If the drill instructor is the heart and soul of boot camp, the brain of the Army's efforts to mold civilians into soldiers is found at Fort Monroe in southeast Virginia, a genteel place on Chesapeake Bay with an antebellum ambiance. Built by slaves in 1819, the fort subsequently was used to imprison Confederate President Jefferson Davis for two years after the Civil War.
The Army's Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, determines how the Army will be organized, how it will fight and how it will be equipped. To think up and test these ideas costs taxpayers about $5 billion a year.
During the past decade, the philosophy on how to treat new soldiers has passed through incarnations ranging from shocking them (Get down, MAGGOT!) to soothing them with fruit drink and cookies after an arduous workout. Boot camp today reflects a prevailing school of thought that basic training should be more basic, emphasizing discipline, physical training (only three cigarettes a day for smokers) and such quintessential soldierly skills as marksmanship.
"We found that things were just getting out of hand. We found that the soldier showing up for his first job wasn't the soldier we wanted. He was more like a civilian showing up for a regular job," Maj. Fred Howland of TRADOC said.
In 1980, an extra 100 hours of instruction were added to basic. Instead of 57 hours on the rifle range, soldiers now spend 70 -- and, the Army says, marksmanship has improved proportionately. Nuclear, biological and chemical training, or NBC, jumped from four hours to 14. Whereas a soldier four years ago had to pass 14 of 17 tasks to get out of boot camp, now it is 27 of 30, ranging from reciting the phonetic alphabet to injecting the antidote to nerve gas.
The bean counters at TRADOC know that the average recruit fires 386 M16 rounds at 23 cents a round, 50 more rounds on the M60 machine gun and six rounds on the M203 grenade launcher. Each recruit tosses an average of two hand grenades, although that was temporarily cut back to one earlier this year because of low stocks.
"In peacetime, everybody wants a very efficient Army," Lt. Col. Chris Crescioni of TRADOC says. "In wartime, they want a goddam effective Army."
Although change in the Army at times seems glacial, the service in fact is constantly tinkering. Soldiers in combat jobs now usually attend "one-step" training where basic and advanced training are taken at the same post. A tank gunner, for example, thus is able to climb inside a tank in the first week after his induction instead of the ninth week.
Two years ago, basic training companies were segregated by gender, ending an experiment that mixed one platoon of women with three platoons of men. (Bayonet training for women also was ended recently on grounds that it was superfluous for soldiers legally barred from combat.) The Army now relies heavily on audiovisual instruction geared to the video generation.
Whether any of this makes better soldiers is the $5 billion question.
Gen. John A. Wickham Jr., the Army chief of staff, last year offered this endorsement: "They are the best in my 33 years of service. They'll fight, and they are as patriotic as you or I. They follow orders, and they die."