When it comes to showing support for men and women in uniform, the Oak Bluffs Ambulance staff wears their hearts on their sleeves. Every Friday, they don special red tee-shirts with a design that features a white ribbon and the words “Support Our Troops” on one sleeve and the Oak Bluffs Emergency Medical Services (EMS) department’s insignia on the back.
At the Oak Bluffs Fire Station last Friday, emergency medical technician (EMT) paramedic Trulayna Rose said she got the inspiration for the shirts while on a patient transport to Boston. She spotted some firefighters from a Boston Fire Department ladder company all decked out in red shirts with a “support our troops” design and asked them what it was all about.
They explained that the “Red Shirt Fridays” campaign started as a show of support for the many firefighters who have been activated for military service over the past few years.
Ms. Rose said on her return to Oak Bluffs she pitched the red tee-shirt idea to ambulance chief John Rose, who encouraged her to pursue it.
“I’m all in favor of anything to do to support the men and women who are protecting our freedom,” Chief Rose told The Times last week.
Ms. Rose went online and looked at a variety of fire department red tee-shirts for ideas. Peter Hall from Basement Designs Inc. in Oak Bluffs helped her come up with the final design and printed the tee-shirts about a month ago.
When it came to funds for the shirts, the ambulance staff paid more than lip service to the campaign. They bought the new shirts with their own money, not department funds.
Support for the troops more than a slogan
The red shirts also convey support for soldiers among their own ranks from Ms. Rose and members of the Oak Bluffs Ambulance staff, whose co-workers Matt Bradley and Jeff Waggett both serve as military reservists.
In May, as Mr. Waggett returned after a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan, Mr. Bradley shipped out for training in California before deployment to Afghanistan.
As Mr. Waggett will attest, the Oak Bluffs EMS department does more than wear the words “support our troops” on their sleeves.
“This winter we sent care packages to Jeff and did what we could for his wife and four daughters,” Ms. Rose said. “There are so many men and women serving their country right now, and many from this Island.”
“They sent me stuff that was so generous while I was over there,” Mr. Waggett said. “I cannot speak highly enough of the support I received from the Oak Bluffs Ambulance staff, and the generosity of the Island was unbelievable. I can’t say thank you enough.”
Mr. Waggett, age 41, has worked part-time as an Oak Bluffs EMT paramedic for a couple of years. He is also a full-time firefighter in Falmouth. He and his wife Tracey have four daughters who range in age from 4 to 12.
As a military police officer in the U.S. Army reserves, Mr. Waggett has served three tours on active duty overseas, including the most recent in Afghanistan, one in Bosnia, and another in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan Mr. Waggett worked as an operations officer with the 101st Airborne Division. He was based at Bagram Airbase in the Parwan Province of Afghanistan and traveled throughout the country while in charge of law enforcement for the Regional Command East.
With the support he received from his co-workers in Oak Bluffs and others in his community, Mr. Waggett said he had fewer worries about home and could focus on his military duties.
“It made life so much easier knowing that what was going on back home was taken care of,” he said. “I had people plowing my driveway; the list of the generosity that was out there goes on forever.”
This week Mr. Bradley is home on leave for a visit with his parents, Fran and Daniel Bradley of West Tisbury, and siblings Gabe, Lukas and Marah.
Mr. Bradley, age 33, was deployed in May for a yearlong tour on active duty in Afghanistan as a U.S. Navy reservist with the U.S. Marine Corps. He spent the two and a half months in training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC), also known as 29 Palms, in California.
“I’ll be working as the senior medic for an infantry platoon of Marines in the Helman Province,” said Mr. Bradley, who is a Navy corpsman.
Although he might work at a hospital or clinic, Mr. Bradley said more likely he would be involved in security for the area, particularly mountain patrols. On his return to California tomorrow, Mr, Bradley said he would spend another month in training before shipping out to Afghanistan for six to eight months.
A graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 1996, Mr. Bradley joined the Naval reserves in 2003 and was assigned to the Marine Corps in 2004. Since he had experience as an Oak Bluffs volunteer EMT, he said he was fast-tracked through training in the Navy. With study on his own, plus on-the-job training, he achieved certification as a paramedic about a year and a half ago.
Mr. Bradley has worked with the Oak Bluffs EMS department for 12 years. His mother has also worked there for six years as an EMT.
On his first overseas tour in 2006-2007 Mr. Bradley served as an advisor with a police transition team that set up a police force in Al Anbar, the largest province in Iraq.
At that time, although he was a volunteer and not a full-time Oak Bluffs Ambulance staff member, Mr. Bradley said, “I got lots of letters and care packages from them.”
While he is deployed, Chief Rose said the department would fill his job as best they can. “We’re struggling, given the financial situation in the town, to put someone in that slot,” he said. “We’ll be stressing and straining what paramedics we have. Everybody has to pick up the slack. But we’re glad to do it, considering the sacrifices Matt and the other men and women in uniform make.”
A growing sea of red tees
In the meantime, Ms. Rose said she hopes other Island groups and organizations will participate in Red Shirt Fridays. The Oak Bluffs EMS department’s shirts have already generated interest among some Martha’s Vineyard Hospital staff members, she said.
“I hope it becomes huge on the Island, so that all the men and women who serve will see that we support them and appreciate what they are doing,” Ms. Rose said.
Last year, Tisbury firefighters participated in Red Shirt Fridays after the Tisbury Firefighters Association sold specially designed red tee-shirts that expressed support for the troops at the July 2010 Tisbury Street Fair as a fundraiser for care packages for soldiers. This year, however, the TFA opted for a different tee-shirt to commemorate the street fair’s fortieth anniversary.
Fire captain Ken Maciel said Rick Mello, owner of MV Screenprinting in Oak Bluffs, donated the artwork and screening charges to defray the cost of the tee-shirts, which helped TFA raise $1,000 from the tee-shirt sales to fund care packages sent to Islanders who are soldiers overseas by Dukes County Director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy.
How Red Shirt Fridays began
In response to a question from The Times about the history of the Red Shirt Fridays campaign, Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said it started about two years ago.
A returning veteran and Boston firefighter brought a request to union and fire department officials, to wear red shirts on Fridays in support of the growing number of firefighters in military service, Mr. MacDonald said. The fire commissioner granted his request with the stipulation that firefighters had to pay for their own shirts and could wear them only if all of the crew assigned to a truck agreed to do the same.
The Boston firefighters’ union took the Red Shirt Fridays campaign to the state firefighters’ union, and it spread to full-time departments across the state, Mr. MacDonald said. “It’s still going strong today,” he added.
With about 10 percent of the Boston Fire Department personnel deployed in military service, Mr. MacDonald said, “The red shirts are one more way we can demonstrate our support for them.”