The recruits arrive early in the morning. There are twelve of them, driven in a rattling bus that picked them up at dawn from the 30th Street station in Philadelphia. Their names are checked alphabetically on a clipboard: Barnes down to Wells. Not one of them knows what he’s there for.
They’re all quiet, from manners or nerves or temperament. There’s one guy toward the back, a scrawny kid, who keeps coughing and saying sorry, but he's the only one who makes a peep. Not all of them are strangers; they’ve been shipped here from various training camps around the country, and some have trained together already at Fort Bragg or Fort Jackson—three came from Camp McCoy—but none of them lets on. It’s instinctual, maybe: better not to advertise your alliances.
They fidget in the tension, knees bouncing, anticipation rising the closer they get to the camp. The excitement is heightened by the fact that this is rural New Jersey at the best time of day, in the best time of the year. It’ll be hot later—the sky is blue, and not a cloud—but this early, the air is still crisp. The region is all farmland, orchards; Camp Lehigh was built over a big homestead, and a few peach trees remain among the rows of oaks that line the access roads leading in from the highway. The recruits’ first impression of the place is a pleasant, almost idyllic one. Each of them takes it as a good omen.
The size of the camp itself seems to confirm this. It’s bigger than any of them expected—imposing. Still, they’re soldiers. Most of them have spent plenty of time on other bases, and they’re not about to let themselves be fazed by this one. This is business as usual. No fresh-faced conscripts here, save one: the coughing kid. And even that one, bursting with excitement as they approach the barracks, knows as well as the rest of them that he can’t let it show too plainly on his face. They’re here to work, and to compete. They all feel it. Every moment is a test.