School bids goodbye to Mr. Goebel
Popular physical education teacher called to active duty with guard
At Tonganoxie Elementary School, some students felt their first brush with war when physical education teacher Jeremy Goebel said goodbye last Wednesday morning.
And because Goebel, and others who live in this area are in the military, the school next week will initiate a yellow-ribbon campaign, hanging pictures of active military personnel with yellow ribbons in the school hallway.
Goebel learned Feb. 1 that he had been called into active duty as of last Saturday. A first-year teacher who is said to know the names of all of his 360 students, Goebel has been a member of the 137th Transportation Company, Olathe, in the Army National Guard since college. If he had not been called up, his military duty would have ended this month. Now it's anybody's guess as to how long the 24-year-old will remain in the service.
Goebel and his fiancee, Lisa Borg, moved their wedding date ahead four months so they could marry before he left. Amid the rush of his last week at home, the couple set aside time to say goodbye at Tonganoxie Elementary School.
Last Wednesday morning, despite the cheerful red, white and blue streamers lining the school halls, and banners reading: "You're our hometown hero!" and "You're the best Mr. Goebel!" there was a somber atmosphere to the school.
The normally effervescent youngsters were subdued as they entered the music room where Goebel waited to talk to them. It was a voluntary hush seldom seen in a room full of youngsters. The only sound was the soft shuffling of rubber-soled shoes moving on carpet.
After all were seated, Goebel talked about his plans.
"I'm in the Army National Guard and I got a call where I'm going to gone for a while," Goebel said to the third-graders. "I'm going to be doing army stuff. But I'm going to be your PE teacher again -- I'm going to be back."
Heads perked up and eyes brightened when Goebel told them this next bit of news: "This Friday I'm going to get married and my future wife is standing in the back of this room."
Goebel, who also coaches wrestling at Tonganoxie High School, reminded the students that he thinks of them as if they were his own children.
"Mr. Goebel's not leaving because he doesn't like you," Goebel said. "He loves you. You're my motivation -- you and my family -- you all play a big role in my life."
And, he told the students not to forget him.
"Remember that Mr. Goebel's going to be back at school as soon as he can," Goebel said. "So when you see him, don't say, 'Who's that guy?'"
One third-grader asked Goebel why he had to leave.
"To serve all of us, to be a soldier for awhile," Goebel said.
Another student asked: "If we do have a war will you fight?"
Goebel answered, "I'll do my job, whatever that is."
When a student asked if Goebel was going to practice for war or if he were going to war, Goebel's emotions, as well as his efforts to prevent the children from worrying about him, were transparent. He paused, then answered in a low, quiet voice:
"I'm going to practice -- all right."
Hope in his voice
Third-grade teacher Sara Moraille described that moment as "profound."
"I think it was the hope in his voice," Moraille said. "I think that's what he was truly hoping for -- for him and for them."
Moraille could especially relate to Goebel's situation, because her brother, Daniel Saunders, the son of Mike and Edna Saunders, was deployed the day after Goebel was.
Daniel, 25, is in the army's 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell, Ky. He is going to an undisclosed location -- somewhere between eastern Pakistan and the Horn of Africa.
Moraille said she doesn't think children understand what war means.
"They understand the fighting and that the people can die," Moraille said. "But I don't think they understand the consequences of other things -- the economy, the family. They have a hard time understanding the far-reaching consequences of war."
This could be a learning experience for the children, she said, in that children will learn that war is more than fighting -- it's a sad situation where people can be taken away from their families and jobs.
Learning about heroes
Moraille said it must have been difficult for Goebel to learn -- when he was just weeks away from completing his national guard commitment and then to be called up.
"This came at a really inopportune time in his life and he handled it with respect and dignity," Moraille said.
Goebel is setting a good example for the students, she added.
"Our life skills lessons the next nine weeks are on citizenship, and heroes and he just pretty much set the standard for that," Moraille said.
Moraille said the school is encouraging community members to bring in pictures of loved ones who are in the military.
"They don't have to have a child in school to send a picture," Moraille said. "We just want the kids to see how many people are involved in it, how far-reaching it has been."