Retired Navy Seal Jason Redman is getting ready for his close up.
Severely wounded in Iraq in 2007, the highly decorated special ops vet – and winner of the American History Channel’s 2017 Red Bandanna Hero Award — will be making his TV debut on Friday’s episode of the hit CBS series Hawaii Five-O – thanks to his longtime friend, actor Gary Sinise.
“Peter Lenkov, who runs Hawaii Five-0, used to be one of our top writers and producers over at CSI:NY,” Sinise tells PEOPLE.
“He contacted me saying he was looking for a veteran for a part,” says Sinise, who has spent the last 40 years helping wounded and active members of the military and veterans, as well as creating the Gary Sinise Foundation.
Lenkov told Sinise he was looking for a veteran with a scar on his face for the role in question.
“Jay popped into my mind immediately,” he says. “Jay was wounded in Iraq when he was shot in the face and he had done a little bit of filming before.”
Sinise and Redman got to know each other when Redman began working with the Gary Sinise Foundation five years ago as a member of its Ambassadors Council, attending public appearances and speaking engagements in the actor’s place when he is unable to do so.
“Jay is a good buddy and somebody I admire very much,” says Sinise, who memorably played wounded vet Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump.
Redman, a married father of three who calls himself the ‘Overcome Guy,’ started his own organization to help veterans after spending nearly two years recovering from 37 surgeries and months of rehabilitation from the severe injuries he sustained while tracking a “high-value” Al Qaeda target.
Wanting to help others wounded in combat, in 2009 Redman founded the non-profit Combat Wounded Coalition, inspiring vets to move past their physical and mental challenges and go on to live successful lives.
The organization grew out of Wounded Wear, the non-profit he first founded that provides clothing kits to wounded warriors. “I feel like I need to be doing something to give back because I got to come home and others didn’t.”
A New – and Highly Decorated – Star is Born
Redman says he was elated – and surprised – when Sinise called him in October to ask him if he wanted to try out for the part.
“I said, ‘Well, yeah!” says Redman, who caught the acting bug when he appeared in a friend’s independent film, A Perfect Day, about fighting terrorism in the U.S., which premieres in 2018.
Sinise put Redman in touch with the casting director for the show, who immediately reached out to the budding actor, asking him to send in a tape of himself reading lines. Shortly after Redman submitted the tape, he got the part.
“I was so happy,” he says.
After jetting to Florida to headline pre-planned speaking engagements for his foundation, Redman hopped on a plane to Hawaii, where he says he received a warm welcome from Lenkov as well as the cast and crew.
“It was a lot of fun,” says Redman. “Everyone who works on the show was amazing. They were so great and so down to earth. They’re like a family. I was impressed with how well they all worked together.”
In addition, he says, “I really enjoyed working with the other actors who were veterans. They taught me a lot about acting and how to do more in the industry in the future.”
He says he enjoyed working with Alex O’Loughlin, who plays Detective Steve McGarrett and Beulah Koale, who recently joined the show. “I did quite a few scenes with him,” he says.
As one of the show’s executive producers, Lenkov says he was impressed with Redman’s performance and professionalism.
“I cast Jason based on a recommendation by Gary Sinise,” he tells PEOPLE. “I had told Gary that I was looking for some real deal vets that have inspiring stories for an upcoming episode of Hawaii Five-0 and he delivered with Jason, who did a really great job.”
His Hawaii Five-0 gig left a lasting impression on Redman. “I really enjoy acting,” he says. While it is hard work, it is both challenging and fun to step into someone else’s life and attempt to capture their personality, feelings, and mannerisms. I hope I can do more of it.”
Reaching for More Stars
Hawaii Five-O wasn’t Redman’s first acting job. In 2014, after Redman helped write his firefighter friend’s script, A Perfect Day, about fighting terrorism in the U.S. – and then starring in the indie film, he realized that he loved acting. But he also saw how difficult a craft it is.
“I wrote to Gary after I finished filming and I said, ‘Wow. I respect what you do so much but I gotta tell you that after doing this movie I have so much more respect for what you do.
“I said, ‘Kudos to you for everything you’ve done in your career because that was a lot harder and more challenging than I ever would have imagined.”
As difficult as it was, Redman added, “But I really enjoyed it.’”
Sinise never forgot those words.
“I’m glad he liked it,” he says. “Now here he is on Hawaii Five-0, a syndicated show on CBS with a very strong budget.
“If something like this could fall into his sphere and bring him some enjoyment and give him a new avenue to work, I would be very happy to see that happen for him.
“It might be the beginning of something he pursues.”
In fact, it is.
When PEOPLE checked in with Redman a few days before his TV debut, he said, “My current primary focus is speaking across the country spreading a message of leadership and overcoming adversity and launching our new Overcome Academy, a leadership, resiliency and speaking program for wounded warriors. The first course starts in February.”
But that’s not all.
“On the acting side,” he said, “I am now represented by KMR Talent.”
Stay tuned for more of Redman …
Hawaii Five-O episode 811, featuring Redman, debuts Friday night at 10 p.m. EST.