For the briefest of moments, it is the Army we know. At Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, a sleepy group of young soldiers is stumbling into formation. It is just after 0700 hours. The morning heat feels steamy, wilting, unforgiving -- but not nearly as unforgiving as the man in the distinct, wide-brimmed drill instructor's hat who is watching them, Sgt. 1st Class Garvin Gourie, the most powerful person in their lives. He expects their formation to have the precision of a chessboard: pawns evenly spaced, a perfectly stitched seam of camouflage. "ATTEN . . . TION!" He expects a snap. But there is no snap this morning. A couple of soldiers are still scurrying out of the barracks. One is wearing sunglasses. A few are smirking. And this is the moment. We have seen it. It is so familiar from movies, from TV shows, from childhood games, from our own experiences, that we know what comes next: fury. Because Gourie is furious. He is not a nice drill sergeant. He is not "candy," the term for instructors who try to be too buddy-buddy. Earlier in the morning, on a pre-dawn run, he was the sergeant pushing the soldiers to run harder, faster. He was the one whose breath was the steadiest as he ran alongside the troops, singing cadences, correcting broken strides, yelling at puffing, panting privates who were slowing down the run and ruining the beautiful clip-clop sound of shoes hitting pavement in unison. As runs go, it wasn't the best. And now this. Unbelievable. Pathetic. It is so clear to Gourie what is wrong here. An Army, he knows, needs to be orderly. Order means there has been subjugation of the individual, which allows for teamwork, which allows for unity, which allows for fighting- machine dominance. Lining up straight is the beginning of this, absolutely necessary for everything that is to follow, like crawling to walking, and if these soldiers, these fatboys, these slackers, these losers, these morons, these sloths, these spoiled crybabies can't even line up straight, then there goes the Army, there goes the nation, there goes democracy, there goes everything, and so the time has come for Gourie to get in their faces and be furious, just as his drill sergeant was to him and drill sergeants have been forever. Except this is the new Army, an army that no longer allows drill sergeants to be cussing, ranting, abusive beasts. They cannot slap, hit, kick, punch or call privates names anymore. They cannot deny their soldiers meals or water as punishment, make them roll in the mud or assume the infamous roach position, in which a private lies on his back and shakes his legs and arms in the air like a dying cockroach. That would be humiliating. That could mean disciplinary action. That would be Old Hat, so to speak, and Gourie is New Hat. So this is what he does. He searches for the proper f-word to use and settles on "fricking." As in, "Have you lost your fricking minds today?" They still aren't moving fast enough, so he barks at them some more. "Dress this mess up before I really get upset!" And then he searches deep inside himself for one more thing to say, something that will punctuate his exasperation and emphasize his rage and motivate his soldiers and save the democracy and meanwhile not violate the rules, and it is those words, carefully chosen, intended as fists, that now rain down upon the soldiers. "Doggone it!" he roars. Garvin Gourie is a drill sergeant in the kinder Army, the gentler Army, the modern Army. In the old Army, the prevailing philosophy of basic training was that a recruit had to be completely torn down before he could be built into a good soldier. In the new Army, Gourie says in all sincerity: "I try to treat soldiers the way I would want to be treated. I keep that in the back of my mind at all times. You can enforce the standards without any type of abuse." In the old Army, what a drill sergeant said was unchallengeable, and what he did was unquestionable. In the new Army, Staff Sgt. Sean Polwort, drill sergeant of the year at Fort Benning in Georgia, home of the Army infantry, says: "Would you like to be shoved up against a wall and shouted at? I wouldn't. Why would we want to do that to a private? He isn't going to like it, either. It doesn't make sense to push them around like that. We don't do it anymore." In the old Army, the chain of command was seen as tacitly, if not directly, endorsing such shoving and shouting. In the new Army, Gen. William W. Hartzog, the head of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, says: "The drill instructors today need to understand the soldiers they deal with. To do that they need to understand the culture and the mores of those soldiers. Our drill instructors today have to be role models. They have to really function in a way that the very impressionable youth