"This is an important time," Allison Barber, deputy assistant defense secretary, said, coaching the soldiers before Bush arrived. "The president is looking forward to having just a conversation with you."
The event was aimed at countering the steady stream of violent images that emerge daily from Iraq as insurgent bloodshed continues and both American and Iraqi security forces hunker down for the referendum this weekend, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan reports.
Barber said the president was interested in three topics: the overall security situation in Iraq, security preparations for the weekend vote and efforts to train Iraqi troops.
As she spoke in Washington, a live shot of 10 soldiers from the Army's 42nd Infantry Division and one Iraqi soldier was beamed into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building from Tikrit — the birthplace of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"I'm going to ask somebody to grab those two water bottles against the wall and move them out of the camera shot for me," Barber said.
A brief rehearsal ensued.
"OK, so let's just walk through this," Barber said. "Captain Kennedy, you answer the first question and you hand the mike to whom?"
"Captain Smith," Kennedy said.
"Captain. Smith? You take the mike and you hand it to whom?" she asked.
"Captain Kennedy," the soldier replied.
And so it went.
"If the question comes up about partnering — how often do we train with the Iraqi military — who does he go to?" Barber asked.
"That's going to go to Captain Pratt," one of the soldiers said.
"And then if we're going to talk a little bit about the folks in Tikrit — the hometown — and how they're handling the political process, who are we going to give that to?" she asked.
The White House said that the live televised event had to be rehearsed in order to run smoothly and there was no doubt from the soldiers involved, reports Logan.
"The truth is that everything that was said was meant to be said, though it may have sounded scripted in some places," Sergeant David Barry-Smith told Logan.
Before he took questions, Bush thanked the soldiers for serving and reassured them that the U.S. would not pull out of Iraq until the mission was complete.
"So long as I'm the president, we're never going to back down, we're never going to give in, we'll never accept anything less than total victory," Bush said.
The president told them twice that the American people were behind them.
"You've got tremendous support here at home," Bush said.
Less than 40 percent in an AP-Ipsos poll taken in October said they approved of the way Bush was handling Iraq. Just over half of the public now say the Iraq war was a mistake.