This is going to be a proud momma boasting blog…so you are forewarned! Yesterday afternoon we drove down to Olathe, Kansas. This is about a 3 hour drive from us. Lily drove a little more than half of the way down. She needs the driving practice…although I think all three of us were happy to exit the vehicle when we arrived! I survived the other two…I will survive this one learning to drive as well. (this is my daily…sometimes hourly mantra.) The city of Olathe, Kansas put us up for the night at the Embassy Suites Hotel in honor of our son, Joe, graduating from their firefighting academy. How nice is that?? We snuck down to the conference center and got to give Joe a hug and be introduced to his academy fellow recruits. There were 10 in all…from all ages and walks of life. Joe promptly handed me his keys to place in my purse (some things never change) as he got all gussied up for the graduation. We, in turn, went up to our room and also got gussied up for his graduation.
We met Michelle, his wife, at the graduation and sat together as the ceremony started. I also handed her Joe’s keys and said, “Tag! You’re it!”. The American and Kansas flags were brought in by firefighters carrying axes before and following. The color guard was led in by a Scottish bagpiper and drum duo. It’s the kind of thing that makes goosebumps pop up on your arms. It was really cool. We then said the pledge of allegiance. All the while, all 10 of the recruits’ gear were lined up across the stage. We learned there are a LOT of chiefs in the Olathe Fire Department and most were there. Not only is this a graduation, but it is also an assignment night (which is more exciting for the recruits….to find out who their fire chief will be, what station they will be assigned to, and what shift they will be on). The OFD chaplains were there and prayed over the recruits giving them the advice to seek the Lord for strength when they need to. Each of the recruits had a family member pin on their OFD badge (a special one for the year 2021 because they are celebrating their 50th anniversary as a fire department this year) and received a framed diploma. Joe was recognized as being a military member. Five out of ten of the recruits have military service. Joe was also recognized as having legacy fire service. This means he has a family member who also serves as a firefighter. This would be my brother, Craig Neitzke, who is a LT in the Cy-Fair Fire Department in Houston, TX. Joe was given a special coin by one of the chiefs to give to his Uncle Craig from the Olathe Fire Department. Four of the ten recruits had this honor. The Captain then swore them in. They then were given envelopes (they were taped under their chairs) to open in front of everyone on stage with their assignments. After cake and photos, Joe got to sign his firefighter’s oath of office and Michelle witnessed it for him. A copy went to him to keep and the other goes into his file. We then went out to dinner and had a great rest of the evening catching up with Joe and Michelle. They left this morning to head to Ft. Chaffey, Arkansas, so Joe could catch up with his Army National Guard Unit before they go to Fort Polk, LA (yes, my old stomping grounds – where I graduated from high school) for 4 weeks of training at JRTC. He will start his job at OFD on shift A, station 1 (the big house), under Chief Simmons. Joe will be learning a lot in such a big station and is really looking forward to getting his career underway with OFD!
I can’t even begin to say how proud I was of Joe last night. This is really a class act fire department who shows compassion, kindness, and professionalism in all they do. I am blessed that he was accepted there and have some great mentors and friends surrounding him. Joe’s best friend, Zac, is also a firefighter and now paramedic (whoop whoop) on the other side of the border in Missouri. Those two…just so proud of them both! Here are several photos from last night’s ceremony.