hopefully will emulate. "You treat people with dignity," he says. "You treat people like human beings." All of which is to say that there is a profound and consequential shift underway in the Army about the meaning of power in a changing society. Though the Army has been examining its training methods for years, much of the current urgency comes from Aberdeen itself, which in the old Army was just another military installation, and in the new Army is a symbol of what can go wrong when one person's power over another is assumed to have no boundaries. Just as the old stereotype of a drill sergeant is familiar, so, now, is Aberdeen: from the first allegations of rape late last year to the acknowledgment by the Army that something had indeed gone terribly wrong. To the filing of criminal charges against 11 sergeants and one captain. To the further acknowledgment that there were problems Army-wide. To the national hot line set up that recorded 1,288 complaints of abuse in its seven months in operation, 353 of which resulted in criminal investigations. To, most of all, the trial this spring of Delmar Simpson, an Aberdeen drill sergeant who was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for raping six female soldiers under his command. Maybe Simpson is so extreme that nothing would have prevented what he did at Aberdeen. Maybe he is a product neither of Old Hat nor New Hat, but a true aberration, so egregious in behavior that no adjustment of Army regulations would have kept him from forcing sex on women in his office, in the barracks, in his quarters. But inside the extreme of Simpson are the Army's 2,100 other drill sergeants, all of whom face moments every day in which the potential to create a good soldier can seem in conflict with the potential for abuse. To be a drill sergeant is to be in a position of absolute power over recruits. It is a kind of power that doesn't exist in the civilian world. Drill sergeants tell their soldiers when to sleep, when to eat, what to wear, how to think. They have the power to reward good soldiers and punish bad ones. They can recommend soldiers be promoted or kicked out of the Army. They can make life easy or they can make life hell. At 18, a person can run away from an abusive home without legal ramifications; in the Army, a recruit who runs away from his drill sergeant can end up in jail. That's the kind of power Delmar Simpson had over his soldiers day to day. He marched them to class, marched them home, inspected their barracks, ordered them to chow, passed out their mail, gave them permission to see the doctor, made sure their uniforms were worn properly, checked to see if they were in bed on time, helped them with their class work, made sure their finances were in order, their relationships were in order, their lives were in order. The Army has long recognized the kind of immense power that is established under those conditions. Only now is it beginning to recognize the deep flaws in the system. There have been several inquiries conducted since Aberdeen -- some by the Army, one by an independent congressional review panel -- and among the general findings has been the inescapable conclusion that the system needs to be changed. For instance, the Army has never routinely conducted criminal background checks on drill sergeant candidates. Also, only a small percentage of the candidates are subjected to evaluation, by either a psychologist or their direct superiors. It's as if the ability to bark, "Attention!" has somehow been adequate. It hasn't. That's why it's more than a new Army that is being created. It is a new drill sergeant. Plenty of Old Hats and New Hats believe that gender integration has forced the creation of the new drill sergeant. That if you didn't have women in the Army, then you could be as rough and tough as the old days. It's the women, they whisper conspiratorially, knowing that's not the politically correct thing to say. But it's more than gender integration. Abuse is no longer tolerated anywhere in the Army, including training facilities where there are no women. It has to do with broader changes in society. It has to do with good business: The modern Army sweats to get recruits, so why be abusive toward them once they get in? They won't want to stay. But accommodation tends to breed tension. Tension can produce uncertainty. Uncertainty can lead to questions. And for Staff Sgt. Anthony Houzah, who teaches a class in sexual harassment and trainee abuse at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeants School at Fort Jackson, S.C., the questions are the same ones again and again. His classes are filled with sergeants who are about to become drill sergeants, and every one of them has heard about the troubles at Aberdeen. They know the name Delmar Simpson. They know he wasn't the only