PORTAGE | The five friends dubbed the "important guys" gathered in Jennifer Hudson's home for pancakes before their last day of high school.
It had become a common scene to have all five teens hanging out at Hudson's house, but beginning this week they will be parting ways as the 2013 Portage High School graduates venture into different branches of the military.
Somewhere along their time in high school, a sleepover between the five classmates turned into an extended family.
"Everyone knows each other as mom or dad," said Norman Sanders Sr., a father of one of the teens.
Some had known each other since they were children, but all five came together through their involvement in the school's Marine Corps JROTC program.
Jon Hudson, 18, said he knew he wanted to join the Marines as soon as he saw a commercial when he was 3 years old. Tony DeMaria, 19, chose to enlist in the Army because he wanted to be in combat and wants to make a career out of his service.
Norman Sanders, 18, said his family has a long history of involvement in the military. He decided to join the Navy after exploring the different branches because he could transfer those skills to other jobs in the future.
Josh McClellan, 18, plans to join the Army because he knows the most people in that branch. Shane Brayton, 18, is joining the Army and has already started an Army program in high school.
On Sunday, the families are coming together to have a going away party for the boys. About 250 people are expected to attend the event at the American Legion Post 260 in Portage.
Norman Sanders Sr. said he thought of the idea to have a combined party for the teens after realizing they all had conflicting schedules because of different departing dates.
Hudson leaves for training June 23. DeMaria leaves for his training July 2.
The teens say they spend every day together — from school to pulling pranks together. Their bond is noticeable in the way they answer questions for each other and immediately get each other's inside jokes.
But after this summer, military life will separate them and take them to different parts of the world.
DeMaria said he'll miss the convenience of having his friends around all the time. Brayton said he'll miss going to Taco Bell with his friends and the way they can never stay mad at each other.
"I haven't had any other friends," Brayton said.
They say they plan to use social media like Facebook and technology like FaceTime to stay in touch. In about four years, they plan to reunite in Las Vegas once they are all 21.
While the friends begin their military careers, their parents will stay behind in Portage. Norman Sanders joked the parents will be bored while they are off having fun.
Debbie McClellan said the parents talk to each other as much as the teens. Last week, most of the parents sat together at the Portage High School graduation as they got closer to the big day when they would go separate ways.
Jennifer Hudson tears up as she thinks of son Jon leaving for training. She said she's also sad because there was always comfort in knowing that her son was safe with the "important guys."
Debbie McClellan said she is proud of the boys who all decided to pursue the military but is also sad now that their trainings are approaching.
"We are going to buy out all the Kleenex at Walgreens," she said.