The goal is to break you down and build you up. That's why some of them call Phase One of this whole process "forming." Because they take the shape right out of you and reform you into the shape they need. The shape of a soldier, the shape of a moral killer. The shape of someone who doesn't think too hard about what he's doing, but when he does think about it he's able to recognize that sometimes evil things are necessary to accomplish good things

They run you. They work you. You climb over things, dead-hang from bars, sit-ups, push-ups, jump over this, and run some more. All the while, you got people yelling at you from all corners. Telling you you're weak. Stressing how worthless you are. You can feel your shape start to crumble, the bits of your old self start to tumble away, like thumbs breaking bits off the edge of a cookie.

They don't let you sleep much for about four days. See what happens to you.

Break you down more. Crumble, crumble.

If you're too weak, you go join the Pork Chop Platoon-where they decide that the hands-on approach is just too soft, and they start hammering you into the shape they need. Oh, and they'll hammer you. They'll get the job done.

Then comes the end of Phase One, which is about three weeks after you got there, after you got your head shorn, and a hard cot, and a bowl of chow in the morning.

When you're destroyed, that's when they come to you.

Three other soldiers and the drill sergeant. They show you a book, and in this book are military logs and Polaroids, and these logs and snapshots show how you're going to die. Me, I was going to die at a checkpoint in Najaf, some woman with a baby that wasn't a baby but was actually a bomb was going to blow the unmerciful hell out of us.

But the sergeant said I can change all of that. I just have to dip this fountain pen in blood drawn from my left index finger, and sign the back of the book. I ask what I am signing, but he tells me the Corps isn't about asking questions, it's about doing what you're told. And those pictures are mighty convincing.

I did what I was told. And I'm still alive long after I left Najaf. Others, though, they laughed it off. They didn't sign. Thought it was some kind of hazing prank.

They didn't make it out of Najaf.