OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. –
Texas is coated in white snow, temperatures are way below the normal average, the roads are dangerous, and 4.5 million homes and businesses are experiencing a power crisis. Roads cannot be cleared quickly, and with water facilities lacking power supply more than 12 million people are being issued boil water notices. Beyond this, 264,000 Texans live in areas that do not have functioning water systems.
Thankfully, U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Riley, assigned to U.S. Strategic Command, is a man of action. “If you have the capacity, the resources, and the ability to provide assistance - and you do nothing you’re choosing to leave people hanging,” Riley said.
Riley felt compelled to act quickly. From a young age, Riley’s father instilled in him doing what you can, when you can to help others. Traveling alongside his father on various donation efforts Riley grew up taking action, and continues to embody this sentiment to this day.
“I didn’t have any excuses. I knew eventually there was going to be government support. They already called in the National Guard, but I knew there was going to be a gap in time where people would need some immediate assistance.”
On Wednesday, February 17, Riley spoke with a Decatur water well technician at lunch, and later the same evening spoke with a close friend who works for the Arlington City Fire Department in Texas. Riley said these conversations were “eye opening” to the problems at hand. He immediately began researching areas that were being hit, and lack of water seemed to be the most pressing issue. Due to his ties to the Decatur area he started there. He contacted the Decatur Police Department to see if they had a need of water and they did.
He requested leave on February 18, and started scouting for ways to procure the necessary means of transportation and water supplies. Located in Nebraska, Riley’s truck was already prepared to take on the Texan winter roadways. He made sure his truck’s fluids were topped off, and that he had the right hitch and tie downs. Then, he set off on the journey.
Prepared to complete the task alone, he was extremely humbled at the support he received along the way. Lt. Riley recounted, “I was just amazed at the support that formed around me without my asking. Two of my colleagues bought me a cup of coffee and gave monetary donations as I walked out the door Thursday evening.”
Lt. Riley was faced with a hurdle due to COVID-19 measures. Many wholesalers wouldn’t allow him to purchase more than five cases of water at a time. Luck was with him when he was pointed in the direction of the Ozarka Oklahoma based bottling plant. It was conveniently located on his route, and they agreed to sell him water by the pallet.
Riley purchased a trailer, hooked it up to his truck and made his way to retrieve his first haul of water from Ozarka on Friday 19. Riley realized he was able to make an additional stop before making it to Decatur. He delivered his first load of water around11:30 a.m. to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Texas. Gainesville was along his route and another area in need of water. He adjusted his plans to deliver water there before going back to Ozarka to reload.
During this stint of his journey Michael Shewfelt, another colleague of Riley’s, called asking how he could help. “Mike paid for an entire pallet of water,” Riley stated. In addition to his colleagues’ donations, Riley also received community support through his pastor who purchased an additional two pallets of water. In total, four pallets of water were procured from the Ozarka plant.
When Riley made it to Decatur around 6:00 p.m., he delivered 288 cases of water to the fire department. With a pallet of water remaining, the Decatur Fire Department pointed him in the direction of Boyd, Texas, another area in need of water with an operational collection point.
Finally, Riley made it to Boyd, Texas. “There was a long line when I arrived at the distribution center,” Riley said. Luckily for them Riley was arriving with a gracious load of bottled water. Due to Riley’s rapid commitment to the cause, and the abundant support he was given a total of 6,912 bottles were delivered and distributed across two Texas cities and one town by 7:30 p.m. Friday night.
The accomplishments that Riley and his supporters were able to make over a two day period are admirable. One of Riley’s colleagues touted, “Lt. Riley’s actions are a shining example of service and initiative in a time of need. Moments like these are noteworthy.”
Ever so humble, Riley summarized his experienced by stating, “I received way more than I gave on this trip. I gave my time, but the amount of support people gave was so encouraging.”
“The need goes on. There’s always something. Do what you can whether it’s time, resources, or the know how to figure something out.”
You can help make a difference now by reaching out to local and State organizations, or the American Red Cross.
American Red Cross www.redcross.org/donate/dontation