CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait ó A surprise Scud missile drill transformed a peaceful lunchtime into a dash for life. Tuesday at 12:10 p.m., one short blast of the siren was all it took to make thousands of soldiers here suck in their breath, shut their eyes and slap on chemical protective masks.
Within seconds, soldiers bolted in a dead run for the nearest shelter.
As a reporter covering the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), I knew there would be drills such as this one. But the instant I heard the alarm, it became a very real experience.
I felt my pulse race as I yanked my mask out of its carrier and mashed it to my face. I quickly exhaled, covered the filter and sucked in to clear and seal the mask to my face.
Before I knew it, I was cramming into the small, sandbag-covered shelter with several dozen soldiers.
"Come on. Come on. Get in there," one soldier yelled. "Does anybody have a 256 kit? We got to check and see what agent it is."
No one had one.
The M256 Chemical Detection Kit contains plastic vials of special chemicals designed to change color when exposed to certain agents.
As the minutes ticked by, all of us sat there listening to each otherís Darth Vader-style breathing. At 12:34 p.m., another siren sounded the "all clear."
Soldiers tore off their masks, laughing and joking about the experience. But it was clear the 2nd Brigadeís first Scud missile drill reminded everyone here of just how serious the situation could become.
"I was definitely not expecting that," said Sgt. Jesse Haltom of Bloomington, Ind. "I did all right, but I definitely could have done better."
Spc. Justin Hummer, of Clarksdale, Mo., agreed, saying the alarm sent a shock through his body as he sat in his tent just starting on lunch.
"It made you wonder what could really be happening," he said. "They told us when we came here that tests would be on Fridays and we knew it wasnít Friday, so we didnít know what was going on.
Pfc. Jeannine Paterek, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said she was surprised but like all the soldiers here, not at all confused about what to do.
"Knowing what to do is a good thing," she said. "I heard that alarm and right straight away put my mask on and went to the bunker."
The timing of the drill came down from ARCENT, the Army component of Central Command.
Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Kraus, 2nd Brigadeís nuclear, biological and chemical noncommissioned officer, said he was sitting in the unitís tactical operations center when his pager went off with the text message "Exercise! Exercise! Exercise! Scud launch areas at risk: Jordan and Kuwait."
While most agree that more drills are needed, leaders agreed that the drill had achieved the intended effect.
"Today was the first day that all of 2nd Brigade is on the ground, and we got them all thinking," said Col. Joe Anderson, commander of 2nd Brigade.
Matthew Cox, a writer with Gannett's Army Tines newspaper, is covering the conflict with Iraq for Gannett News Service.