A cluster of Goths collects around the entrance to the Arena Sports Bar here in Jacksonville, North Carolina, a small city best known for its enormous Marine Corps base and air station. There are skinny boys with thickly mascaraed eyes in tight mesh shirts and huge parachute pants. A handful of tougher-looking guys wears black jeans and black tees with scary logos. The girls favor tank tops and bustiers, fishnet stockings, and knee boots with heels as thick as butcher blocks.

They’re here for "Carpe Noctem," a monthly Goth/Industrial/Darkwave themed-party at this nondescript strip-mall bar, which is just a few hundred yards from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, the home of 47,000 US Marines and sailors. The Goths, a few of them active-duty Marines, gather on the first Saturday of the month to act up and act out, but mostly to reconnect with this extended family of self-identified dissenters, misfits, Wiccans, and free spirits. They wrestle, smoke, yell, gossip, flirt, and tease. A few older scene members, folks in their 20s, talk quietly in the bed of a pickup truck at the edge of the parking lot.

Charles, a Marine Lance Corporal whose tattooed arms are as thick as the limbs on a healthy oak tree, mashes another man against the side of the building, his palm flat against the guy’s chest. The young man, a fellow Marine, is drunk and is causing trouble and pissing people off. Over-the-top behavior attracts the cops, so Charles convinces his friend to call it a night. "I told him, I'll kick your ass tonight, but we'll be best friends again tomorrow," Charles tells me matter-of-factly. Facing a beatdown from his sober—and intimidating -- friend, the Marine accepts a ride home.

Charles works security in the Corps. His girlfriend, a rather unGoth and librarianish woman from L'Anse, Michigan, sticks to him like iron to an electromagnet. She looks wistful, sad. Charles also seems preoccupied. He doesn’t storm around the parking lot with the recklessness of his peers. He watches, keeps people in line; he’s their guardian. Charles deploys to Iraq in a few days with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), the same unit I am going to Baghdad with.

Inside the bar, a dozen or so teens dance and writhe to Prodigy, vintage Black Sabbath, Rob Zombie, and harder stuff spun by DJ Bones, née Jeremy Carter, a Marine Sergeant with the 8th Communications Battalion. The scene is surprisingly playful, adolescent, and respectful for all the ghoulish and revealing attire. The kids are mostly white, but there’s a black guy in a Dr. Seuss hat making arcs with a glow stick and a very young black girl with a pierced tongue. A burly strait-laced man in his thirties, gray polo shirt and close-cropped hair, sips a tonic and lime at the bar. He watches a table of teens like a hawk, among them, his gangly 15-year-old son.

I ask another young Marine, Tommy, who is rocking a see-through red top tonight why he joined the very uniform Marine Corps. "College," he says with a shrug. Cash for higher education. Travis, a blond Californian, sporting black fingernail polish, was a gung-ho Republican when he joined the Corps. He fought in the battle of Nasiriya, he tells me, in which 18 Marines were killed. One of them was his best friend. "I'm a complete anarchist now," he says. He's also a practicing Wiccan. Travis plans to go into “body modification,”as both modifier and modify-ee, after he leaves the service in a week.