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Six recent Pillager graduates join Navy together

Recent Pillager High School graduates Aaron Jacobson (left) Nick Ruhl, Kaine Schnagl, Trent Brand, Michael Schoon and Levi Lair gathered at the Navy recruiter’s office on Washington Street in Brainerd Friday. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls

These six recent Pillager High School graduates have done just about everything together.

Competed in football, basketball and track. Gone to school dances and played hours of video games. Studied for quizzes, tests and worked on big projects. Just days ago, they walked across the graduation stage.

Their next adventure: joining the Navy.

In a close-knit class of 58, the six guys account for about 10 percent of the students in the recently graduated class from Pillager.

Meet the guys, who in a chain reaction, decided to serve their country: Kaine Schnagl, Aaron Jacobson, Nick Ruhl, Trent Brand, Michael Schoon and Levi Lair.

The group of guys is pretty close. Schnagl and Ruhl are even cousins.

They have their inside jokes - the ones where the whole group bursts out laughing and spectators are left to wonder the meaning.

That's part of the reason they stand out, said Navy recruiter Petty Officer Jerry Provost.

"I don't worry about them at all," he said. "They all depend on each other and push each other. They're a unique group."

It's rare that Provost pulls in a group this large from any graduating class. It's even more unheard of that they are all such good friends.

Typically, larger groups of recruits have cliques, he said. Not the case with his "Pillager boys," as he calls them.

The guys make sure each other is on track. They study together; they show up 15 minutes early to everything Provost schedules.

The decision to join the Navy started with Ruhl, who convinced Jacobson, who recruited Schnagl, and so on.

Lair admits he wouldn't be there without the influence of his friends. So does Schnagl, who only tagged along on a recruitment interview because he had nothing else to do.

No one regrets their decision, though. Each wears his blue Navy T-shirt and hat with a blossoming pride.

It does help a lot joining with friends, though, Schnagl said.

"It's more comfortable that way," he said.

Each has his own reason for signing up.

For Schnagl, it was the traveling and free college education. For Jacobson, it was the education and the ticket out of Pillager. Ruhl wants to serve his county. Brand wants the work experience and the ability to serve the United States. Schoon wants to travel and serve his country. For Lair, it's all of the above.

The branch of service - the Navy - was a clear choice for some. Jacobson's father has talked it up since Jacobson was in the eighth grade and his brother joined previously.

The Navy just stood out above the other branches for the others.

The more Provost works with the group of six, the more they continue to impress him.

"They're completely different than other kids," he said. "They are tight-knit. They keep pushing each other."

Each of the guys ships out to boot camp in a separate month, starting in July and spanning through November.

Schnagl will study to be a construction mechanic. Jacobson, a hospital worker. Ruhl will be a gunners mate. Brand, a cop. Schoon will be an operations specialist. Lair, a nuclear engineer.

Since they're shipping out to boot camp at different times, they most likely won't run into each other at the Illinois-based camp.

If they do, however, they won't be able to talk, Provost said.

Instead, they plan to sneak in a wink - a friendly, Pillager "hello."