They looked like the rawest group of recruits ever to hit a boot camp, fumbling with their combat helmets, flak jackets and other military gear.
The media who will cover the fighting if war breaks out in the Persian Gulf stood in line for their field equipment Saturday.They got standard battlefield gear: helmets, body armor, backpacks, equipment belts, goggles, parkas, field pants, chemical protective suits and antidotes for chemical attacks, worth in total about $2,000.
"I got all this stuff. Now where do I put my typewriter?" asked George Rodrigue, a reporter with the Dallas Morning News, after receiving his government issue.
Reporters sat in clusters in the carpeted, chandeliered ballroom of their hotel, trying to clip their helmet liners inside the helmets and buttoning the snug parka liners to their parkas. They struggled under the watchful eye of officers and sergeants.
The stuff looked alien and was tagged with official military names such as: goggles, sun, wind and dust, one each; body armor, fragmentation protection vest, ground troops; suspender, individual equipment belt, one each.
"I feel like I'm in the Brownies again. What I like least about it is the regimentation," said Deborah Amos of National Public Radio.
Those in line made wisecracks about getting military haircuts, known as "the high and tight."
But the mood shifted from levity when reporters checked gear designed to protect them from bullets, bombs and gas attacks.
In the past week, reporters have run and done pushups and situps to meet physical requirements for combat pools.
They were issued gas masks. They got Geneva Convention identification cards putting them in the same category as chaplains and doctors in the event of war. And as of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, they were on call to be activated on two hours notice.
"It's a sobering experience," said Laurence Jolidon of USA Today.
Marine Sgt. Steve Williams, a former drill instructor, gave advice in a kinder, gentler tone than he did to recruits at Parris Island.
"Don't overload yourself," Williams said. "The gear you pack is the gear you hump."
The Pentagon has organized two 18-member pools to cover the Army and the Marines. There are also two seven-member pools to cover the Navy and Air Force, and two seven-member pools and one five-member pool for special assignments.
Christiane Amanpour, a CNN correspondent, took the military's advice to wear the packs to get used to the weight.
"I felt worse when they gave us the chemical gear," she said. "That's when I got a sinking feeling in my stomach."