WASHINGTON, July 15 (UPI) -- Jade Helm 15, the U.S. Army's controversial seven-state military exercise, kicked off Wednesday amid outcries from some suspicious that the event is a starting point for martial law that will spread through the United States.
The U.S. Army Special Operations Command began the first-of-its-kind military exercise on private land and military installations in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.
Military leaders said the eight-week exercise, the largest of its kind ever performed on domestic soil, focuses on "unconventional warfare," including developing new warfare tactics and procedures in areas with landscapes similar to the Middle East and Afghanistan. It will include the Army's Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other Special Operations troops.
Military leaders describe the operation as routine military training, albeit unusually large with about 1,200 troops. Conspiracy theorists see it as much more. Residents across the country have raised concerns, especially in Texas where the governor ordered the state guard to monitor the activities.
"It's the same thing that happened in Nazi Germany. You get the people used to the troops on the street, the appearance of uniformed troops and the militarization of the police," Bob Wells, a Bastrop, Texas, resident, said after a public meeting called by the Army to allay fears. "They're gathering intelligence. That's what they're doing. And they're moving logistics in place for martial law. That's my feeling. Now, I could be wrong. I hope I am wrong. I hope I'm a 'conspiracy theorist.' "
The exercise, which will run through Sept. 15, has generated suspicion among some, particularly in Texas, partially based on the seemingly surreptitious activities and partially from the odd name. It's been fueled by conservative bloggers and Internet posts, many linking the military exercise to what they see as odd doings across the country, from the closings of Walmart stores nationwide to the disappearance of Blue Bell ice cream from store shelves.
With all of this, some have taken extreme measures. One person started burying weapons to hide them. Another has purchased some 20,000 rounds of ammunition. Others have raised concerns over low-flying military cargo planes.
Some have related the fears to growing anti-Obama sentiment across Texas and parts of the Southwest. They see it as a secret plot by the Obama administration to confiscate weapons, institute population control and impose martial law.
"With Obama being in there," Scott Degenaer, 53, of Christoval, Texas, said, "with the way he's already stomped all over the Constitution, pushing his presidential authority to the max, it would only be just the stroke of a pen for him to do away with that. This man is just totally anti-U.S. I mean, he just signed a deal with Iran."