one and that Aberdeen wasn't the only place. Now, as Houzah stands one day in front of a new class while sorting through slides for the overhead projector, here come the hypotheticals he's been expecting: Suppose there's this female, someone asks, and her uniform is out of order and you have to correct it, and suppose someone sees you and thinks you're putting the moves on her? Or suppose there's this other soldier, and she's lying on the road, and she's hurt or collapsed or something. Suppose she needs mouth-to-mouth. What if somebody sees you when you're giving her CPR and you get in trouble because they think you're kissing her? They seem absurd questions to an outsider, almost comical, but none of the students is laughing. Instead, they are nodding because these are precisely the questions they have been wondering about, too. Houzah finds the slide he's after, one of an Army regulation, and displays it on the overhead. "It says, You can touch a private where the safety of the soldier is in question or when making correction directly related to training,' " he recites. "That is permitted." "But didn't you say you have to ask her permission before you can touch her?" a student says. Houzah sighs. "No. You can touch them to correct . . ." He's cut off. "But it's safer to ask?" "Yes," he concedes. "It's safer to ask." This is classroom instruction, post-Aberdeen. It involves worrying about perception, about being falsely accused, about any number of theoretical situations -- even though the reality suggested by Army numbers is that the percentage of drill sergeants who cross the line between appropriate and abusive behavior is extremely small. Last year, the Army's 16 training installations reported 127 confirmed cases of abuse of recruits, a relatively scant amount compared with the nearly 320,000 new soldiers the Army trained. The number doesn't reflect unreported cases, which, as the response to the hot line suggests, could be substantially higher. But whether the number is 127 or 10 times that, the perception of widespread abuse is pervasive enough that the Army can't ignore it. "We get calls from family members who automatically assume their children are going to be abused because they've joined the Army," says Staff Sgt. John Rowe, a drill instructor at Fort Jackson. "The Army's been cleaning themselves up for years, but people still expect us to be like the drill sergeants in the movies. The soldiers come in and they expect you to be like that. They are so petrified of you and if you were to go, Boo!' half of them would wet their pants." It is not easy being a New Hat. The issues are much more complicated, the soldiers are tougher to train, and the Army demands more of its drill sergeants than ever before. A drill sergeant is expected to be a model soldier, parent, psychologist, sociologist, financial planner, not just a tyrant. Not even a tyrant. "You hear from some of the soldiers trying to get into the {drill sergeant} program and they want to know if it's really that tough out there," says Command Sgt. Maj. Chester A. Perry, commandant of the Fort Jackson school. "It's kind of obvious that's going to happen, but you have to tell them there is no problem in being a drill sergeant if you've got good morals and you're not on a power trip." The Army considers its drill ser-geants to be some of its best soldiers, which is one of the reasons the Aberdeen scandal stung the service so severely. Drill sergeants are chosen for their leadership skills and technical expertise, and because they presumably can handle the kind of power they'll inherit. "That's why it's so important we get the best soldiers," says 1st Sgt. Thriso Hamilton, deputy commandant at the school. "That power you have as a drill sergeant, you can't imagine what it's like until you put the hat on. You just can't imagine what it's like to have that much power. You've got to have somebody who's ready for it." Perry and Hamilton agree the Army could do a better job of finding those soldiers. Currently, the selection process is an impersonal one, done by Army bureaucrats at the Pentagon who base their decisions on a soldier's career record, duty assignments, awards and commendations -- in other words, things that look good on paper. Commanders who work closely with a sergeant out in the field rarely are asked to weigh in, even though, as Hamilton points out, "the chain of command has the best knowledge about that sergeant. They know the positives and negatives. They know who's going to flip out." At the drill sergeant school, instructors are sometimes able to spot students who might have problems once they graduate, but they are often powerless to do anything about it. The school isn't designed to weed out bad drill sergeants. It is designed to make successes of everyone there. Drill sergeants must go through nine weeks of instruction, an intense period of simulated basic training designed to immerse the students in the complete surrender required of a recruit. For some of the students -- all of them sergeants, some of whom have been in the Army 10 years or more -- it isn't always easy. In the cement courtyard outside the school one afternoon, a drill sergeant berates a student who, instead of facing the criticism straight on, tries to look away, embarrassed that anyone is watching. "Come on, sergeant, I'm not telling you again about your doggone hat," the drill sergeant scolds. "That's the third time I've had to tell you." The student, who will be a drill sergeant himself in three weeks, adjusts his cap and walks away, his head down. "It's a good reminder for us to live with this," says Staff Sgt. Lynda Packett, another of the students. "It's what we are going to ask our privates to do, so you've got to do it, too." Packett, a kindly-looking woman with a toothpaste-commercial smile, is munching on a slice of sausage pizza in the school's chow hall. When she is done at the school, she will become one of about 200 female drill sergeants in the Army. Her assignment will be to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., a training installation that has been plagued by the same kind of scandal as Aberdeen. Yet at the lunch table, Packett and Staff Sgt. Matildo Coppi, another student, agree that it won't be hard to do the right thing as long as they follow the rules. Neither can imagine a drill sergeant graduating from the school and not knowing the difference between right and wrong because the rules are repeated over and over and over again: Never talk to a private in your office without someone else there. Leave the door open. Don't play favorites. Never conduct bed checks by yourself. Never touch a private in anger. "There is a regulation that says exactly what you can and can't do in a situation," Coppi says. "As long as you live by those rules, you can't go wrong." It sounds simple. But as the session in Houzah's class continues, it becomes clear that his students are uncomfortable with what they are learning about the potential for false accusations, and it also becomes clear that mixed in with their general enthusiasm about what's ahead is a sense of nervousness. "Everybody's just so shellshocked about this stuff," Staff Sgt. Richard Jones mutters at one point from the back of the room. "Because of the past, because of what drill sergeants did before us, these things have turned the spotlight on us," Houzah says. "These drill sergeants said they'd do the moral and right thing. They swore they'd do the moral and right thing -- and they didn't. Nobody sends their son or daughter into the U.S. Army to be verbally or sexually abused, everybody understand that? That's why we are in the limelight we are today, everybody understand that?" "HOOAH!" the students shout in unison, to show they understand. "It is up to you stop it," Houzah goes on. "You have to shut down the sexual harassment, the fraternization and the trainee abuse in that environment. HOOAH?" "HOOAH!" Away from the classroom, in another part of Fort Jackson, Sgt. 1st Class Keith Purnell is meeting his new platoon of recruits for the first time. It is a pivotal moment, when the lines of power are first established, and in this moment Purnell knows: They are scared. They can barely look at him. Or they don't want to look at him. Or they think they can't look at him. The young privates, their heads buzzed and lanky limbs hanging inside brand-new uniforms, are huddled on a set of metal bleachers in the atrium of the Delta Company barracks. This isn't just their first meeting with Purnell, it's the first day of basic training, and everything is entirely confusing. "Listen to them. Emulate them. And you will not go wrong," someone in a uniform is saying to them. They don't know who the man is. They don't know his uniform. They don't know his rank. Soon enough, they will: He's a first sergeant, introducing them to Purnell and their other drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Peter Vasquez, but for now it's all uncertainty as Purnell and Vasquez begin walking toward them, closer and closer, until they abruptly snap their heels and come to a stop. "Sound off," Purnell shouts. "Bulldogs," Vasquez shouts back. The recruits just stare at them. For the next eight weeks, Purnell and Vasquez will be responsible for turning the 1st Platoon Bulldogs into soldiers. They will have to stress their soldiers out toward what some might consider a breaking point. They will make them run, jump, shoot a rifle, throw a grenade. They will teach them to recognize a first sergeant. They will teach them to respect authority without fearing it. Or so they hope. Purnell, a drill sergeant for only two months, is still excited about the prospect. The 18-hour days, the six-day work week, the long stretches away from his family, the inevitable tensions that arise between drill sergeants and their spouses -- none of it has dug in yet. It will. At chow that morning, three hours into the day and just past 0700, Purnell heard the war stories from the other drill sergeants sitting around the faux-wood table, buffed to a shine no doubt by some private. Staff Sgt. Joe Cooper talked about missing his anniversary in July. It wasn't the first time, but July 2 was a crucial training day this year, and he had to make a choice: Buckle down with the privates or take his wife out. He buckled down with the privates. "It's more pressure on the wife than anybody," Cooper said. "Day in, day out, she's the one that's got to take care of the kids when you're gone. You can't really concentrate too much on your family. A whole lot of drill sergeants have problems at home because of that." Sgt. 1st Class Tonya Griffin, a drill sergeant as tough as they come, nonetheless winced a bit when she talked about missing one of her son's basketball games. "Mom, we always win when you're at the game," he'd told her. "You've got to be at this one." But she couldn't be. She had to be with her privates, and of course her son's team lost, and in describing this she said, "Those things hurt. My sons, they try to understand, and my husband is the best, and you try not to disappoint them, but you can't be there for the school plays and you can't have too many sleepovers when you've got to be up at 3 a.m." That's the deal, though. Griffin knows it, Cooper knows it and Purnell is learning it. They are required to spend all day with the soldiers, every day but Sunday, for two months. When one class graduates the next class might arrive a few hours later, and when that class graduates in will come another, and all of them, in their first moments, will be like the class Purnell is facing now. What must they see, exactly, these brand-new recruits? What did Delmar Simpson's recruits think when they first saw him? Simpson is 6-foot-4. He has a jagged, three-inch-long scar running down one side of his face. He liked to scare new recruits. He would push them, prod them and scream at them, once poking a private so hard in her arm to make a point that it left a deep bruise. How far is it from that kind of intimidation to the kind of abuse of power that Simpson was ultimately convicted of? "Why didn't you just run out of there?" one of Simpson's victims was asked during his trial. "He would have just got me sometime," she answered. That's the image that endures post-Aberdeen. Absolute power. Complete intimidation. No sense of humanity. Purnell wants no part of it. He doesn't want to rule by fear. But neither does he want to be candy. He wants to be somewhere in between, never a pushover but always approachable, and even if he puts a little more edge on his style as he settles into the job, he doesn't want to be perceived as ever having put up a wall. "They should have respect for my hat, but I never want that soldier to be afraid of me," he'd said just before meeting the recruits. "If that soldier is afraid of me, he's going to be afraid of the opposing force." That's where Purnell will draw a line, then, but for any drill sergeant, such lines are always being adjusted by the endless decisions they face during a day. If a private doesn't empty his garbage can before inspection, what is the appropriate punishment? If a private is late for formation, is it acceptable to order her to do push-up after push-up to the point of near collapse? They can seem like such little things -- a leftover piece of trash, a half-second late to the line -- but as M. Thomas Davis, a retired Army colonel and former federal executive fellow at the Brookings Institution, explains it, soldiers have to learn to follow orders, even the ones that seem insignificant. Davis says his son once asked him why soldiers were getting in trouble because they hadn't shaved, especially if they were out on patrol or in a foxhole all night. Privates often wonder the same thing. Male soldiers in basic training are required to shave every morning and can be punished if they show up at formation with a stubble. Female soldiers are required to keep their hair pinned above their collars. "You always want to maintain the semblance that we are civilized," Davis explains. "We are a civilized people even though we are called to do things from time to time like kill, which is uncivilized. It is a reminder to them that we are still a civilized people and we follow rules of good order and discipline. When I ask you to kill, I expect you to do it. When I tell you to stop, I expect you to stop. That's a tough thing to instill in