The lecture hall smelled like a damp tent as 200 brand-new privates in sweaty fatigues listened to a brand-new second lieutenant instruct them about the laws of war.
"We wage wars to win the hearts and minds of other people, and if we torture them we lose them as a potential ally in the future," the lieutenant said soberly. "Do you think putting civilians out on point to clear a mine field is a good idea?"
There were some subtle, wise-guy nods among the troops. Most of them were impassive, pondering the moral calculus. A few heads drooped in drowsy surrender.
"We're not to act evilly," the lieutenant said, before cueing a training film with other examples of inappropriate behavior.
"You are in a defensive position just outside a small village. You receive sniper fire from what appears to be a single building within the village," the film narrator said.
"Before taking any other action, you call in an artillery barrage that destroys the entire village."
There was footage of a Southeast Asian hamlet strewn with dead women and children. Such indiscriminate slaughter, the narrator admonished, is wrong, dead wrong. The lecture ended with: "Let no man be sorry he has done good because others have done evil."
So it goes in boot camp.
For the 140,000 new recruits who enter basic training every year, the eight-week Army indoctrination is supposed to teach not only right from left, but also right from wrong.
In theory, it is a time for the nascent inculcation of esprit de corps, when those who will be the first called to fight and die learn why, when those expected to kill or be killed are taught the rudimentary rules of the game.
"We hope to build a soldier who in the absence of orders will do the right thing," said Lt. Col. David R. Kiernan, a spokesman for Fort Jackson. "We're not trying to make them into martinets and we think that's an advantage the American Army has over the Soviet army. The PFC is prepared to take the squad if the squad leader is killed, or the squad leader is prepared to take command of the platoon if the lieutenant is killed. That's the kind of soldier we want."
But for the 30 volunteers from DeLand, Fla., who joined the Army last summer, the high-flying questions of combat morals and morale invariably were buried beneath the daily grind of boot camp survival.
About half of the 30 were shipped to Fort Jackson, largest of the Army's six posts for basic training, where 80,000 civilians were carved into soldiers last year and the inscription at the main gate proclaims, "Victory Begins Here."
Most of the 30 had signed on for support jobs, reflecting an Army that needs 3 1/2 enlisted troops in the rear for every combat soldier in the trenches.
Disoriented and scared, they were hustled into the massive reception station here, often in the middle of the night, and fed a starchy meal such as mashed potatoes and gravy and spaghetti.
For three or four days, they shuttled along a kind of military assembly line beneath uplifting quotations from Gen. Douglas MacArthur about "the fruits of victory," or pithy epigrams that simply urged, "Courage. Purity. Justice."
They shambled past the "contraband board," where recruits are warned to surrender "firearms, bows and arrows, zip guns, slingshots, counterfeiting equipment." Two nearby amnesty rooms -- closets with slots in the walls -- allowed the soldiers anonymously to toss away their forbidden fruits, usually nothing more sinister than a Playboy magazine.
There was a quick stop at the four-seater barber shop with its hum of shears and hair cascading to the linoleum, leaving the women with pageboys and the men with heads cropped so closely their skull contours could be read like a topographical map. Each haircut cost the recruit $2.75 and 160 seconds of his day.
Then it was on to the physical exams and blood typing and dental X-rays for potential body identification, a somber reminder that this was not just another job. And there were pregnancy tests for the women, about 40 of whom are summarily dismissed every month at Fort Jackson for that reason.
Finally, there was the haberdasher, where recruits swapped their T-shirts advertising Harley Davidson or the Atlanta Braves for khaki boxer shorts and combat boots and five pairs of wool socks and four sets of battle dress uniforms, all dispensed eneath a massive sign saying, "You Are About to Become the Best Dressed Soldier in the World."
Through it all there was constant hectoring from the drill instructors:
"Look at you. Your heels are not together. You shave this morning?"
"No, drill sergeant. My razor broke."
"Your razor broke? Razor only cost about 50 cents. Not shaving gonna be more expensive. You look like a hairy-faced bear, son. Get over there and give me some pushups. Drop!" Boot Camp's Heart and Soul
One Army recruiting ad shows the chiseled features of a drill sergeant with this caption: "Father, Coach, Teacher, Leader, Friend. Sergeant."
