The bullet holes punched into the center mass of this pistol-packing suburban soccer mom weren’t fired by ISIS terrorists preparing for a shopping-mall assault, or by local cops training against an active shooter at the local school. They were fired by a Marine during special operations “realistic military training,” or RMT, in Gulfport, Mississippi.

The training was called Raven 15-03, and took place at locations across the Gulf Coast of United States in February in order to give the 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion a chance to practice “helicopter-borne and vessel-borne insertion, breaching techniques, fast-roping, and close-quarters battle techniques” in “populated environments,” according to a Marine Corps press release. The release didn’t address the details of the “realistic” scenario dreamed up by the Marine Special Operations Command that involved gunning down a married civilian woman with a recent manicure.

Realistic military training in which military forces leave their bases and practice how to kill people out in the real world are a relatively recent phenomenon. One such exercise of this group, Jade Helm, has been seized on recently by right-wing paranoids who suspect that Barack Obama is using it to rehearse an invasion of Texas. But here’s the thing: They’re not altogether wrong.

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What knucklehead decided that for Raven 15-03, an appropriate shooting target should be a soccer mom! And who decided that, despite owning 31 million acres—48,000 square miles—the military now needs to skulk around off-base because it would be more realistic to operate amongst the “civilian population,” also known as America?

No one decided. It just happened. And then the shit hit the fan. And that is good.

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The first off-base exercise of this sort occurred in 2012, and since then, two types of these particular exercises have been held throughout America: The Marines’ Raven exercises, and Jade Helm, held by their Army Special Forces counterparts. Jade Helm is particularly focused on what’s called intelligence preparation of the battlespace (IPB), and the skills of surveillance and cellphone interception—targeting—that goes on in the Middle East and Africa.

Most of the people who are riled up over Jade Helm, which is scheduled to be held off military bases in the southwestern United States this summer, are nuts. They’re racist opportunists who couldn’t hit the target if they were standing right in front of it, and they harbor paranoid fantasies about the impending imposition of martial law.

But that doesn’t mean the military is justified in using the parts of this country that they don’t already own as a spying-and-killing training ground. The Jade Helm conspiracy crowd is too busy railing about Obama’s imperial agenda and some vague rapacious federal government in Washington to stand up to the proper target, which is the U.S. military. It isn’t Obama directing these off-base war games, it’s his generals—specifically the “special operations” community, which benefits from public awe and endless war, deciding what’s secret and what’s not, and then arrogantly, thoughtlessly, and often stupidly pursues whatever it needs to prepare for war without limit.

RMT is in vogue now because the military has “lost” Iraq and Afghanistan to run around in. And so it has established a new set of clandestine drills off of military lands in civilian areas. One document obtained by Phase Zero identifies an $80 million program of “Advanced Special Operations (ASO)“ in the Southwestern United States to “enhance” the intelligence collection skills of Army Special Forces that’s sounds an awful lot like Jade Helm.

But it’s not just Texas and it’s not just the Southwest. And if people imagine that they see uniformed (and civilian-clothed) soldiers doing weird things in the mountains or even inside small towns; or they see black helicopters flying in the night—well, they are.

The first Raven was held in 2012, and Raven 14-01 and 14-02 took place in November 2013 and March 2014 in and around Fort Irwin, California. For Raven 14-02, the Marine special operators even set up at a mock “Forward Operating Base Santa Fe” in the Mojave Desert. Raven 15-02 was held in October and November 2014 in South Carolina, including in Columbia and Charleston harbors. Raven 15-03 was held in the second week of February and included the soccer mom attack.

These so-called “SOF [special operations forces] Category III RMT events” involve highly classified special operations scenarios and drills held in preparation for upcoming deployments to different parts of the world, and they are intentionally held in civilian areas to practice clandestine operations.

There are all sorts of rules for military operations off federal property, including requirements to notify local law enforcement and state and local government officials. The 2014 Defense Department regulation on conducting realistic military training has rules for everything, but when it comes to these SOF category III RMT events, it delegates exclusive oversight to the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict. In other words, the exercises are very secret, and who is notified and what is said publicly is limited.

Forget the Texas governor and the Tea Party and the tin-foil hat crowd and how America has strayed from some imaginary harmonious and bipartisan past. Spare me the polite talk about elevating the debate, and the sage commentators dampening concerns about the truth behind Jade Helm. The American people are not ignorant. It’s not martial law, and it’s not the Obama Administration, but there is something going on, and it is out of control. Who is the U.S. military aiming its guns at, and why? It’s that pure and simple.

Oh and by the way, the target is “Handgun Threat 9” from a government and police contractor called Target Online. They offer 169 different silhouettes to choose from; only 30 cents each when purchased in bulk. Zombie targets are available too.

Someone in the bureaucracy decided to buy this particular target for the Raven exercise; someone approved it, and then the purchase was made with our tax dollars. And then the moms were delivered and put on stakes and dozens (hundreds) of Marines looked at them and—what? They probably giggled...and then shot at them anyway. And then an official military photographer took pictures of the training and then a military officer approved the photo “for public release” and then the picture went from the Marine Corps up the chain of command to the official Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS).

The first time anyone within miles of the White House probably even heard of Jade Helm was when the Texas governor—and I don’t know or care how smart or dumb he is—said hold on a minute. Good for him. What’s the expression? We get the government we deserve.

(Photos: Defense Department, all Marine Corps Raven exercises in 2014 and 2015; and Target Online)

You can contact me at william.arkin@gawker.com, and follow us at @gawkerphasezero. If you are into the theater of being underground, you can anonymously deliver tips through the Gawker Media SecureDrop. I’m open to your input and your questions, tough questions.