people, and it has to start in basic training. It has to start with the drill sergeant." There is no single, perfect way to accomplish this. Theory may be a general guide, but the reality of basic training is encouragement one minute, bawling out the next. At a weapons range hidden deep in the woods that surround Fort Jackson, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Garner is hollering at a line of soldiers who are face down in the dirt in front of him. "Do it right," he howls, the sweat dripping off his face. The sound of rifle fire off in the distance punctuates his lecture. PING. PING. PINGPINGPING. Garner is teaching his soldiers how to install and retrieve a Claymore mine, one of the most difficult of all the combat skills the soldiers will have to master before they can graduate from basic training. The sequence is complicated by a number of different tasks. Inventory check. Get down in the prone. Test the firing device. Test the wire. Tie the wire. It has to be done in order, precisely. These are mines, after all. At Garner's command, the privates pick up the wire and start moving across the field, a dry, sandy lot with rust-brown torso-shaped enemy targets planted here and there. "You're going to move down range and be a star," he says, trying to encourage them. "What are you going to do?" Two dozen hot, tired voices shout back weakly, "Be a star, drill sergeant." He can't hear them. He is annoyed again. "Be a star, drill sergeant." The privates file down the field, unreeling the wire, sidestepping to keep from tripping. They move carefully, methodically, all except for one private who has figured out that it's much easier to do this by walking backward rather than sidestepping, and that's the private Garner is now running toward full-tilt until he is inches away, in his face, screaming. "You never turn your back on the enemy, private!" he screams so loud that he is red-faced. "Don't you ever, ever turn your back on the enemy!" In 1986, Sean Polwort was 17 years old, a scrappy kid from Texas arriving at Fort Benning for basic training. Old Hats ruled. Privates were made to do push-ups until drill sergeants got tired of watching. Cuss words flew. Punches flew. Arms got broken. The end of the day would come, and privates and drill sergeants would head over to the NCO club and get drunk and then march back to the barracks around midnight. "Our drill sergeants would make us do push-ups, drunk like that," Polwort recalls. "People were puking all over the place, and the drill sergeants thought it was funny." Polwort, now a drill sergeant himself, is standing at the edge of a field where 200 grunting privates in gray T-shirts and shorts are moving through a morning of physical training. To his right, they are doing push-ups. To his left, the bicycle. In front of him, the ropes. On the track, here comes a platoon of soldiers, singing their cadence: "Shut up, take it, shut up, take it." Over there, making whimpering sounds, is a private who was caught cheating on his last lap around the track. He is struggling to do one more push-up while his drill sergeant crouches by him and shakes a fistful of dirt in his face and screams, "Get your lazy butt up. Now let's go. You're going to run that last lap, and you're going to kick it. You can feel sorry later." But something else has captured his attention: On the far side of the track, a private is hopping on one leg instead of running with the rest of his platoon. A drill sergeant is yelling something at him. The words aren't distinct, but the tone is ferocious, and the private is struggling to maintain his balance. "What's he doing?" Polwort says. He furrows his brow and shakes his head. "I'm going to have to talk to him. That drill sergeant isn't supposed to be doing that." He keeps watching. "That's what's bad about this environment. People hide under this hat. They forget they're human. These kids are human." It seems like what Polwort is saying is another variation of what Garvin Gourie said at Aberdeen, and Anthony Houzah said at Fort Jackson -- but there's a difference. Aberdeen and Fort Jackson have gender- integrated training, while Fort Benning is the all-male, all-testosterone home of the Army infantry. Aberdeen and Fort Jackson are where changes would be expected, while the expectation at Fort Benning would be to scoff at such nonsense. In theory, then, Fort Benning is the place to see how far the concept of new Army has filtered down. At Fort Jackson, for instance, a student in drill sergeant school, whose father was a drill sergeant and whose first posting was going to be to Fort Benning, snickered when his teacher, clearly a New Hat, reminded the students to think before they act, to consider the consequences before going after a private. "It's a different world at Benning," the