BUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York Army National Guard Soldier on duty at Buffalo International Airport the day after Christmas went above and beyond the call of duty to help a stranded passenger and her children.
Pfc. Gabriel Martorella, a member of the 719th Transportation Company who was on duty at the airport collecting health forms from travelers, was approached by the Transportation Security Administration to talk to a passenger who did not speak English well.
The woman and her two daughters – an infant and a 3-year-old – were having luggage problems. They had missed her flight to Puerto Rico and she was having trouble communicating.
That’s when Martorella, a Bronx resident, stepped in.
“As a result of the poor weather and consequently numerous flight delays in conjunction with her inability to comprehend English, she missed her flight,” Martorella said. “All she had was her personal belongings as her bags were already en route to Puerto Rico.”
Martorella learned the woman’s flight to Puerto Rico was rescheduled to the following afternoon.
“I explained the changes to her to which she became physically and emotionally distraught,” Martorella said. “She cried and said how she was stranded and had very little to almost no money.”
The passenger pleaded to get to Puerto Rico and said the only other option was for her and her daughters to sleep at the airport. Martorella said he tried to find a solution with the help of TSA staff.
“I realized I could not in good conscience allow her and her children to stay overnight in the airport,” said Martorella. “She and her children needed a place to eat, sleep and shower.”
That is when Martorella said he took it upon himself to book the woman a room at a hotel across the street from the airport, paying for it himself.
“I explained to her what was going to happen, that she would be staying in the hotel but must be back tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. to check in for her flight,” Martorella said.
After getting permission from his supervisor, Martorella went with them on a shuttle to ensure they got to the hotel and checked in to their room.
“At the hotel, we were lucky to find another employee who did speak Spanish,” said Martorella. “I explained the situation to him and the need to ensure that she needed to be back on the shuttle at 11 a.m. the next day.”
Before leaving the woman and her daughters, he gave her money for food. Then he went back to his shift at the airport.
“She was extremely thankful,” said Martorella. “I followed up with the Days Inn and they confirmed that she checked out and was able to catch her flight.”
“Pfc. Martorella went above and beyond that evening. He ensured the safety of a civilian and her children,” said Air National Guard 1st Lt. Kathleen Urtz, a member of the 107th Attack Wing who was in charge of the mission at the Buffalo airport. “His willingness to help as well as his overwhelming empathy during a stressful time displays his dedication, his selfless service and his character not only as a Soldier but as an amazing human being.”
“Even without recognition, I would do this again,” Martorella said. “The Army, the National Guard, has instilled within me the values of selfless service, integrity and helping my community. It was my pleasure to help others in their time of need.”