The Gift of Giving

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ruben Rios
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing
Amidst all the bad news of death and illness, there have been amazing stories of compassion and the human spirit. You see it in the news, on social media, and even on the streets of New York around 7 p.m. each day.

Even among first responders and service members, there seems to be this reciprocating cycle of respect and gratitude.

This is the case for Tech. Sgt. Matt Newman, 514th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Critical Care Air Transport team respiratory therapist, at the 514th Air Mobility Wing, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

Newman takes great pride in being both a firefighter in the Fire Department of New York City as well as a CCATT respiratory therapist in the U.S. Air Force.

“CCATTs are responsible for taking only the most severely injured patients from wherever they might be deployed back to hospitals usually in Germany or the states,” said Newman.

A CCATT is a highly specialized and uniquely skilled three-person medical team that augments standard aeromedical evacuation crew members, and turns an aircraft into a flying intensive care unit.

“The CCAT community is very small, especially in the Air Force Reserve,” said Newman. “The 4H Air Force Specialty Code is respiratory therapist and in the reserves they are all assigned to CCAT teams with a CCATT doctor and CCATT nurse. Since there are so few of us, most of us know each other.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic a stop movement order was issued by the Pentagon. As a result, Newman is currently awaiting deployment at JBMDL. While there, he heard news of other respiratory therapists being assigned to various hospitals in New York.

“I had heard that maybe 15 CCATT respiratory therapists were being sent from all over the country to work in hospitals in New York and it turned out I personally knew nine of them,” said Newman. “They basically got less than 24-hours notice and were then shipped to McGuire then straight to the Javits Center. As I spoke to several friends going through the process, they said they hadn’t had a real meal for several days, so I decided I wanted to try to get some food together for them.”

Tech. Sgt. Matt Simoncavage and Tech. Sgt. Preston O’Neil, both respiratory therapists with the 943rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona and Tech. Sgt. Dave Rudd and Staff Sgt. Geoff Brunelle respiratory therapists with the 433rd Medical Group at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, are all part of this group of highly trained medical personnel sent to the New York area in support of a COVID-19 response team.

“I met Simoncavage during upgrade training at Wright Patterson AFB, and we’ve been on two additional exercises together since then,” said Newman. “Rudd and his team from the 433rd took me in like family when I was sent by myself to Joint Exercise Rainier Medic. When I found out both of them were being sent to Queens Hospital Center, a couple of blocks away from my firehouse, I came up with an idea and decided to give the guys at my firehouse a call.”

Even as he awaits deployment, Newman knew there was more he could do to help during this pandemic.

“I called up my firehouse and said, ‘I know these guys, they’re working on the front lines at Queens Hospital,’” said Newman. “I asked if there was anything we could do for them and without hesitating, the senior guys from my firehouse decided the house would cook up some sausage and peppers and deliver the food to the hospital. They gave up what we were going to spend on Easter dinner to make enough food to feed around 40 people.”

Members from the FDNY’s Engine 315 and Ladder 125 in Queens, N.Y., cooked and delivered food to the Air Force Reserve respiratory therapists working at Queens Hospital Center who then distributed the food to the rest of the Air Force doctors and nurses working at the hospital.

“Ultimately, I’m not surprised the guys at my firehouse would do this,” said Newman. “Even if I wasn’t friends with the medics, they just have a real sense of supporting the armed forces. It was a great feeling to help some friends who dropped everything in their lives to come help the people of New York City.”