(March 5) --Terrorist attacks and natural disasters often happen without warning. For one Louisiana sheriff, that's reason enough to start training a 200-member paramilitary force -- just don't call it a militia.
Larry Deen, the sheriff of Bossier Parish, told the Shreveport Times he came up with the idea for "Operation Exodus," a volunteer corps made up of parish residents, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
It was in the tense hours after planes flown by terrorists felled the World Trade Center and slammed into the Pentagon that Deen and his men guarded then-President George W. Bush at Bossier City's Barksdale Air Force Base, roughly 340 miles northwest of New Orleans.
Nearly nine years later, Deen put out a call to prospective volunteers, and "Operation Exodus" finally became a reality. Some 300 of Bossier Parish's 110,000 residents responded, and of those, 200 have been chosen for training. The first classes began this week. Just five of those approved for combat roles are black and there are no women.
When asked by the Times whether the newly formed group could be described as a militia, Deen bristled. "We run from that word," Deen said. "We're just the opposite of that word."
"The main thing that we're trying to do," Chief Deputy Doyle Dempsey said in a video posted on the department's Web site, is "set up a prevention mode to implement during Operation Exodus. And what the means is, if we can show an overwhelming show of force prior to any major incident taking place, we can hopefully prevent it from starting before it ever happens."
A lifelong resident of Bossier Parish and a former president of the Northwest Louisiana Chapter of the Cops for Christ, Deen describes himself as a deeply religious man. His bio on the sheriff's office Web site proclaims that he "answers to his God and to the citizens he serves."
Indeed, Deen said in a press release that the name for Operation Exodus came from the Old Testament, and later told the Shreveport Times that its realization is a "calling."
"In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were totally on their own," the press release reads, "learning to be self-sufficient and handle everything along, just as the [Operation Exodus] plan provides."
While publicity materials stress no specific terrorist threat to Bossier Parrish, the cover to the group's training manual states, "Somewhere right now your enemy is training so that when he meets you he defeats you."
Weapons such as .50-caliber machine guns purchased by the sheriff's department are at the group's disposal so that it can protect resources such as grocery stores and gas stations against the dual threats posed by "homegrown terrorists" and natural disasters.
According to the Times, Deen's department will also make shotguns, riot shields and batons available to the members of Operation Exodus.
"Being prepared is the key," Deen said.
A video of volunteers in training: