The platoon's four drill instructors were a forbidding, inscrutable presence. The instructors told them how to eat, walk, shower, wash their clothes, hold their food trays and tie their boots. They never left the recruits alone. The instructors became outsized symbols of authority, knowledge, intimidation and fear.
"It sounds weird but, yeah, we have a lot of respect for our drill instructors," Daniel said. "Once you realize everything has a purpose, it's like, oh, OK, that actually makes sense."
Hibbs found the three teens more mature than most.
"They know why they came, and they know what they've got to do," he said.
Sgt. Lucas Tuning, 25, pounds practical instruction into recruits -- what the Corps calls "knowledge."
Tuning took note of Daniel, but only because of his unusual surname, Motamedi. Tuning pronounced it "Multimedia." The name stuck.
"He seems like he always has a lost look on his face," Tuning said. "Maybe it's just the way he processes information."
Tuning said Steven too often has his mouth open. "I usually have to tell him to shut his lips. He smiled a couple times. That's my pet peeve. If they're smiling, they're having too good a time."
Daryl was harder to read because he was so quiet, Tuning said. "He picks up knowledge pretty good," he said.
As the summer wore on, the recruits absorbed a peculiar vocabulary. The floor was the deck. The door was a hatch. The bed was a rack. A hat was a cover. The toilet was the head. Running shoes were go-fasters. A canteen was a water bowl.
They learned to snap to attention when drill instructors screamed "eyes!" (look at me) or "ears!" (listen up). They learned to refer to themselves in the third person, as in "this recruit." It was one more way for the Corps to beat the individuality out of recruits in its pursuit of a selfless brotherhood.
The recruits heard about Iraq from the drill instructors, but only in a tactical sense -- fire teams, patrols, escorts. There was virtually no discussion of the merits of the war.
They found out that they could "request mast" -- report alleged abuse by drill instructors. But they also learned that they risked being branded an "allegator," a recruit who makes repeated allegations. The three friends did not file any complaints.
Hibbs was asked whether he used behavior modification -- punishment for mistakes, rewards for accomplishments. "I wouldn't say there's too much reward," he said.
A few minutes at ease
At the end of the fourth week, Daniel, Daryl and Steven were allowed to be interviewed. Inside the office of Capt. David Denial, the regiment operations officer, Daniel mentioned that he missed his family, which surprised him.
"I feel like I've gotten closer to my parents," he said. "I know when I get back I really want to spend some time with them."
His mother had written that she sometimes wished he were still a baby so that he'd be home. "Really embarrassing stuff," he said.