Jody Ament joined the Army in 1988 because she was bored with her teaching career and a safe civilian lifestyle.
The Army did not disappoint. Ament, 27, of Finksburg, now carries a weapon and gas mask to work. She is stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, where American bases are on full alert against terrorism. And she may yet be deployed to the Persian Gulf.
Donovan Williams sought a challenge in life when he became a Marine three years ago. Before leaving for boot camp, he sat in his parents' home and explained his choice to a reporter.
"I don't want to die for a little bit of oil or a few thousand acres, but defending the country is a small price to pay for living in the United States," said Williams, of Ellicott City.
Now a lance corporal, Williams, 21, is an infantry rifleman whose unit is currently assigned to the Middle East. Some Marine units already are in contact with the enemy, and the ground war is heating up.
Ament and Williams are among the thousands of Baltimore-area young people who joined up long before Iraq invaded Kuwait and now are part of a massive war effort.
The year they enlisted, the eight-year conflict between Iran and Iraq was ending after 1 million deaths. And the Cold War seemed nearly over: The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, and President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held a summit meeting in Moscow.
It seemed like a safe time to enter the military. Nonetheless, both soldiers stand by their decision to volunteer.
"Absolutely," said Williams, who was home on emergency leave last week. "I have a sense of responsibility, and a lot more discipline.
"It's real, real tough sometimes, when you're lying there wet and tired, and you think, 'Was this the right thing to do?' But you know the answer."
Williams said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "has to be stopped now. It's better than trying to do it 10 years from now, when he has a lot more muscle."
The young Marine was to return to his unit this week. "I'm a little itchy," he said. "The closest friends I've ever had are over there. I'm anxious to get back.
"I haven't seen combat yet. I am a little scared, but it's not a fear that makes me apprehensive. Nobody looks forward to fighting, but it's a job that has to be done."
Both Williams, a former all-Howard County football player at Centennial High, and Ament are crack marksmen with the M-16 rifle. Williams, who scored 226 out of 250 points in his marksmanship test, is classified an "expert."
Ament earned her own sharpshooter badge with a weapon she named "Pig" because it was always muddy in basic training.
She said she has no regrets about joining up.
"I'm glad I did it and, given the chance, I would do it again. I appreciate America more. But I'm not going to re-enlist," Ament said last week in a telephone interview. Eventually, she hopes to work for the National Security Agency or the FBI.
"I could never go back to a humdrum 9-to-5 job after this," she said.
Ament, a graduate of Villa Julie College, was to have returned to the United States last week for her final 18 months of duty. But her transfer has been postponed indefinitely.
Her workplace, a post office at the huge U.S. military complex on the outskirts of Frankfurt, is guarded by Marines. Ament, whose rank is specialist, dispatches mail to personnel serving in Operation Desert Storm.
"My job is okay. I mean, I feel like I have a mission to accomplish," Ament wrote in a recent letter to her parents. "At work we wear our equipment and carry our weapons. Frankfurt is the number one terrorist target. Lucky me.
"Who would have thought, when I joined, that this [war] would happen. But we'll keep kicking butt."