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U.S. Military Announces Media Combat Pools, Trained For Chemical Warfare With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt

January 3, 1991

IN EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ The U.S. military today announced its first media combat pools including reporters, photographers and camera crews prepared to cover any hostilities with Iraq - including chemical warfare.

Members of the seven pools will be secretly activated for training sessions and in case of an actual war.

At a meeting this 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, and one way to measure that was the minimum standard for either the Army or the Navy.

Everyone had to do pushups, situps and run at least 1 1/2 miles, the time and numbers determined by their age. The test was designed to ensure that the media wouldn’t slow down the troops in battle, or needlessly risk their lives.

For all those who passed, there was an odd party afterwards - opening cardboard boxes filled with their gas mask components and then spending hours putting them together.

U.S. military instructors then held a two-hour-long 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 worriedly 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 to pass muster.

As the dates for the exam approached, there was as much discussion about pushups, situps 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 almost everyone 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 obvioisly recognized this and the results were well beyond my expectations,″ he said.

Carla Robbins, 37, a Washington-based reporter for U.S. News and World Report, said ″for reasons of vanity, I’ve always worked out but making it through a war is a better incentive.″

She said ″the real reason we all worked so hard to meet the standards is because all these male war-freaks didn’t think we could do it. All the women passed the test on the first day.″

Sgt. Rob Jagodzinski, 25, of Erie, Pa., a reporter for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, won top honors with 85 pushups in two minutes, 96 situps in two minutes, and a 2-mile run in 12:45 minutes.

″In the Army, we’re expected to train often and we’re expected to exceed and not just pass the minimal standards,″ he said. ″I think it just got everyone to realize that it’s important to get in shape for any type of combat -and maybe it weeded out some of the media who were too far gone.″

David Lamb, 50, a Washington-based correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, noted that there was no such test during the Vietnam War which he covered 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,″ he said.

Lamb said he didn’t mind taking the PT, or physical training test, which he passed easily.

″It probably is a violation of my constitutional rights and I think it makes a lot of sense,″ he said. ″Putting a seatbelt on is also probably a violation of my constitutional rights and I think that makes a lot of sense too.″

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