Ronald Logan was ready to be all he could be.
In one hand he clutched a paperback copy of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," in the other, a suitcase crammed with two white towels, a shaving kit, stationery, brass and shoe polish, a copy of his newly minted high school diploma and three sets of civilian clothes that would hang unneeded for at least eight weeks.
He also carried a ticket for his first airplane flight, which made the 18-year-old considerably more nervous than his imminent three-year hitch with Uncle Sam's Army as a 12 Bravo -- a combat engineer.
He wore a T-shirt, a gift from his mother, which read: "Join the Army -- Travel to exotic, distant lands; meet exciting, unusual people -- and kill them." Under duress, he promised his father that he would peel off the shirt before arriving at boot camp in Missouri.
As the Greyhound to Jacksonville wheeled into the depot on June 27, young Logan pumped dad's hand, kissed mom goodbye and hugged the teary siblings, who whispered, "Goodbye, Ronnie," from the family's yellow Chevy van. It was a ritual as old as Homer, a nation's youth marching off to war, or peace, or both.
It also was a ritual repeated 142,300 times in fiscal 1984, the best recruiting year in the decade since the draft ended, as the Army lured even more bright, able-bodied young men and women than it had hoped. Thirty of those recruits, buck privates with melting-pot names such as Williams, Disano, Monette, German and Logan, joined the Army last summer in this drowsy, central Florida town. This is their tale, how and why they became part of what the Army calls -- a bit self-consciously -- the lean, green, mean fighting machine.
The DeLand 30 illuminate many of the things that are both encouraging and disheartening about the American military and the way it advertises, recruits, trains, disciplines and deploys. Most are denizens of what the Pentagon calls "the higher mental categories." Most are bright, ambitious, patriotic, four-square.
In the months after induction, they would crawl through the Alabama mud, sleep in the Carolina rain, sweat under the Missouri sun. They would learn to distinguish the gold oak leaf insignias of majors from the silver oak leaves of lieutenant colonels.
They would do pushups by the dozens, by the hundreds, by the thousands. They would master the M16, the M203 grenade launcher, the Claymore mine.
A few would excel; a few would wash out. Of the 30 who enlisted, six either never made it to induction or were kicked out of boot camp for physical deficiencies or "failure to adjust to military life." While some collected their expert badges in marksmanship or the airborne wings of paratroopers, others collected a $57 bus ticket back home to resume life flipping hamburgers or loading trucks.
As a rule of thumb, one-third of the DeLand recruits will fail to complete their first three-year or four-year enlistment terms. Another one-third will get out of the Army when their first terms expire, and the final one-third will reenlist at least once.
One or two may seek the requisite schooling to become officers; another one or two may become senior noncommissioned officers with a sleeve full of stripes and an eventual 30-year hitch under the belt.
As with the Army's enlisted ranks generally, however, the DeLand recruits hail from a relatively narrow spectrum of American society. None are from the upper or upper-middle classes. Their enlistments are for largely economic reasons -- in search of a job, a skill or cash for college.
As the concept of citizen-soldiers drawn from the entire republic becomes more obsolete, there are questions about the U.S. Army that can only be answered absolutely in the smoke and steel of combat. Among the foremost: Will today's soldiers, enticed into enlistment with pecuniary incentives, fight and die with the requisite selfless zeal? Do the enlisted ranks nurture the appropriate "combat ethic?"
Furthermore, is the disproportionate percentage of blacks in the Army -- now 31 percent of enlisted troops, or nearly three times the proportion of the U.S. population -- consistent with Thomas Paine's warning that "those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it?"
Some wonder whether American society, having bought itself an Army, is ignorant of its values and indifferent to its fate. And is it reasonable to expect that when one soldier in 10 now is a woman, they will truly avoid combat when the shooting starts?
Finally, many in and out of the Pentagon wonder how long the "golden age of recruiting" can endure in the face of a demographic slump that will see the number of young American males fall off in the next decade. Will there be enough smart, motivated soldiers to fill the ranks in the 1990s, when the Army expects to fight on an electronic battlefield with Buck Rogers weapons, now still on drawing boards and test ranges?
The issues are more than academic exercises for sociologists and Pentagon number-crunchers. As Gen. George Washington observed 208 years ago, "The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this Army." Athens of Florida vs. 'DeadLand'
DeLand is a town wrapped around a courthouse. Population: 10,775. First birthdays are announced in The DeLand Sun News; Overeaters Anonymous meets at the Berea Assembly of God Church; live-bait trucks rumble through the downtown streets and teen-agers carry paper cups to expectorate their Bull Durham, known colloquially as worm dirt.
On Fridays, beer is a dime a draft at the Putnam Hotel and four bits will buy you a hangover.
In a spasm of civic enthusiasm, the founding fathers a century ago nicknamed DeLand "the Athens of Florida," but the kids today call it "DeadLand."
Amid the live oaks bearded with Spanish moss in Veterans Park, the town last year built a four-foot black obelisk "in appreciation to members of our armed forces who served in Viet-Nam" and the 31 from greater DeLand who came home from the war in coffins.
As one small emblem of the resurgent respect now accorded the military, the height of sartorial splendor among students at DeLand High School is the blotchy, baggy Army fatigues called BDUs, or battle dress uniforms. Football players give one another burr haircuts before big games. And the National Guard Armory supplies camouflage makeup for the student fans, who smear it on as a campy gesture. The school yearbook motto is the same as the Army's recruiting theme: "Be All That You Can Be."