student said, explaining his reaction. "A soldier gets out of line, and he's going to find himself crushed in a trash can, hurting." In fact, it's not a different world. The commanders have made it clear that the same regulations that apply to drill sergeants at Aberdeen and Fort Jackson apply to Fort Benning's 387 drill instructors as well. Once drill sergeants laughed at vomiting privates; now they don't even laugh at the sight of a private hopping around on one foot. At least at that level, then, everything at Fort Benning seems consistent with new Army regulations. But beneath that is an ongoing debate about the consequences of the regulations that is perhaps fiercer at Fort Benning than anywhere else. Earlier this summer, word came down to the drill sergeants that they were no longer to terrorize soldiers on the first day they met them. "We couldn't put that first strike of fear in them," says Staff Sgt. David Francis. "We had to be professional. We had to welcome them to the Army." The drill sergeants hated the results. "It didn't work. The privates didn't listen. They didn't do what you told them to do," Francis says. "They weren't afraid of you. They were completely out of control the entire time they were here." Polwort says the change was well-intentioned, but even a New Hat knows there's a limit. "You might as well have handed those soldiers a cup of coffee and a Snickers," he says. "I didn't see anybody yelling, nothing at all. It was pathetic. It was all out of whack. There is nothing wrong with making it clear that you are in charge." Soon after, new word came down saying things should go back to how they were. But that one experiment left the drill sergeants keenly aware of the transition underway, that the Army brass, Congress, the American public, parents of soldiers and the soldiers themselves are all watching them closely, scrutinizing their every move, waiting for the first hint that a drill sergeant is stepping out of line. The drill sergeants have become concerned about false accusations of abuse because that's been happening. They are concerned that the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior has shifted too far in favor of the privates, that they are losing their power, that their commanders are caving in to public pressure, that there is a lack of awareness of the type of recruit they're being asked to train. The Nintendo generation, they call the recruits: They know how to push buttons and little else. Many come from broken homes. Many have never been disciplined. Many seem to know nothing about values, about being part of a team, about playing by the rules. Some have enlisted because a judge told them it was either that or jail. That's who the drill sergeants find themselves trying to turn into soldiers, and as the regulations keep shifting, even the soldiers themselves can feel the effects. Tyler Strands and Isaac Avrett are what the Army calls split-opts, or split options, because they joined the service when they were still in high school. They did their first half of basic training in 1996. Now they are back at Fort Benning for the second half, and they are astonished at the changes in a year. A year ago, their drill sergeants welcomed them to the "House of Pain," a euphemism for the kind of brutal training experience that is not supposed to exist anymore. "The first time I met my drill sergeants, they told me that we were at the House of Pain. Nobody knows what goes on in training but them. There's nobody to run to. Nobody will care," says Pfc. Strands, a 20-year-old college student. All summer long, he and Avrett say, the drill sergeants were in their face. They were mean, and they pushed hard. If a floor was buffed perfectly, a drill sergeant would scuff it and make the privates shine it again. One time a drill sergeant hit Strands in the face with his hat, over and over again across the bridge of his nose. Strands says he was mad at the time -- but now, a year later, he thinks the drill sergeant did the right thing. "Last year I went home and I felt really, really good about the Army," Strands says. "Last year I had no chips on my shoulder." "There's this line now, and people outside of the military are trying to say what they should and should not be able to do," says Avrett, an 18-year-old whose father was a Marine drill sergeant. "I think that's wrong. I think the military should make the rules and other people shouldn't stick their noses in. I volunteered to do this. Nobody made me do it." "This year I think it's getting soft, and it shouldn't," Strands says. "It's like these drill sergeants, and you can just tell, they are trying not to lose their rank." And that may be the most enduring post-Aberdeen image of all, the image of a drill sergeant, for so long the embodiment of unquestioned power, now