Kenneth Jones, 18, was sworn into the Army yesterday, with a Bible in his shirt pocket and a mission in his heart.
"This guy [Saddam Hussein] can't be allowed to take over the whole world," said Jones, a graduate of North East High in Cecil County. "If we have to go to war, I'll look to God, and he'll take care of me."
Demond Hunter also shipped out to Army boot camp yesterday, in part to escape the mean streets of his hometown of Washington, D.C.
"It's getting a lot more violent where I live," said Hunter, 18. "If I can survive there, I think I can survive in the Middle East."
Jones and Hunter were among 49 young men and women who were inducted into the armed forces yesterday at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Linthicum, near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The recruits, dressed mostly in sweatshirts and stone-washed jeans, were sworn in during a brief ceremony on a day that saw the United States inch closer to war.
Before a small group of seven proud but solemn parents, the inductees raised their right hands and repeated the Oath of Enlistment:
"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the uniform code of military justice. So help me God."
They then dispersed to basic training sites across the country. MEPS officials called it an ordinary induction service on an extraordinary day, which they called "K-Day," for Kuwait.
"I thought some of these recruits might not show up, given the circumstances of the world, but it's been a normal day," said Lt. Col. Larry Cereghino, commander of MEPS. "If they showed up, I guess all the questions have been resolved in their minds."
Few of those who were sworn in yesterday expect to see action during the current Middle East crisis. Most new recruits spend four to five months training for active military duty.
Garon Temple, 19, became a Marine yesterday with no real concerns about combat. Between boot camp and infantry training, Temple, of Silver Spring, will remain stateside until at least June.
If he then finds himself headed for the Persian Gulf, he said, "I'll know something has gone terribly wrong. Whatever happens, it shouldn't last that long."
Sondra Alvez, 18, of Forest Hill, was concerned as the midnight deadline approached for Iraq to withdraw its troops from Kuwait. Alvez, a former honor student at Harford Christian School, joined the Army in part for its education benefits.
"I didn't think the crisis would go this far," she said. "If Saddam doesn't pull out, I'll start to get nervous.
"My parents have asked me everything [about the Army] except whether I think I'm going to Saudi Arabia. But, if the Army sends me, I'm ready to go."
MEPS officials don't believe the threat of war has weighed heavily on the minds of recruits so far.
"These kids complain more about not being able to smoke in basic training than about going to war," said Staff Sgt. Bruce Barnes. "But they aren't stupid. They know what's going on, and it takes a lot of guts to do this.
"There's a risk in joining the military. It's a small risk. But there's always a risk."
Natasha Treleaven, 18, of Lanham, is certain of one thing. "We will go to war," she said. "We have a lot at stake. What if Hussein takes over the Suez Canal?"
But Treleaven, who expects to become a Navy hospital corpsman, believes the crisis will abate before she is equipped to care for the wounded. There are more pressing concerns for new recruits, she said.
"I just want to go to basic training and get it over with."