, who represents Bastrop, said the frenzy has largely died down.
"I think a lot of the questions have been answered since it first kind of hit Bastrop County Commissioners Court," said Cyrier, a Republican. "It seems like it's been pretty quiet, at least on my end of it."
The military has said citizens can expect little interference with their day-to-day lives as the operation gets underway, save a slight uptick in noise and traffic in their neck of the woods. Still, officials have admitted the exercise is unusual in its "size and scope," playing out in seven southwestern states.
The operation will include 1,200 service members, according to Mark Lastoria, a spokesman for Army Special Operations Command. However, he suggested, they probably will not stand out as they go about their business.
"They will never all be at the same place, at the same time," Lastoria said in an email, adding that 700 of the service members are participating in the exercise for only five days at Camp Bullis in San Antonio.
Wherever the action happens, a group called Counter Jade Helm has taken it upon itself to serve as a watchdog. The organization is dispatching members to various sites of the operation and soliciting any information locals may have on how the exercise is going in their communities.
At the same time, it has been careful to distance itself from the seedier elements of the Jade Helm furor, branding itself as an effort to help the military's efforts, not thwart them.
"CJH is not about conspiracy theories," the group's website reads. "This exercise is not about the what-ifs of our government."
Abbott's office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday on how it was preparing for the exercise.