Local firefighting trio heads off to Parris Island

By Catherine Amos

Published: March 7, 2009

Friends and members of Culpeper Co. 1 Volunteer Fire Department gathered Thursday night in the fire hall to bid farewell to three firefighters before they left for Marine boot camp.

Firefighters Joshua Creel, 22, Mike Williams, 17 and Travis Thomas, 17, reported for duty Saturday in Richmond before heading to Parris Island, S.C.

Creel will serve in field artillery and Williams and Thomas will be in the infantry.

“Josh is a third-generation volunteer fireman,” said his mom, Ginny Carter. “I’m so proud of him I can’t stand it. But that’s my baby. I just hope he gets there and back safely. I had him when I was 19, so we’ve kind of grown up together. I’m going to miss him a lot.”

About 30 to 40 people gathered for snacks and cake to send the three Marines-in-training off to boot camp. Thomas’ aunt, Denise Sutphin, sat with three notebooks set out for well-wishers to leave their sentiments and addresses.

Sutphin, also a Co. 1 firefighter, knows all three well — in addition to being Thomas’ aunt, she calls Williams her “adopted child” and grew up with Creel’s mom, Ginny.

“I’m excited for them, but I’m nervous,” she said. “They’ve got their mind set. And of course all of us are like family at the fire department.”

Before enlisting, Creel, a 2005 graduate of Rappahannock High School, was in business for himself as a landscaper but said work has been slow for some time. He will leave behind his younger brothers John and Jacob, and his 1-year-old son, Wyatt Creel-Sieber, who wobbled around the fire hall Thursday while his family cooed.

“It’s something that I wanted to do,” Creel said, “but I guess life kind of caught up real quick. Now the economy’s kind of bad, and it’s a paycheck.”

Williams and Thomas, who have been friends since childhood, both finished their high school requirements at Culpeper County High School in January and will graduate on time in June. Both said they have wanted to enlist since joining ROTC in the ninth grade.

“My dad was in the Army,” Williams said. “I just thought I’d follow in his tracks. If someone did that for my country, why not get out there and give back?

“I’m anxious. I’m not going to lie, I’m scared a little. I don’t know what to expect. But it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Thomas’ reason for joining was simple: job security. That, and serving his country.

“After 9/11,” Thomas said, “and being a firefighter and having the military over there, I just want to help. I’m excited. Ready to get the three months out of the way and get to do some work.”

Co. 1 Fire Chief Stacy Carpenter knew he was losing three valuable members of his team.

“They’re very nice people, very respectful,” Carpenter said. “But with all due respect, you don’t find too many non-respectable people who are going to give their free time to be a firefighter. I wish them the best of luck. It’s a hard job.”