If it ever happened, Robert McCormick thought, the enemy would be the Soviet Union. It would be a devastating clash of superpowers. And then it would be over.

But now, the 37-year-old tax attorney finds that the president may ask him to suit up as a major in the Marine Corps reserve for a potentially protracted confrontation in the Middle East. "To be honest with you, I never expected anything like this," he says. "I think this has taken everybody by shock."

McCormick and thousands of others are wondering whether they will be called to arms now that the administration is considering mobilizing reserve forces for the first time since 1968. He's been told to "stand by to stand by."

But McCormick, like many others in his position, says he's ready. Mentally and physically. They may be called weekend warriors but they are serious about their mission. "We practice all the time and we're very good at it," says Maj. Phyllis Phipps-Barnes, a spokeswoman for the National Guard.

"When we make a commitment to be in the National Guard or reserves, we are always prepared to be called on," says former D.C. Council chairman and National Guardsman Arrington Dixon. "It is a hardship ... but we have to be prepared to go."

"I'm apprehensive, as anybody would be apprehensive," says McCormick. "It would certainly be very disruptive to my type of work. I'm happy I have a good employer here." McCormick says the senior partners at his firm, Sills & Brodsky, have arranged matters so that "every case that I'm working on has another attorney who is kind of sidelining." He's also made plans "to ensure that things like home and insurance policies and car and lots of different things will be taken care of."

McCormick is not married. "I have a very good friend who I have been dating for a while," he says, "and I'm sure she's not going to appreciate this."

He figures he's high on the list to be sent overseas because of his experience as a flight officer. In his training as a full-time Marine, he dropped a couple of hundred bombs -- real ones -- and "countless" dummies. And he spent 100 days on the ground in Beirut in 1982 providing air support for multinational forces there. "I'm familiar with the integration of these systems and how they work and I've written on the subject," he says.

McCormick is proud to be associated with the Marines, even if this isn't quite the fight he had anticipated. "I have no problem, I guess, with being called up if my country needs me," he says.

Robert Moore, a 44-year-old Vietnam veteran and a computer specialist at the Drug Enforcement Administration, says he's ready to go -- but not quite willing. "I don't like the idea but I don't have any choice if it comes up," he says. The conflict, in the view of the petty officer first class, is "more for the oil companies than for the rest of the country. They always seem to have a war or something to stimulate the economy. That's been the history of this nation."

He is married and the father of three. "My wife feels, 'Oh, they're not going to call you,' " he says. "She doesn't want it to happen. Hopefully, she's right."

Moore, who serves as a storekeeper at the Navy supply center in Norfolk, quit the military for a while after being discharged from the Marines in 1967, but then joined the reserves, partly because he enjoys the camaraderie. He didn't expect to be called up. But he always knew it could happen. "There's a possibility there's always going to be a war no matter what they say, so I've resigned myself," he says.

Another member of his unit, Jorge Dulanto, was never a full-time military man and he's had just a couple of weeks of training, mostly in a classroom. Petty Officer 3rd Class Dulanto, whose civilian job is in Navy personnel, expects he would remain in Norfolk if called up, filling in for those who have been sent overseas. Still, he's feeling on edge about the possible call-up. "We go through this test kind of thing," he says. "Sometimes that gets kind of scary because it seems like the real thing. They try to get you ready."

And does he think the others in his unit are ready? "Some are more in shape than others," he says. "We have all types. We are ready to do our job that we're trained for, to support the naval fleet at the supply center."

Dulanto, who is unmarried, was set to spend this weekend on duty in Norfolk anyway, and now he's not sure when he'll be back. "I'm going to pack my sea bag almost completely full," he says. "Usually, I just bring one uniform and a change of clothes for evening attire. But in this situation, who knows?"