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Target: Atlanta 

Armed invaders heading our way

Atlanta has been targeted for an invasion by several hundred heavily armed, combat-ready fighting men who have made their purpose plain: a series of airborne assaults on at least three local targets. Before the reader rushes off to the nearest gun show to stock up on ammo, we should mention that this invasion involves approximately 600 Marines en route to Atlanta for urban warfare training missions Aug. 14-28. Similar exercises were held here in 1992.

"Most of the personnel are support elements, who'll be working out of Dobbins Air Force Base," says Lt. Mikal Rasheed with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. "The maximum number of Marines involved in an operation in the city would be about 100 at any one time. Most of what your people there will notice are the helicopters flying around."

Such maneuvers are carried out each year in cities around the country, says Rasheed, and involve units performing a variety of operations. There will be three such missions here.

"The unit receives a mission, and has six hours to come up with a plan to complete it. It could be to rescue a downed pilot, or conduct a rescue mission from, say, an embassy that's being overrun by a local militia. Or any reconnaissance and surveillance-type mission."

In general, says Rasheed, the public is supportive of the exercises -- as long as the public knows they're exercises.

And there have been other complaints about such operations. In Columbia, S.C. last year, a local peace organization staged a protest, citing too-close helicopters and citizens' concerns about live weapons.

A spokeswoman for Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell was unaware of the plans.

Rasheed hopes to change that.

"The last thing we want," Rasheed says, "is to be a surprise to anyone."

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