The U.S. military Thursday announced its first media combat pools, including reporters, photographers and camera crews, is prepared to cover any hostilities with Iraq - including chemical warfare.
Members of the seven pools will be secretly activated for training sessions in case of an actual war.At a meeting Thursday morning, proposed media ground rules for the combat pools were discussed. The proposed rules require all stories, photos, audio recordings and TV film to undergo a "security review" prior to release in the event of combat.
The U.S. military required that all combat pool members be in good physical condition. One way to measure that was the minimum standard for either the Army or the Navy.
Pool members were required to do push-ups, sit-ups and run at least 11/2 miles, the duration and frequency of exercise sessions determined by each person's age. The test was designed to ensure that the media wouldn't slow down or needlessly risk the lives of the troops in battle.
For those who passed, there was an odd party afterward - opening cardboard boxes filled with gas mask components and then spending hours putting them together.
Military instructors then held a two-hour class demonstrating how to put on the masks, chemical weapons suits and how to self-administer anti-nerve gas injections.
James Helling, 31, a CBS cameraman from Canton, Ohio, asked whether his camera would also be decontaminated in the event of a gas attack.
He was told that the people and weapons would be first priority and "if you want to get to the back of the line" they might do it.
Helling replied, "The end of the line? There are going to be 450,000 guys out there."
Since the physical testing was announced several weeks ago, media representatives have been huffing and puffing around the track and lifting weights in the hotel gym.
As the dates for the exam approached, there was as much discussion about push-ups, sit-ups and running time as there was about the approaching Jan. 15 deadline for Saddam Hussein to pull out of Kuwait.
The tests were given over the past few days, and most passed.
"I was very pleased with the spirit of cooperation and the understanding that being physically fit is important in combat not only for soldiers," said Col. William Mulvey, director of the U.S. military's Joint Information Bureau in eastern Saudi Arabia.
"The media obviously recognized this and the results were well beyond my expectations," he said.
David Lamb, 50, a Washington-based correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, noted that there was no such test when he covered the Vietnam War from 1968-70.
"The military saw that the press got completely out of control in Vietnam and they obviously said this will never happen again," he said.
"We had unlimited access, virtually no restrictions, the freedom to go anywhere, talk to anyone and stay as long as we wanted. In some strange way, we in the press seemed to control the Vietnam War more than the military did," Lamb said.