In a war that, for U.S. soldiers, seems unlike any other, the distraction of choice is a distinctly trendy device -- the pocket-sized video game.

On tanks and in tents, and even in sleeping bags, the combat troops of the '90s spend their off-hours glued to Nintendo Game Boys -- a bargain, most say, at just $87 at the post exchange.

Snatched from the shelves before soldiers left for the desert, and now devouring thousands of double-A batteries here near the front, the high-tech Nintendo toys are jealously treasured as a narcotic of sorts. With hard times perhaps just ahead on the outbreak of major ground combat, the games are a sure-fire escape from morbid thoughts.

"If they had Game Boys back in Vietnam, the sanity level would have been a lot higher," insisted Cpl. David Murray, a 22-year-old Wyoming resident and a self-confessed addict of the Nintendo game "Tetris," in which geometric shapes must be manipulated.

Besides Game Boy, there are other signs in the U.S. camps that testify that the current gulf campaign is being waged by some decidedly youthful soldiers from a contemporary, often self-absorbed, high-tech age.

Few troops near the front arrived for battle without portable Walkman-type personal stereos. And, in keeping with the military's anti-smoking policy, the nicotine kick in the field now comes as often as not from a can of mint-flavored "dip" tobacco.

Music -- the time-tested bond that long has brought soldiers together in song -- is still the most common distraction. But the near universality of the Walkman has made even this a more selfish pastime.

Tents no longer ring with soldiers' voices, as they sometimes did in World War II, and even the Vietnam phenomenon of war conducted to music booming from transistor radios is clearly a thing of the past.

Armed Forces Network radio broadcasts now beamed through much of the Saudi desert provide a palatable patter of '60s and '70s hits. But the music of choice clearly is each soldier's own tapes brought from home. In one platoon, the personal preferences ranged from reggae to Beethoven to heavy metal.

And because the music plays through headphones, the camps themselves are silent.

The 'Golden Hour'

Every time a Marine falls to enemy fire, another "golden hour" begins. For Navy medics, who care for Marines, this is the maximum time in which they strive to have a casualty evacuated to a fully equipped medical facility.

In Vietnam, these evacuations were almost invariably accomplished by helicopters landing near the battle site. But in any future land battle in the Persian Gulf War, many wounded first may have to be transported overland to rear positions before a helicopter can lift them out safely, military officials said.

"They say the 'golden hour,' " replied 2nd Medical Battalion Commander William G. Brown, "but that may not be possible here because of the {type of} war."

The likelihood of wounded being transported overland for some distance would make the operation similar to the Korean War and World War II, Brown said.