Between 150 to 200 people showed up at the Christ Dunberger Post Legion Hall on Pickle Road for a special send-off to Northwood graduates Lance Mendoza, Ronnie Koch, Brandon Bugbee, and Thomas Lackner.
The young men, who have enlisted into the U.S. Marines, were also honored at a blessing ceremony at Hope Community Church in early September. Three of the boys left one day after their send-off for basic training at Parris Island, S.C., and Lackner is scheduled to leave in October.
“The kids have known each other from I think second grade, when we moved over to Northwood,” Susie Mendoza, Lance’s mother, said.
“I know Lance and Ronnie were on the same soccer team when they were little, in third grade. The only way I know that is because I was their coach and every year at the end of the year the parents of the soccer team would give me a shirt with the names of all the kids on it. They were all pretty close, but Brandon and Ronnie were really close.
“I know Lance and ‘Bugbee’ way back in junior high had made a pact and I just thought it was little boys being little boys saying they are going to go into the Marines together. I heard it once or twice and then never heard it again. Then it surfaced again when they were like, a junior. I thought, ‘Oh, they are really serious.’ They were dead serious,” Susie continued.
“They’ve been best friends since they were teeny-tiny. There were many times when Lance would be getting into trouble, or I’m looking for Lance and I couldn’t find Lance but if I knew I got a hold of ‘Bugbee.’ He really didn’t want to give his buddy up. It was like pulling teeth. That’s what they do — they watch out for each other and they’ll continue to do it in the Marines.
“But they are friends to the end. They made this pact and kept to it.”
U.S. Marine Sgt. Cody Hancock, the recruiter who drove Mendoza, Koch, and Bugbee to Detroit Metropolitan Airport for their departure flight to basic, said it is not unusual for a group of young men who are friends to enlist together. Sgt. Hancock is stationed at the Bowling Green recruiting office.
“It’s pretty often. A lot of times you have a couple guys in a school that want to do it and that will influence others to say, ‘Okay, if they can do it maybe I can,’” Sgt. Hancock said.
“One showed interest, and the others kind of followed suit,” Sgt. Hancock continued. “They’ve kind of seen an opportunity that is something that very few people take advantage of. In today’s economy, it’s not like it used to be where anybody can join the military. We’re taking the cream of the crop nowadays.
“They are all good guys. They all seem to be definitely mature for their age. They are making decisions that are going to be productive, and they are not just doing it to involve going to college and see where it takes them.”
Ronnie Koch admits it was a decision he made long before high school. In addition, he will get his college paid for after his discharge.
Koch plans on going into the infantry, then forest reconnaissance. At the blessing ceremony, friends and family not only wished him well, they prayed for him, he said.
“It’s because I felt like it was what God was telling me to do,” Koch said prior to leaving. “That’s how it worked out. We’ll be at boot camp together, but we’ll probably not be in the same barracks. I’m excited. I’m ready to go.”
Why are his three friends also heading into the Marines?
“Pretty much the same reasons — because they just want to prove it to themselves, and they just want to be there,” Koch said.
“Somebody has got to do it. It’s the toughest and the hardest and not everybody can do it, and they are the first to go,” he continued. “I’ve always wanted to do it. I started talking to the new guidance counsellor and she told me there was someone else at the school that just started talking to her about it. That’s how Brandon and I started talking.”
Ronnie, who played basketball and baseball at Northwood, is the brother of Danny Koch, a former Northwood football player who is now enrolled in ROTC at The Ohio State University. Danny plans to enter the U.S. Navy after college, but his decision had little to do with his younger brother’s.
“I wanted to join the Marines before he wanted to go ROTC,” Ronnie said. “It’s kind of pretty cool. He is doing it kind of opposite then me, because he is going to college first to become an officer, and then I’m going in for four years and then I’m going to college for free.”
Koch will earn leave before his infantry camp begins, so his family will get to see him right after basic training.
“I don’t know where it’s going to be, but after boot camp I’ll come home for a couple weeks because they don’t have infantry starting up until after Christmas because it will be too cold during Christmas for them to start infantry camp. I think I’ll graduate around the 11th of December, come back after that, and I think it starts around January 27,” Koch said.
He said he’s prepared for the physical and mental demands that come with boot camp and infantry camp.
“Yeah, for sure, especially after playing varsity. Every year I played a sport I started varsity, so that will help out with the leadership, too,” Koch said.