"The whole climate has changed a lot. Four or five years ago at parades, hardly anybody stood up when the flag passed in a parade. I've noticed people doing it a lot more now," said retired Master Sgt. Marvin L. Lane, a DeLand native who teaches Air Force ROTC at the high school. "We're teaching Vietnam now as historically as we do World War II. Vietnam is history now. The younger ones, I'm just amazed; you say the word 'hippie' and you have to explain what it means."
It is in the nation's 23,000 high schools that the Army does its most intense trolling for fresh recruits. A recruit with a diploma has twice the chance of a nongraduate in completing his enlistment stint.
After the draft ended in 1973 and the all-volunteer military began as a kind of epilogue to Vietnam, there were persistent qualms about whether the volunteers had the right stuff.
The nadir came in 1979 when none of the four services met recruiting quotas and 60 percent of the Army recruits had high school diplomas. Five years later, the Army has not only exceeded its quota, but 91 percent of the 1984 recruits have diplomas.
Not only was filling the ranks with volunteers a new phenomenon in the United States, but the tradition of keeping a large standing Army in peacetime was relatively recent. The U.S. Army in 1939, for example, was less than one-quarter the size of today's 780,000-soldier force.
As gauged by test scores, the Army's enlisted recruits now are considerably smarter than the youth population as a whole, leading the Pentagon to crow last month that "the quality of Army recruits has never been higher." Motivations Besides the Money
Most, although not all, of the DeLand 30 who enlisted were snared in high school. Although their motivations generally were economic, there were as many variations on that theme as there were recruits. For Naruemon Hill, as an example, spite played no small role.
On the 18-year-old Hill's record in the DeLand Army recruiting office is this entry by the recruiter: "Father is very displeased about her choice of jobs. Couldn't receive M.I. military intelligence because she is naturalized. I was unaware of this but Miss Hill is very happy. I am afraid father may cause trouble later. He is this type and very old-fashioned. Eighth-grade education."
Born in Thailand, where her natural father disappeared, Hill and her Thai mother came to the United States with her stepfather, an Air Force loadmaster doing a tour of duty in Bangkok in the late '60s.
"All my life I've lived a sheltered life," she said. "My father has this thing that if you're associated with the world you're corrupted by the world. So it was go to school, come home, go to school.
"Initially, I enlisted out of spite because my father was so down on the Army. He thinks it's no place for a lady. He says, 'You know how I feel about the Army.' He has this stereotype that all you do is crawl around in the mud and pick up your weapon and shoot something."
Hill, in the top 5 percent of the DeLand High class of '84, passed the Army's weight minimum of 98 pounds by four ounces. She signed up under the Army's delayed entry program for a three-year hitch as a 71 Lima, an administrative clerk, with notions of someday being a lawyer.
Twelve days -- and innumerable family spats -- after enlisting, she moved out of the house to live with friends for nine months until it was time to go to boot camp.
"I've had doubts about whether the Army's the right thing to do," she said. "I'd like to get back with my family . . . . I know my father still doesn't like my decision, but it's my decision. And he knows that, too."
A few miles away lived Chris Dupler, a local receptionist's son whose father lives in Mississippi. Dupler wore a baseball cap that declared, "I've Got a Shotgun, A Rifle and a Four-Wheel Drive. A Country Boy Can Survive." It would take more than that to get Dupler through boot camp; his peers called him Zero behind his back, after the befuddled character in Beetle Bailey.
Dupler was supposed to report to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training on Sept. 12 to become a 32 Hotel, a fixed-station radio operator. Instead, he suddenly requested and received permission to report in July at Fort McClellan, Ala., for training as a 95 Bravo, a military policeman, with the proviso that his first duty will be in Korea.
"My mom's good friend is a spiritual medium and she said I have a good chance of getting a girl pregnant the third week in July," Dupler explained. "So I'm trying to avoid it."
Gerald All wore a huge pewter belt buckle depicting an eagle and the inscription, "I'm Proud to Be an American," as befits the commander of the high school color guard.
The youngest of five children, the soft-spoken All is the son of a telephone operator. His divorced father lives in Jacksonville. All wanted to be a 67 Yankee, an attack helicopter repairman, and he planned to make the Army a career.
Drinking a soft drink and killing time at home with a soap opera on the television, All said, "I want to fly helicopters and I don't want to go through four years of college to do it. So I'll go to warrant officers' school."
Mary Elmore, at 32, was three years shy of the age cutoff for volunteers. After a divorce in July 1983, Elmore was left with nothing but her old Buick Electra, the legacy of a pre-nuptial agreement that gave her ex-husband everything else, including the family carpet-cleaning business.
The Army offered not only an income as a 91 Bravo, a medical specialist, but also a way out, a radical change of pace.
For months she would fret over the decision, whether she could cut it physically, whether she could handle being tossed together with other recruits almost young enough to be her daughters, "all these young girls around me talking silly stuff."
Also, she had a 12-year-old son who lives nearby with his father. Not until she was at boot camp in South Carolina would Elmore break the news of her enlistment, keeping the secret from her mother, her sisters and her son.
"I'm really looking forward to it," she said repeatedly during the long summer in DeLand. "It's just that I'm scared."
NEXT: The recruiter