What is Red Shirt Friday? Among fans of the original Star Trek television show there’s an old adage about the expendability of anyone wearing a red shirt sent down to the latest planet to explore, and you could be forgiven for mistaking that cultural meme for this event but for our discussion, Red Shirt Friday applies to an observation made to honor troops who have deployed.
What Is Red Shirt Friday?
It helps to know that the “red” in Red Shirt Friday is an acronym, which stands for Remember Everyone Deployed. Red Shirt Friday, also simply known as RED, is an informal, optional, and very popular campaign that involves participants simply choosing to wear a red shirt on any given Friday in order to show support for all deployed troops. An informal motto for this observance goes, “Just wear red and tell your friends why!”
You’ll find those working at the VA, AAFES, MWR, military family members, and supporters of the troops all taking part in varying degrees.
Not To Be Confused With…
There are actually two national/international campaigns that invoke the word and the color red; one is what we’re discussing here–Red Shirt Friday–but the other is an initiative that got its start roughly the same time called RED.
The RED program, also known as Product Red, focuses on fundraising to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. This campaign, started by Bono from U2 and Bobby Shriver in partnership with companies including Nike, Electronic Arts, Gap Inc. and many others.
RED is not affiliated in any way with Red Shirt Friday, but it’s clear that both causes are worthy of attention. Retail sales of red-themed merchandise is available in association with both but the messaging of RED Friday’s is distinct and can’t really be confused with the Bono/Bobby Shriver RED campaign.
Origins Of Red Shirt Friday
Like many military-affiliated traditions, the origins of Red Shirt Friday aren’t quite clear but it seems that an early mention of this (as discussed on Snopes.com) appears to be an old-fashioned “chain letter” type email from sometime in 2005 or 2006, which reads in part:
“Many Americans, like yourself, would like to start a grassroots movement…” “…simply to recognize that Americans support our troops. We need to inform the local VFWs and American Legion, our local press, local TV, and continue carrying the message to the national levels…”
The email, as reproduced by several sources, goes on to encourage people to wear something red to identify as a red-blooded American “who supports our young men and women” deployed in any number of current or former operations.
But in 2006, a Canadian effort to promote RED caught on in events all over Canada–and likely thanks in no small part due to a combination of a desire to support the troops and overall patriotism. Red is, after all, a predominant color in the Canadian flag. It wasn’t long until someone taking part in the Canadian effort thought it would be a very good idea to bring RED to the USA.
Lloyd Hofmeister, a former Marine, is credited with bringing the RED concept across the border into America, in part because in his words, low morale among the troops has dangerous consequences. He acknowledged that it wasn’t his idea but was motivated by a desire to raise that morale by letting troops know in a culturally visible way that they are supported in their efforts in combat zones, deployments, and overseas assignments.
Red Shirt Friday Today
Still the informal observation you might expect it to be, RED Fridays does not command bank holidays, stock market closures, or time off work but in spite of that many major organizations have shown support for the observance over the years. What kind of major organizations? They include state and local governments, Southwest Airlines, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Soldiers’ Angels, and even Amazon.com. All have participated in one way or another through awareness raising, merchandising, and grassroots promotion of these special Fridays.
Like most informal observances the popularity of RED Fridays goes up and down in any given year or number of years–when there is new military activity overseas or headlines about deployed troops, RED observances may increase dramatically. Especially if something associated with RED goes viral on social media.
You don’t need anything special to participate except an item of red clothing visible as a top, jacket, sweater, t-shirt, etc. Those who want their RED efforts to get attention on social media should mark their posts using hashtags related to Red Shirt Friday, RED, or Remember Everyone Deployed.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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