Recruiter salutes buddies who join Army together (slide show)

MARYSVILLE – Brandon Peterson and Sebastian Denke used to play military out on their elementary school playground.

MARYSVILLE – Brandon Peterson and Sebastian Denke used to play military out on their elementary school playground.

“We’d get in trouble for using fake guns,” Peterson said.

They won’t anymore. The best friends recently joined the military together under the Army Buddy Enlistment Option. With it, up to five friends can enlist and then train and go to their first base together for the first year.

Both 18-year-olds plan to go into the infantry.

As a recruiter in Marysville, Sgt. 1st Class Christian O’Keefe said the program is going to boost his numbers.

“One reason young people don’t want to join is they don’t want to leave their friends and family,” O’Keefe said, adding husbands and wives are even joining together in other areas.

O’Keefe said the Army used the program before but ended it about 10 years ago because the three-year commitment offered at the time was too hard for the Army to honor. But since recruit numbers are down, the Army decided to offer it again, just for a shorter period of time.

Denke said he learned about the program watching an old movie. He and Peterson came in to the recruitment center to see if the program was still around. It was only brought back a few months ago.

“I didn’t even know it was an option,” Peterson said. “I’m excited to go to basic (training) with my buddy.”

Both said they haven’t done much other than play video games since they graduated from high school, so their parents are behind their decisions 100 percent.

“We spent too much time behind the computer,” Peterson admitted.

He could tell he probably should have spent more time exercising as O’Keefe put the pair plus other recruits through some physical training behind the recruitment center. Peterson grimaced in pain during one exercise when he found it tough to continue.

Along with the PT, O’Keefe has recruits learn some of the basics online to “ease up the learning curve,” he said.

O’Keefe said after the holidays the recruits will leave in January for basic in Fort Benning, GA.

“That’s when the work really starts,” he told the recruits. “That’s when you make an ugly face and mean it.”

After the 14-week infantry school, Peterson and Denke will “continue to train and hone their skills to do their job” at their first base, until the year is up.

Both recruits said the Army is a good place to start and get direction to their lives.

“It’s a good stepping stone in life,” Peterson said.

Depending on how it works out, the Army could end up being a career, although Peterson said long-term he’d like to be a firefighter. He’d thought about continuing in school to do that, “but college isn’t for everybody,” he said.

O’Keefe said he is proud of the new recruits.

“I wish I had more guys out there like these two,” he said. “It speaks well of this young crowd to step up and take the challenge.”

He said support is key for all recruits. He likes to sit them down with their folks, family and friends. That way it is not a knee-jerk reaction to sign up.

But it’s really special when friends join together.

“Anybody can slap you on the back and send you on your way,” O’Keefe said. “It means something to not just stand behind you, but to stand beside you.”