Many are 18 years old and heading overseas for the first time. Some are mothers in their forties with 18-year-old sons and daughters.

They arrive at Fort Dix from all over the country, with different accents, backgrounds and family issues -- about 14,000 troops since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But before they go -- possibly to war with Iraq -- each is prepared by a group of military and civilian professionals who sweat every detail, no matter how small.

The group's mission, as the U.S. military machine shifts into high gear, is to make sure Army reservists and National Guard troops have the knowledge and tools to survive.

The experts show troops how to get through nuclear, biological and chemical attacks and how to operate weapons and vehicles. They give classes on other cultures, provide vaccinations, and check on child care and wills.

They also give unexpected advice to help the troops' families survive: Cut up one of your shirts and sew it into a teddy bear for your child so he or she will feel close to you while you're away, troops are told.

Or buy a children's book and tape yourself reading it so your son or daughter has the comfort of your voice.

And write regularly -- do not just e-mail -- because the knowledge that you held the letters adds the personal touch.

"It's a lot to ask a person to leave the comforts of home and to go somewhere where people hate one another," said David Moore, a spokesman at the South Jersey base and member of the Army National Guard who has served in Bosnia.

For the troops arriving at Fort Dix, every day -- almost every hour -- is choreographed. And the level of detail and organization that goes into their stay is mind-boggling.

The unit's advance party arrives first and prepares the way for the main body of troops. Each man and woman in the unit has a checklist that must be completed before he or she can join comrades in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, or the home front's Operation Noble Eagle.

The troops get medical and dental checkups and attend classes about the country they will be serving in. They pick up uniforms that match the climate of their destination. And they learn acceptable levels of force for each situation, as well as tips on avoiding land mines.

No one leaves until he or she is judged ready -- or "validated," in military parlance.

Overseeing the process is Col. Thomas P. Collins, chief of the base's Strategic Mobility Division, who can look up any name on a computer and determine the soldier's home station, destination, and level of readiness.

Last year, Fort Dix, one of 15 "power-projection platforms" -- installations used to dispatch troops and war materiel -- was ranked first by the Defense Department for its efficiency and care of servicemen and servicewomen.

"There's a pensiveness" in the troops who pass through, Collins said. "One moment, they are accountants, teachers and students. Then, suddenly, they're sergeants and majors."

But Collins said the soldiers were usually too busy to worry.

"They have a punch list to go through," he said, "and when you have a full schedule, there's less time for angst."

Collins, an Army reservist who served in the Special Forces, said the troops are "doing what they're trained for" but need help with the details.

"People don't do a lot of this stuff, like preparing or updating wills, until confronted with the reality that they could go in harm's way," said Collins, whose office is adorned with a picture of John Wayne in his role as a Green Beret and a plaque reading "HOOAH! It's an Army Thing."

"We take care of them until the wheels are up" on the planes taking them to their destination, he said.

Down the hall from Collins's office is the Emergency Operations Center, where the staff monitors the progress of the units. Each unit will spend three days to two weeks at the base, depending on its mission and how much training is needed.

While the troops prepare, Collins's division makes sure their heavy equipment -- armored vehicles, artillery and tanks -- moves ahead to their destination.

"We're very proud of what we do," Collins said. "From anthrax serum to desert canteens, everything is married to the right soldier at the right time.

"It's kind of like a hospital here. There's not much we don't see. There are many glitches, but we deal with them all."

One of the crucial parts of the preparation is helping the troops take care of family concerns.

A soldier might be worried about a wife's pregnancy, a child's behavioral problems or an elderly parent's illness.

"We take care of the soldiers' personal and family issues," said Joan C. Cole, chief of the Army Community Service. "Some of them are single parents and need to make child care arrangements. We help wherever possible."

Cole said one Virginia soldier had left four children -- the oldest, 7 years old -- in the care of his mother-in-law. His wife was serving in Bosnia.

"There are many units that have never deployed before," said Cole, whose husband served during the Persian Gulf War. "There are so many families impacted severely."

Cole said her service helps clear up pay problems and phones some families to offer encouragement and check on their status. She said it also offers referrals to community services that can provide counseling.

"The soldiers are overwhelmingly proud to serve," she said. "They know this is their duty. It's a patriotic, spirited effort."