Somehow, Sgt. 1st Class Silverio Gonzalez didn't quite fit the mold. An 11-year veteran without a spare ounce of fat or ambiguity on him, Gonzalez, 35, was an Army Ranger from south Texas who had volunteered to be a drill instructor.
This was his fifth eight-week cycle of recruits at Fort Jackson and he shared the platoon with two other sergeants. They alternated good guy-bad guy roles; Gonzalez was the heavy on this cycle. His favorite command: "Heyyoucomehere."
His day began at 4:15 a.m. and usually ran past 8 p.m., often seven days a week in an Army oblivious to overtime pay. When one recruit was afraid to shoot his M16, Gonzalez fired the rifle with the butt braced against his own chin and then against his groin to prove that the recoil wouldn't hurt. "Roger that, Ranger."
One of his favorite stunts was to position a dummy dressed as a private atop a rappelling tower and in a fit of mock rage heave it over the side as his raw recruits on the ground watched in horror.
The gesture tended to focus their attention and forestall daydreaming. Gonzalez even persuaded a chaplain to fake last rites for the dummy.
He had had two cycles of female recruits and generally approved of their intelligence and drive, but said, "The women will get to a certain point and just quit. Then they cry. I say, 'Just keep crying. Reminds me of the Rio Grande back home.' "
Drill instructors are the heart and soul of boot camp and the Army says it has placed greater emphasis on their instruction in recent years, emphasizing such leadership rudiments as persuasion, authority and reinforcement.
"The overtime comes on graduation day," said Sgt. William Jones, another DI. "See those faces. See those faces. The tears start coming down -- even on the males. They say, 'I did it.' " 'Not For Everyone'
Most of the DeLand 30 did do it, graduating from boot camp and the subsequent months of technical instruction known as AIT, or advanced individual training.
John Brunetto, 18, was one of the half dozen who failed.
He had entered the Army on July 11 as a 35 Golf, a biomedical equipment repairman, explaining, "My natural father was in the Marines, my stepdad was also in the Marines. Ever since I was a little kid I thought I'd like to try being a soldier."
But basic training and Brunetto were like oil and water from the start.
Every morning he struggled with the 4:30 a.m. reveille. In constant trouble for failure to shave, Brunetto had one particularly nasty spat with a sergeant while on bivouac in the woods. His days as a soldier were numbered.
Around him, others were falling. One disenchanted soldier in his company chugged a can of brass cleaner to obtain his discharge.
Finally, after eight weeks of boot camp and only a couple of days before he was to graduate, Brunetto was bounced out for failure to adapt to military life.
The Army let him keep his combat boots and khaki underwear, but demanded the return of everything else that was government issue. Handed a $57 bus ticket, he left for DeLand at 6 p.m. on Sept. 14, arriving at 5 a.m. the next morning.
His family had warned him not to come home if he washed out, but when young Brunetto showed up they took him back with the proviso that he would pay $100 monthly rent to live under the same roof.
He found work in the shipping department of a local fernery, but when that didn't provide enough to pay the rent, he hustled another job at the International House of Pancakes.
And when Brunetto ran into the Army recruiter in DeLand, the recruiter just shook his head and said, "Bubba, you had two days to go in basic. You could have stood on your head and walked backward and they'd have passed you."
As Gen. Maxwell Taylor once put it, "The Army is not for everyone . . . . It is like church."
There were other washouts from DeLand.
Chris Dupler, who had reported early to basic training because of a seer's warning that he would impregnate a girl at home, was unable to do more than 20 of the required 30 pushups in two minutes the Army demands of men (13 pushups for women).
Discharged on Sept. 21, two weeks into advanced training, he also caught the Greyhound home to DeLand with only his garrison cap, dog tags and grenade launcher's sharpshooting medal as mementos of his brief military career.
