By Alan Sorensen
If youve been best friends since you were 5, why not make the most important decision of your young lives together?
Thats just what two Havre teen-agers did last November when they enlisted in the National Guard on the buddy system.
Nothing much unusual about that, right?
Well, it is, unless you think thats an everyday occurrence for two girls just starting their junior year in high school.
Yup. Thats exactly what two petite 5-foot 3-inch cherub-faced first sopranos did after school on Nov. 6, 1998.
Today, theyve begun their final year of high school, having already graduated from one of the most rigorous training programs around.
The dynamic duo are Christine Dean and Tara Fialkosky, best friends for about 13 years and nearly inseparable for the last seven. They survived Lincoln-McKinley Elementary School together and are on their way to early outs from Havre High in February 2000.
The pair said they had planned on joining the military for quite a while and didnt wait for the recruiter to come to them.
After participating in the weekend drills with the Havre unit of the Army National Guard throughout the winter and spring, the girls were ready for basic training.
After heading to Butte on June 9 to complete their paperwork and get all their shots, they left for basic training at the United States Army Engineer Center at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Boot camp is supposed to be nine weeks, but we left June 9, Fialkosky said. We ended up staying two weeks longer than anyone else, because our basics began June 23.
Their 11-week stay in Missouri came to an end on Aug. 26, but neither girl minded because they thoroughly enjoyed boot camp.
Basic training isnt as bad as everyone says it is, Fialkosky said. The first two weeks are kind of rough, because the drill sergeants show you who is in charge. They dont want you to be an individual.
Its a team effort, Dean said about being a member of a platoon. And the discipline that went with breaking down a persons self-centeredness was just what she wanted.
The discipline was excellent, Dean said. I got in for the discipline and for the scholarships for college and stuff.
Both girls have relatives in the military which made their choice a little more predictable.
My uncle, grandparents were in the military, and cousin Shane and cousin Randy, whos finishing up in advanced individualized training (AIT) right now.
Their determination alone couldnt ensure that they would be accepted into the guard. Fialkoskys application was nearly rejected because she was on the verge of being too small.
I was borderline because I was too little, Fialkosky said.
She ended up gaining weight at boot camp and today weighs 113 pounds. Dean, on the other hand, lost weight at basic training and is down to a buff 134.
Its all muscle, Dean said with a smile.
If Im this small and I can make it through basic training, anybody whos mentally fit can do it, Fialkosky said.
We like to let people know that its not as hard as they say, Dean said.
You dont have to be physically fit to go into basic training, because they make you physically fit, Fialkosky said. I was a couch potato.
So what did they learn at basic training and what do they have to say about their lives in the military?
Well, they learned to throw hand grenades, fire grenade launchers, shot M16s and larger automatic weapons, use gas masks, and fire gas canisters from their rifles. They also learned hand-to-hand combat and first aid.
You dont really get to hit anyone, though, Fialkosky said about the hand-to-hand training.
And we didnt have live grenades in (the grenade launchers), but we did have to throw live grenades, Dean said.
We had to put our gas masks on in 9 seconds, Fialkosky said.
The result if they failed, according to Dean, was coughing, hacking up stuff, eyes burned.
And we learned how to assemble a Claymore mine, fire it, and disassemble it, Fialkosky said.
But it wasnt all work.
Church was our resting day, Fialkosky said.
We went to church every Sunday, sang in the choir, but you still had to wear your camouflage battle dress, Dean explained.
They also got some time off in the form of passes.
We got a pass after we passed our PT (physical training) test, Fialkosky said.
You got passes only if you didnt mess up during the week, Dean said of the limited freedom they provided. You could go to the PX, use the phone, and get our hair cut. Didnt get to leave the base.
The Havre High seniors also liked the idea of meeting new people and being thrown into close proximity with strangers who would become their comrades in arms.
There were a lot of people down there who werent people persons and they changed, Fialkosky said.
We all learned something while we were down there, Dean agreed. We learned to work together and get along together.
About the only things they didnt like about basic training were laundry duty and reservist drill sergeants.
Quartermaster is not a very good thing, Dean said. You dont want to (do laundry) if you dont have to. KP was fun.
I had to do KP every time that our platoon had to do it. They just pick certain people to go. It was usually our platoon guy and he picked the people who didnt want to do it. It didnt bother me.
KP was too easy, Fialkosky agreed, because you got certain benefits when you were on KP you got to eat first, free pop.
The only problem was drill sergeants for other companies coming in and cussing you out for something.
(Another) of the bad things about basic training, we had reservists who came in for two weeks and then theyd leave and wed get a new one, Dean said. The new one would go against the one who taught us.
It was really confusing for some of us, Fialkosky added.
Yo, Blondie, over here, Dean said, mimicking the response of the reservist drill sergeants when platoon members misunderstood his directions.
Dean and Fialkosky also regretted not having the opportunity to be in an ROTC program before going to boot camp.
We didnt know about the ROTC program before we went in, Fialkosky said. There were ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps).
But it didnt make a significant difference at camp.
In basic training, it doesnt matter what rank you are, you are a private, Dean said. You dont get to wear your rank.
You are always a private, Fialkosky said.
Members of Wolf Pack First Platoon at basic training, the privates are unsure of the name of their new unit in Chinook. Their first time with the Chinook bunch was last weekend, when the unit helped out with Western Days activities.
(Last weekend) was our first weekend down there, Fialkosky said. That was actually pretty interesting, doing that fun run.
In Havre, we had 60 some in our unit, and when we transferred down to Chinook, there were only 30, Dean said.
All they know about their new unit is that it is POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) now and is going through a transition.
Were going to be 92 Alpha, thats computer maintenance, Dean said.
Until next February, Dean and Fialkosky will remain just privates, though they hope to advance from E-2 to E-3 status. Thats when they graduate from HHS and go to AIT.
Were kind of nothing right now, Fialkosky said. Were nothing, really, because were not MOS (military occupation status) qualified yet.
Both are considering careers in the military.
Im thinking about (active military), Dean said. It depends on if I can get advanced physical training.
Both have considered jump (parachuting) school and other rigorous duties.
If you go to jump school, you get hazard pay, Fialkosky said.
It definitely pays better, too, Dean added.
The pair would indubitably make great recruiters, arguing that the military provides medical benefits, wonderful life insurance policy, college benefits, physical fitness, and housing when youre active.
You get cool clothes, Fialkosky said, raising her arms to show off the camouflage uniform.
And you get separation pay if youre married and have to go to training, Dean said.
If you want to meet new people, join the Army, Fialkosky said
I enjoy it really; its kind of fun, Dean said. Its an adventure.
Fialkosky is the daughter of Peggy and Kevin Fialkosky. She has a little brother, Desmond, and younger sister, Mandy.
Dean is the daughter of Wanda and Bill Dean. She has an older brother, Mikel, and younger sister, Yvonne.
To put some excitement into their lives this weekend, both girls plan to don blue and white and enjoy Havre High Homecoming and Havre Festival Days activities.