"Y'all are out of high school. Mama cut the umbilical cord years ago."
In the afternoons, they gathered outside the brick building to talk, some dragging on cigarettes or spitting chew. They e-mailed Marines in the field or watched videos they filmed of their firefights in Iraq. But first, duty called.
Lance Cpl. Peter Dmitruk, 20, of North Olmsted, Ohio, used his scabby, skin-grafted arm to wipe the tables with a cloth. "If my mother sees me cleaning, I'm done. I won't be able to pull the 'Mom, my arm hurts' routine," he said.
Later that day, Sgt. Jack Durgala – an infantryman who loved his job so much that he tattooed its code, 0311, onto his arm – picked up a pellet and examined it between his trigger fingers.
"You can take the grunts out of the battle, but you can't take the battle out of the grunts," he said, tossing it in the trash.
Sgt. Jonathan Brown, 23, a tall, blond Marine from Indianapolis, said his first month of convalescence at home was awesome.
His arm had been shredded by a friendly-fire missile during the November 2004 raid on Fallujah. Eight months and 17 surgeries later, Sgt. Brown resorted to weekly buzzcuts at the barber to stay busy.
"It was the only thing I could do to feel like a Marine," he said. "I was losing my mind."
In August, he went to work helping to organize the wounded-warrior barracks.
As the program expanded from just a few men, the team split into three squads. One heads to the Camp Lejeune hospital to coordinate doctors' appointments and medications and check on Marines arriving on medevac flights.
The others work in public affairs or serve as teachers' aides at Johnson Primary School.
A few months ago, Cpl. Juan Ramirez, 21, of Oklahoma City was climbing into a Humvee when the driver gunned it, flinging him to the ground.
Now, with his busted arm, he's bent over a worksheet helping an Argentine boy make sense of teacher Elizabeth Hudson's questions. Juan Cruz Hillman Segura, 7, a freckle-faced boy just starting school in America, can't speak much English.
"¿Qué va a hacer?" Cpl. Ramirez asked, looking at the worksheet about the growth cycle of bean plants and translating for the teacher: What will happen next?
"Flower!" Juan answered, thinking of the English word.
"Good job! ¡Excelente!" Mrs. Hudson said, beaming at the boy and the Marine.
'It ain't growing back'
When "Gunny" Barnes asked the Marines at the barracks who was getting out of the Corps soon, someone reminded Cpl. Timothy Maguire, 21, of St. Louis to raise his arm: "Stubby!"
Cpl. Maguire gamely raised the stump of his right shoulder and grinned.
You might as well have a good attitude, explained Cpl. Maguire, who works as a comptroller for the barracks. "It ain't growing back," he said.
The wounded Marines who live and work together in the barracks seem to be progressing faster than the others, said caseworkers and medical corpsmen at the base.
They know the guilt of leaving your team behind. They know what it's like to be stared at, about morphine dreams and the phantom burning pain of a nerve pushing its way through scar tissue.
"Everybody in this building knows what it means to get injured," said Joe.