becoming the embodiment of uncertainty. "We used to be able to push them to the limits," says Aberdeen's Gourie, who has been in the Army for 15 years. "It's unheard of now. They call it trainee abuse. As a drill sergeant, you're always having to do a mental check. It changes your spontaneity, and in doing that it changes the way you think. It's like you are protecting your own interests." There are any number of drill sergeants who would disagree with such a characterization, who say that there's no reason for any drill sergeant to feel anything other than confident. "My chest sticks out so far when I put that hat on my head," says Tonya Griffin. "I'm like a peacock. We're the best of the best. I mean, I still get a lump in my throat when I hear reveille and retreat. I wear this uniform and I wear this hat with pride. I don't care if I'm going to Wal-Mart. I'm going with this hat on my head because I want people to see that I am a drill sergeant." But the uncertainty is there nonetheless, sometimes showing up in blunt declarations, sometimes comically, sometimes subtly. One day it's apparent in Aberdeen Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Ralls. "This hat here," he says, thinking of how people react to the drill instructor hat on his head, "it means nothing now." Another day, it's apparent in Sgt. Wendell E. Little, who is trying to teach a platoon of privates how to throw a grenade into a metal bunker. They're supposed to run to the bunker in pairs, drop to the ground, pull out the grenade, remove the pin, count to two, throw the grenade into the bunker, roll away, flip 180 degrees, point their M-16s toward the tree line and wait for the bang, which, since these grenades are for practice, will sound like a small firecracker. Simple enough -- except the pair running toward the bunker now includes a soldier so wispy it doesn't seem as if he could carry a 10-pound sack of potatoes, much less a rifle. He drops to the ground. He pulls out his grenade. He tosses it and watches helplessly as it misses the bunker and goes skidding across the ground directly toward the sergeant's feet. Bang. Dirt and sand cover Little's boots. He runs toward the private. His face is red and turning redder. Clearly, he's fuming, but instead of screaming, he hesitates, and then says with all sincerity, "Private, you need to move closer to the hole. Your arms are length-challenged, or whatever the P.C. thing is to say. They're short, private. That means you have to get closer to the hole." Another day. This time it's Sgt. 1st Class Michael Coolidge. Once again it's morning at Aberdeen, shortly past 0700 hours. A few miles away are the places where Delmar Simpson forced himself on his soldiers, and somewhere is the building where the court martial took place, where another of his victims testified that she remembered thinking after she was assaulted: "Why was he doing this? He's my drill sergeant. He's not supposed to be making me do this." Several months after that, Aberdeen hasn't forgotten that testimony, but neither can its drill sergeants dwell on it. There is too much to be done. There's a new class of recruits in, and Coolidge has to turn them into soldiers. And look at them. They're standing around. Talking. Laughing. As if they have all the time in the world. As if becoming a soldier is something casual rather than vital. To Coolidge, there's nothing casual about it at all. He is the type of drill sergeant who likes to pound on chairs to get attention. He is as tough as they come. He yells. He screams. Maybe he's not Old Hat, but he isn't exactly New Hat either, and clearly it's time to say something, to get this day moving along. But what? He hesitates. Decides.

"Private," he yells to no one in particular. "Polish those boots."

Immediately, a dozen privates bend over and start scrubbing at their boots, and Coolidge watches with satisfaction. It is the Army he knows. It is the Army we know. But only briefly.

Because it isn't. Jackie Spinner is a Post Metro reporter who has written extensively about the scandal at Aberdeen. CAPTION: Sgt. 1st Class Garvin Gourie acquaints a soldier with Army life at Aberdeen Proving Ground. CAPTION: A drill sergeant calls a halt, above, during rifle and bayonet training at Fort Benning, the all-male home of the Army infantry. Left, providing some one-on-one guidance for a soldier at Aberdeen. CAPTION: An instructor advises her pupils, above, at the Drill Sergeants School at Fort Jackson. Opposite, ready and waiting during barracks inspection at Fort Benning. CAPTION: With a note-taker and witness, conducting an inspection, left, at Aberdeen. Below, stress class for sergeants at Fort Jackson. Opposite, newly barbered enlistees at Fort Benning. CAPTION: A drill sergeant has a quiet moment on the Fort Benning rifle range.