Three weeks before, they were just plain Jim and Mike. Both 6-feet-2 with eyes of blue. Both finishing up high school in a blaze of boredom. Candidates, one might guess, for a summer of beer, belles and bemoaning the humidity.

But last winter, Jim Logan and Mike McDonald had taken themselves by the scruff of the collective neck and paid a joint visit to their Army recruiter. Best friends at High Point High School in Beltsville, Md., they proposed to be best friends through four years in the U.S. Army.

They had braved the disbelief of their high school pals ("What? Nobody joins the Army any more, man."). They had temporarily mothballed other dreams - of working on tobacco farms or fire trucks. Now they were standing in a parade yard at 4:30 a.m. on their first full day of defending the western world. And they were loving it to pieces.

"I visited a recruiter for the first time when I was 15, and I've been thinking about joining ever since," said Logan, otherwise known as the 49th man in Platoon V, as he stood at parade rest. "High school was fine," added McDonald, the new third man in Platoon W. "But this is better."

Recruiters will tell you that the Army has undergone vast changes since its newcomers all became volunteers. But here at the base that has served as basic training headquarters for three generations of recruits, Day One of boot camp hasn't changed a whit.

It is the day on which hundreds of young men lose in 30 seconds the curls it took them months to grow.

It is the day of inoculations against diseases most recruits don't know how to spell.

It is gazing at two fried eggs sitting limply on a tin tray - and convincing yourself you want to eat them.

And it is the day for drawing a full olive drab uniform - and listening to the man behind the counter tell you, "It ain't going to fit perfectly; this isn't Brooks Brothers, soldier."

But above all, Day One means learning the Army's favorite sport; how to wait.

McDonal and Logan waited 45 minutes for breakfast. They waited another 30 for a welcoming speech from the aide to the colonel who runs the Fort Dix Reception Center. Then another 15 minutes before visiting the dental clinic, another 35 before drawing their uniforms, a full two hours before each drew $80 from the paymaster.

They also got their first taste of Army-style discipline.

One drill sergeant discovered that several recruits were sneaking off to the men's room for a cigarette during the lulls. So the sergeant made a little speech. He said that the next guy he caught smoking without permission would be having a cigarette for lunch. If it happened to be lit at the time, well, that's the way it goes.

In the face of such shows of force, it quickly became a day for little victories.

Mike McDonald had recruited two friends into the Army after he joined. That qualified him for an extra $50 a month in salary. But someone fluffed the paperwork. By asking two drill sergeants about it, McDonald got it unfluffed.

Logan's little victory was the most popular among his platoonmates. His blond curls were so tightly bunched that the barber's electric hairclippers jammed twice during his haircut. All that really meant was that it took 45 seconds rather than 30 to turn him into a ringer for a Hare Krishna follower. "But it gave me a little satisfaction," Logan said.

Brothers all this year in English class and at the teen-age hangouts of College Park, McDonald and Logan asked to remain brothers for the next four years as they undergo airborne training. After seven weeks at Fort Dix, both will be sent to Fort Benning, Ga., for parachute training. After that, they hope to move on to ranger training.

Because they signed up for four years, and because they signed up early for a tour in the infantry, McDonald and Logan will each receive a $2,500 cash bonus after basic training. It will be more money than either has ever seen. "I guess I'll just put it in the bank," Logan said. "What can I spend it on, anyway?"

For Mike McDonald, "just being outside is what attracts me about the Army. I could have gone to work at a sawmill in Kentucky for $5 an hour. But I know how that work is (he did it during past summers). I'll learn more with this.

"You know, the kids in school, they think you only got one job to do when you're in the service. But it's not that way at all. Besides, my father, my grandfather, his father, they all did their time. It's my turn."

For Jim Logan, "it's a question of being willing. I am willing. Four years? It doesn't bother me. And if there's a war, I'll be prepared.

"I've caught a lot of grief over my decision. The people in school said I was stupid to go. But if I thought I was stupid, I wouldn't be here.

"Yeah, I could have spent the summer playing around. But it takes money to play around."

Dix won't be kicks, money or no. McDonald and Logan will have spent six weeks here before they get their first overnight pass. They will work 16 hours a day, always beginning at 4:30 a.m., seven days a week. They will do without alcohol, drugs, weapons, playing cards and any magazine that displays photos of luscious ladies.

But as Capt. Jim Kinard put it in his welcoming address, "Getting through basic training is not an impossible task. Millions of guys do it year after year . . . All we ask you to do is stick it out. The Army is made up of nothing more and nothing less than people like yourself."

That was good enough for McDonald and Logan. As he was handed a fatigue jackey with his last name sewed over the left breast, McDonald smiled and said, "Not bad, huh?" And as Logan waited to draw his uniform, he clapped his hands impatiently. "I'm ready," he said. "I'm psyched."