Jean Ouellette, 17, and Stephen Detrick, 23, never made it to induction despite signing up as a medical specialist and diesel mechanic. There were rumors that they had married and moved to Tennessee, although Ouellette's mother said, "All I know is she's not going in the Army and I don't know where she is." The Army recruiter in DeLand declined comment.
Justine Disano had enlisted with her new husband, David Autrey, but was medically discharged 16 days after arriving at Fort Jackson because of bleeding cysts. She waited at home in DeLand for her husband to finish basic.
He qualfied as an expert with the M16 but had so much trouble doing pushups within the prescribed time that the sergeant had him doing 1,500 a day.
Disano eventually trailed her husband to Fort Eustis, Va., as a kind of latter-day camp follower, while he learned to fix Cobra gunships. She rented an apartment for $350 a month, more widow than bride since the Army threatened to keep Autrey confined to post until he could perform 48 pushups in two minutes. The Successful Survivors
But for every failure, there were five successes. Mary Elmore, 32, the divorcee looking for a new start in life, left home on Independence Day, arriving at boot camp at 1 a.m. the next morning. Eventually she was assigned to Charlie Four One at Fort Jackson -- Charlie Company of the 4th Battalion's 1st Platoon.
Some of the young girls tried to call her Mom before she promptly put a stop to that. In the barracks at night after lights out, there was the muffled weeping of homesick women and the hooded gleam of flashlights under the covers betraying surreptitious letter writers.
News of the outside world arrived in a daily summary read in formation, and word of U.S. gold medals in the Summer Olympics spread by rumor.
Elmore craved chewing gum, magazines, candy and television -- all forbidden. The DeLand recruiter had warned her there would be days when she hated him. He was absolutely right.
But by the third week of basic, she had begun to think in military time -- 5 p.m. was translated to 1700 hours -- and the calendar rearranged itself automatically in her mind with the date before the month, Army-style. Pvt. Elmore finished basic with flying colors, excelled in advanced training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, and prepared to ship out in mid-December for a two-year stint in West Germany as an Army medic.
John and Leon Pennington, brothers who enlisted together, also made it. John, 17, was to suffer from fallen arches, forced to prop his feet on a laundry bag at night to reduce the swelling.
At first he questioned why his socks had to be rolled and stowed just so in the footlocker, but it didn't take long before he began to believe there was a certain orderly rightness to it. And the female drill sergeant he secretly had scorned at first, well, it turned out "she could do more pushups than just about any guy."
"I never thought I'd respect a woman like that," he confided.
Despite such drudgery as trimming hedges, washing dishes and picking up spent brass shells on the rifle range, with characteristic pep John decided that Army life was great, just great.
His brother Leon, 19, who recently had been anointed "Mr. Orlando" for his brick-chested comeliness in a body-building contest, at first was characterized by his drill instructor, Gonzalez, as "slow but catching on."
For one thing, he marched "like he was stomping bugs" and suffered from shinsplints. The Claymore mine baffled him. He fumbled his mask in the gas chamber, gasping and gagging while he groped for it on the floor.
Also, he couldn't hit the wide side of a barn with the M16 and was held back in boot camp for a few weeks until he qualified. One male soldier in 10 needs remedial marksman training; for women, it's one in four.
But his enthusiasm -- and the fact that he was the strongest man in the platoon -- pulled him through, and eventually Leon joined his brother for advanced training in Texas.
Gerald All, who had joined the Army with hopes of someday flying helicopters, cruised through boot camp as a model soldier. He was assigned to Alpha Two One, in a platoon that called itself the Nighthawks.
In the first three weeks of boot camp, he and his comrades marched to the barber shop four times for haircuts emulating the platoon sergeant's, shaved on the sides with a slight brush on top.
As the weeks passed, the 50 Nighthawks came to look, talk and think more and more like the sergeant.
Morale was high in Alpha Two One. During their runs, when one man dropped out the other 49 jogged in a circle until the laggard caught his wind. There was peer pressure to keep up; no one was left behind. And when they marched, it was often to this cadence:
"A yellow bird with a little bill / He landed on my window sill / I coaxed him with a piece of bread / And then I smashed his little head."
NEXT: Airborne -- death from above?