The five buddies are Patsos, Baffa, Dinger, Chris Bowers and Corey Matus.
Patsos and Baffa are lance corporals; the other three are privates first class.
Matus is the only active-duty Marine, and he's currently stationed at Fort Sill, Okla.
The other four are reservists, in the same company, unit and duty station. They're with Delta Company of the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, based at Camp Upshur on Quantico Marine Corps Base.
They're using their military benefits to attend Germanna Community College. All four also have part-time jobs.
Patsos and Baffa were the first to leave for boot camp, a few weeks after high school graduation.
The two look alike, and their platoon leaders couldn't always tell them apart. Sometimes, one would speak to Patsos or Baffa and ask about his "twin sister."
They're both Italian, about the same height, with the same dark eyes, hair and skin tone.
"And they're both ugly," quipped Bowers.
That's part of being in this private platoon, too--taking constant abuse.
But when the two returned from boot camp, their friends noticed a change. They saw a difference in how they carried themselves and talked with others, as well as their attitude and discipline.
The three others went to the local recruiting office as well, even though Dinger swore he'd never join the Marines. He'd watched their ads on TV when he was younger and vowed he wanted no part of the Corps.
But Dinger discovered it wasn't as "horrific" as everyone who's ever watched "Full Metal Jacket" might think. He also came back from boot camp a new man.
"When he left, he was 6-foot tall," Patsos said. "Now he's 6-4. You just hold yourself higher after you've been through this."
'Always the five of us'
All five had other friends in high school, in addition to the core group. Bowers even played on the state-championship soccer team and had plenty of buddies who were jocks.
Each tried to bring some of their other friends into "the group," as they like to call themselves.
"But at the end of the day, it's always the five of us," Baffa said.
It's tough on them, being apart from Matus. They worry he'll get shipped to California next, and they won't see him between assignments.
"It's hard, because you're so tight," Bowers said.
"But I talk to him almost every day," Baffa added.
The group has been even closer since finishing their 13 weeks of boot camp. Each understands what the others have been through and talks at length about the "essence" of being a Marine, Baffa said.
The men also spend a lot of time on another favorite pastime: fishing. They'll be out on the Rappahannock River until the wee hours of the morning, talking about what will happen if they get deployed or how they'd like to live, next to each other, and raise their children together.
"There's nothing that can break us up. Absolutely nothing," Baffa said.Fredericksburg.com - Longtime friends are now all Marines