By Alexander Dworkowitz
As troops from Queens and around the nation engage in combat in Iraq, their relatives back at home worry about the soldiers' welfare.
But with their loved ones serving abroad, the families themselves often struggle to make ends meet.
In an attempt to help those families, three paramedics at New York Hospital Medical Center Queens in Flushing have begun a campaign to collect food and supplies for those in need.
So far Freddie Noboa, Peter Kwaith and Steve Fleischhauer have collected about $10,000 worth of toothpaste, shampoo, socks, Easter candy and other food and supplies to distribute to relatives of those abroad in the FreeMAT program.
When the war with Iraq began, the paramedics felt the urge to work with American soldiers.
“We didn't know what we were going to do and how we were going to do it,” said Kwaith, a resident of Whitestone, at a ceremony last Thursday at NYHQ.
Originally the men thought they would travel to Kuwait to treat the injured.
But after meeting with military officials, they learned they could assist the troops by remaining in Queens.
“They told us that the families of the soldiers needed help with their supplies at home,” said Noboa, a resident of Maspeth.
The EMTs adopted the families of soldiers who trained at the 77th Army Reserve Command at Fort Totten, which is in charge of distributing the supplies. About 4,000 reservists have been mobilized from Fort Totten.
Many of those reservists are taking a significant pay cut, and their families are struggling to make ends meet.
Officers from Fort Totten expressed appreciation for the donation.
“This effort will dramatically boost the spirit and morale of our troops,” said Major Bernd Zoller of the 77th Regional Support Command. “If the soldier can psychologically know that his family is being cared for … they know they can keep their minds on the mission at hand.”
Zoller praised the three paramedics for their determination.
“Every time they came around, they just come up with more and more and more of what they wanted to do,” he said.
The EMTs have received large donations from many community organizations, including their own hospital. Students, parents and teachers at St. Luke's Parochial School in Whitestone raised enough money to fill an ambulance with supplies.
State Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing), the president of the Central Labor Council, used his union contacts to raise $5,000, which he donated to FreeMAT.
“The cost of freedom is not cheap,” McLaughlin said. “And while American lives are on the line, we must unite as one in support and appreciation.”
At the ceremony, April Perez of the Bronx, whose husband, Tomas, is serving in the Middle East, thanked the paramedics and military personnel who gave her and her two young daughters an Easter basket.
“This is so nice. My heart is so touched,” she told them. “I am going to write my husband tonight.”
The campaign is not the first time the three paramedics have gone beyond the call of duty.
After the Twin Towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, they traveled to Ground Zero to join the search for survivors.
“We were actually on the hill,” Kwaith recalled. “We were there, digging, 16 hours a day in the rain and in the mud just to help. We had to.”
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.