Ten teen-agers, their faces streaked with dirt and their baggy clothes clinging to sweaty bodies, sit on the bed of an olive-drab truck eating dried-out sandwiches and gulping cartons of chocolate milk.
How's the food?
It's lunch break for the brush-clearing crew at Camp YCC.
As you may have guessed, this is not your ordinary summer camp where Mom and Dad write hefty checks so the kids can spend the summer whittling useless objects out of wood or perfecting their tans. This is the Youth Conservation Corps Camp.
For eight long and grueling weeks a group of girls and boys aged 15 to 18 live on this Army post and work in the sweltering heat of a Virginia summer -- clearing brush, chopping down trees, cutting firewood and spreading manure. For their efforts, they earn the minimum wage of $3.10 an hour (minus $2.50 a day for room and board). That adds up to just over $600 for the summer, but they don't see a cent of the money -- all paychecks are sent directly to their parents.
The YCC is funded jointly by the U.S. Interior and Agriculture departments to provide summer jobs for youths. It is one of the few federal programs that does not target particular racial or economic groups. The final selection of campers is done on a computer which randomly selects applicants by their zip codes.
The YCC Camp at Fort A. P. Hill began four years ago, making it the oldest in the state. It is the prototype of camps that opened this year at Fort Belvoir and Turkey Run Park, both in Northern Virginia.
Last winter 800 Virginia teen-agers applied for a slot at the YCC camp on this barren Army base; only 26 were accepted.
Eat your hearts out, would-be YCC campers -- here's what you're missing:
Two solid months of rising and shining at 6 a.m.
No visits home.
Swinging axes and spreading fertilizer under a blazing summer sun.
Army issue food.
Ticks, poison ivy and mosquitoes.
Lights out at 10 p.m., even on weekends.
Sleeping in barracks, without air conditioning.
Constant surveillance by the camp director and her vigilant band of youth leaders.
"They know I mean business," says camp director Carolyn Bixiones, "Miss B" to her charges, who is known to run a tight ship.
"They know if they break the rules I'll confine them to quarters," says Bixiones as she maneuvers an Army truck along a dusty camp road. "I think most kids want discipline. It shows them someone cares."
There are other rules as well. Campers can leave the base only on visitors' day. Even them, they must be accompanied by their parents and they have just a few hours to get to civilization and back -- Fredericksburg, the nearest town, is a half hour away. To visit another part of the base, even the softball field on the other side of the fort, they must sign out and give an estimated time of return. Above all, fraternizing with the troops -- the 30 soldiers permanently based at the fort and the reserves at summer camp -- is strictly prohibited.
Then there is the work, six hours a day, five days a week. A primary purpose of the camp is to complete projects that will aid the surrounding community and the environment. At Fort A. P. Hill, that has translated into constructing a nature trail, clearing out a large walnut grove and cutting freewood for the poor and elderly here in Caroline County.
But the arduous work and strict discipline doesn't seem to daunt too many campers. So far this summer, only three kids have gone home.
One was Tammy Seymour's bunkmate, who left after three days. "The work was too hard for her. She couldn't take it," said Seymour with a slight air of superiority.
Seymour, a 17-year-old from Arlington, will be a senior at Yorktown High School this fall. She said the camp is right in line with her plans to study forestry and coaching in college. In addition to the practical experience of working in the field, campers are given two hours of "environmental awareness" training every day.
Seymour survived five weeks at the camp before leaving to nurse a recurring knee injury. Before she left, Seymour said she was having a "great" summer.
Not all the kids give the camp such a rave review.
"You have to watch who's around when you say this," whispered one young man, just out of earshot of a nearby youth leader. "But this place is definitely influenced by being on a military base. I'm getting outta here on Sunday -- one way or the other." (A report from camp earlier this week indicated there had been no escapes thus far.)
But most campers joke about the discipline and seem to enjoy a warm camaraderie with the other teen-agers and their youth leaders.
"I'm sure the rules are necessary," Dawn Highlander, of Caroline County, admits. "We'd probably be running wild otherwise."
Besides, say the teen-agers, the camp provides the one thing they need most: money.
With summer jobs in short supply, especially in rural Virginia where many of these youngsters are from, the income is welcomed.
As tough as it may sound, the camp is not all work.
On weekends, Bixiones organizes trips to Kings' Dominion and Luray Caverns, double features at the base movie theater and softball games -- all designed to interject a little levity into a dreary work schedule and to ward off homesickness.
"They're forced to grow up," says camp environmentalist Dianne Ferrie. "Sometimes before they're ready."