Conn. firefighters wear red shirts to support troops heading overseas
By Richard Weizel
The Connecticut Post Online
STRATFORD, Conn. — Timothy Mecozzi will be home for the holidays.
But after that, the U.S. Marine's father, Stratford Fire Lt. Jim Mecozzi, and mother, Charlotte, don't know when they will see their only son again.
That's because in mid-January the Mecozzis will say a tearful goodbye to their 22-year-old son, who will be among a battalion of 2,000 Marines shipping out from their North Carolina base for deployment, possibly to Afghanistan under President Obama's decision to boost the war effort there against the Taliban.
Marisa Minton, who married Stratford firefighter Roy Minton last April weeks after the Connecticut Army National Guard captain was deployed to Iraq, will have to settle for talking to her husband on the telephone — as she has once or twice a week for the past six months — during the holiday season. He isn't scheduled to return until late spring or early summer.
"You learn to live by the cell phone, just waiting for that next call to hear his voice so you know he's all right," said Marisa Minton, a volunteer in the town's Emergency Medical Services unit the past eight years.
Meanwhile, Jim Mecozzi, a 14-year veteran of Stratford's Fire Department and a resident of the Georgetown section of Redding, said that while being a firefighter "is, of course, a risky job, when you are talking about being in the military during war, I can't think of anything more dangerous.
"But being a Marine is something he [Tim] has wanted to do since graduating from [Joel Barlow] high school," he said of his only child. "When he enlisted about a year ago, he knew the risks and he knew something like this [deployment] could happen. Of course it's not something that as a parent you are happy about. But it's what he wants to do and we support him with all our heart."
So does the nearly 100-member firefighting force in Stratford, which in June became one of the first in Connecticut to participate in "Red Shirt Fridays," a national effort to show public support for American troops overseas.
Every Friday, Stratford firefighters wear red T-shirts with the slogan "Support Our Troops" printed on the back, with particular focus on Mecozzi's son and Minton.
This past Friday was no different, as Jim Mecozzi and a group of firefighters were changing shifts during the late afternoon at Fire Department headquarters on Main Street, all wearing the red shirts and talking about why they will continue to do so indefinitely.
"My father was a Marine, having served in World War II and Tim is not only following in his footsteps, but served at the same boot camp and is stationed out of the same North Carolina military base, Camp LeJuene, where his grandfather served," said Mecozzi. "By wearing these shirts we are reminding the public not to forget all the troops serving overseas."
Some of the department's military veterans said the Red Shirt program is especially important to them.
Firefighter Mike Tiberio, who served in the United State Navy from 1975-83 and took part in the Grenada conflict in 1983, sadly recalls watching friends die in the battle.
"It's not something you ever get over," Tiberio said. "But whether you agree with whatever war we are fighting in or not, wearing these shirts reminds people to support the fighting men and women who are in harm's way," said the seven-year department veteran.
Fire Union President Bill Hansen, also a military veteran, having served in the United States Navy from 1993-99, said he suggested the department take part in the Red Shirt program after he heard about it from departments in Branford and Hamden.
"The public sees cops, firefighters and EMS workers doing a lot to protect them locally, but this program helps remind people our military brothers and sisters are fighting overseas who they can't see, but are protecting them every day very far away," he said.
Hansen said the department has also sent care packages to overseas units "to let them know we are thinking about them here, that we greatly appreciate what they are doing."
Marisa Minton said the holiday season is "an especially difficult time of the year. But the support I feel from the local department has been wonderful, and I love the Red Shirt program because it keeps all the troops on our minds. I wear one of the shirts every Friday, too.
"For many people, just being married to a firefighter is tough because it is a dangerous job," she added. "But firefighting is in my family, so I'm used to that. But right now, I would give anything just to know Roy was safe and coming home very night."
Red Shirt Friday is catching on across the nation. Employees of major corporations, fire departments and even high school athletic teams have joined the project, which has as its motto: "We will wear red shirts until every soldier comes home." The color red symbolizes blood spilled by military personnel as a reminder of their sacrifice, according to program organizers.
Logos and statements have been printed and customized on the red T-shirts to reflect the diverse groups declaring support for the troops.
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