The 547th Transportation Company had never mobilized for a possible war -- the thing that was on everyone's mind yesterday.
But here its members were, calmly loading a five-ton truck with kitchen equipment (armies do travel on their stomachs) just as they would for a regular National Guard maneuver to Mississippi or Virginia.
Even at the National Guard Armory, the nerve center of the operation, it seemed that Wednesday's order to mobilize the District's first reserve unit for Operation Desert Shield was taken in stride. There was no such thing as too late. When someone thought it would be a boost to send the 547th off with a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol, by 3 p.m. the flag was there, boxed and ready to go.
Such was the efficiency yesterday at the armory and the naval base in Anacostia, where the 547th keeps its trucks. Side by side, these men and women who were civilian hospital kitchen workers and air-conditioning repairers Wednesday suddenly were preparing to drive off into the unknown, perhaps toward battle.
What they know is this: At 9 a.m. Sunday the 119-member unit leaves Stadium Parking Lot No. 3 for Virginia's Fort Pickett. From there, only the brass that moves the military machine in the Middle East knows for sure.
"We don't know where we're going. We don't know what we're facing. We don't know what to expect," said Shaun Vance, 22.
That the 547th is the first District National Guard unit activated was a source of pride. Throughout the day, members reported to the armory by Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, prepared papers and went to work at what they do best: handling what the military calls "land movement of equipment and supplies on long- and short-haul missions."
The last time the D.C. guard took part in a major military mobilization was during the 1961 Berlin airlift. Since then, it has handled riots and even pitched in during the Vietnam War, but that will pale if things in the Middle East escalate, commanders said.
There are about 4,000 members in the District's Army National Guard and Air National Guard, part of a nationwide force that exceeds 550,000. Of these, about 6,000 are on active duty as a result of Operation Desert Shield.
The mood at the naval base, where about two dozen members of the 547th were working, was upbeat. There were, of course, concerns about lengthy stays away from home, but several people said they were ready to do the job that drew them to the service.
"A lot of people are excited, scared, a little anxious," said Eric Paulak, 24, a second lieutenant who joined the National Guard seven years ago.
The call to duty could cancel two weddings if the operation lasts several months. Vance and Millicent Carter, who belong to the same unit, will have the consolation of traveling together.
Spec. Kenneth Stewart, who works in his family's air-conditioner repair business, had to break the news to his fiance. Rennea Lightborn "didn't see it from Uncle Sam's point of view," he said.
Today and Saturday, the unit will load and prepare the trucks in its fleet. On Saturday, family members will be briefed on their rights and what they can expect over the next several weeks. Maj. Gen. Calvin G. Franklin, who commands the D.C. National Guard, will preside over the official goodbye Sunday morning.
Given the uncertain nature of the Middle East situation, the 547th's future is impossible to assess, commanders said. The unit could stay in Fort Pickett or, because members are trained for combat duty, ship out.
"I'm not scared to go over there. What can I say? I'm a U.S. soldier and I have to do my duty," Stewart said. "Hopefully, we could just go over there, do what needs to be done and then come back to our families."