Snickers rippled through the crowd of several hundred troops when Vice President Dan Quayle pointed out a sign held aloft by three soldiers that read, "Indiana National Guard."
Then he asked the guardsmen to stand and take bows and the laughter turned to a boisterous, comradely round of applause.These were residents of Quayle's home state serving, as he had, in the Indiana National Guard.
But unlike the vice president's experience, these guardsmen were on the brink of potential combat, serving just 40 miles from the Kuwaiti border, in an area that is likely to be a hotbed of fighting if war breaks out with Iraq.
Quayle joined the Guard in 1969 at a time when many young men were getting drafted and shipped to the Vietnam War. Years later, when he was nominated for vice president, allegations swirled that Quayle's well-connected family helped get him into the Guard while others were on a long waiting list.
"Honestly, we laughed a lot about it," Sgt. Michael Collins of Buffalo, N.Y., said Monday in describing how he and his friends reacted when they learned Quayle would come to the desert to boost their morale.
It was ironic, said Collins: "First off that he didn't go to Vietnam. Then we listened to Bush that this is not going to be another Vietnam. Then Danny came over."
It wasn't that Collins minded that the vice president visited the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment desert base, but he saw it as somewhat humorous.
Quayle got a cordial to warm reception from the troops he met - many of them expressing their desire to undertake the combat for which they have trained and get it over with.
While most seemed excited to see the vice president, his visit did cause "a few comments" around the base, said Capt. Norbert Jocz of Blacksburg, Va. But, echoing a common sentiment, Jocz said what really mattered was that Quayle came.
Jocz said he believed the controversy over Quayle's military service has died away in the two years he has been vice president. Many of the young troops Quayle saw during his three-day trip to Saudi Arabia said they didn't think much about his military record one way or the other.
"He did that, but other people have done worse things than him," said Marine Cpl. Kimberly Gender of Bloomfield, Ind.
"We don't ever think about it," Capt. Dan Claney said after meeting Quayle at the sandy Marine encampment where Claney flies Harrier attack jets. "He puts his pants on the same way we do."