Red Bandanna Hero Award Honors Everyday Heroes: 'In Moments of Tragedy, You See the Best People Have to Offer'
On Oct. 28, ACH will announce the winner of the Red Bandanna Hero Award, which honors the legacy of Welles Crowther, who lost his life on 9/11 while saving others
On Oct. 28 at 10/9c, AHC will air a television special produced by Time Inc. Productions, 9/11 HERO: THE RED BANDANNA LEGACY, which will feature three Red Bandanna Heroes who have made an extraordinary difference in people’s lives, just as Crowther did when he helped people escape one of the burning World Trade Center towers. Welles used the trusty red kerchief his father taught him to carry in his back pocket to protect his nose and mouth from the haze of smoke and dust, earning the moniker “The Man in the Red Bandanna.”
This year’s three heroes — Jason Redman, Meredeth Spriggs and Staci and Scott Baldwin — are profiled in this week’s issue of PEOPLE magazine, on newsstands Friday. And they are all honored to have been named finalists.
Redman, who has been named the winner of the Red Bandanna Hero Award, will receive a $10,000 donation to the charity of his choice, in addition to being featured in the hour-long AHC special.
“I gave a speech on 9/11 at a memorial service at a church in Connecticut and talked about Welles Crowther,” Redman tells PEOPLE. “My speech was about what it means to be an American and how it’s in these moments of extreme tragedy like 9/11 that you often see the best people have to offer.
“Welles Crowther was such a shining example of that.”
Jason Redman, 42, of Chesapeake, Virginia
After getting shot by machine-gun fire in the face and arm while leading a team against Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007, U.S. Navy Seal Jason “Jay” Redman became known as the “overcome guy” for never giving up while dealing with the overwhelming challenges he faced.
Facing 37 surgeries, numerous bone and skin grafts and years of recovery, he says he used “hard lessons” he learned in the military to help him overcome the physical and mental obstacles he faced during his recovery.
“You get through it one step at a time,” he tells PEOPLE. “Just never quit.”
Wanting to help other warriors injured in combat, in 2009 he founded Wounded Wear, a non-profit that provides clothing kits to soldiers recovering in the hospital.
“We put workout shorts in the kit because I got sick of wearing the butt-less hospital gown and because a lot of these guys are going to rehab right off the bat,” he says.
The kit also includes shirts and a lightweight winter coat. “I got wounded in September and that moved into the winter months and I didn’t have a jacket so having a jacket was important,” he says.
The non-profit began sponsoring events and expanded into the Combat Wounded Coalition, inspiring wounded soldiers to move past their physical and mental challenges and go on to live successful lives.
Now a retired Seal, having served more than 20 years in the military, Redman is proud of the non-profit’s annual “Jumping for Purpose” event, when he takes wounded warriors skydiving.
“We have jumped about 250 wounded warriors and their caregivers, quadruple amputees and paralyzed wounded warriors,” he says.
The jump is about overcoming fear and adversity, he adds.
“I tell them it’s not about jumping out of a plane,” he says. “That’s merely the mechanism we want you to utilize to understand that you are still alive and that you can still get out there and accomplish anything.”
To further that message, in 2018, the Coalition is launching a new program called The Overcome Academy, a two-week “leadership resiliency program” for wounded warriors, he says.
“We are teaching them leadership, how to build structure within their own lives, how to lead themselves to success, how to build resiliency in the civilian world and how to deal with everyday things that go on in the civilian world,” he says.
The program requires them to tell their stories by speaking publicly in the community and to take on a leadership role with a local youth program.
On the last day of the curriculum, the warriors are asked to skydive.
While “throwing yourself out of an airplane” isn’t mandatory, “we are hoping that everyone will jump,” he says, laughing.
RELATED VIDEO: 9/11 Hero Welles Crowther, the “Man in the Red Bandana,” Still Inspires Others to Do Good
Looking back at all he has overcome, Redman says he is happy to be able to help others.
“I know how hard the transition is from the military to the real world,” he says. “I struggled with it myself.
“There were times that I struggled with depression and my own post-traumatic stress and continued to drive forward despite that, so I know what these guys and gals are going through because I’ve been there. I’ve walked in their shoes at every level.
“I want to help them to be successful. I got a second chance.”
Meredeth Spriggs, 39, of Las Vegas, Nevada
Spriggs didn’t know much about the homeless until she became homeless herself.
When she volunteered with the Salvation Army in San Diego more than 10 years ago, she was shocked when she met people living on the streets – who also had jobs.
“It blew my mind that someone could work and still be homeless,” she says. “I didn’t think that was a thing.”
Spriggs says she found it “ironic” when she herself became homeless soon after.
When she was laid off from her full-time job at a college in 2008, the only work she could find was part-time.
“Working two jobs part-time isn’t enough to make it in San Diego and I couldn’t afford rent and got kicked out of my place,” she says.
Being homeless “really opened my eyes,” she adds.
After sleeping on friends’ couches and in the back of her car, Spriggs a year later, she finally found steady work with the San Diego Rescue Mission.
“That changed my life,” she says.
Inspired by her work with the San Diego Rescue Mission, in 2009 she started a non-profit called Caridad, which helps the homeless and also “educates people and lets them know that real people become homeless,” she says.
She hosted a drive to collect socks and underwear for the homeless, which she calls “”Undie Sunday.”
“Everybody needs socks and underwear,” she says. “We even have a Superhero called Mighty Tighty, who saves the world from bad sock and underwear donations.
“It’s my little way of getting people involved.”
By partnering with other agencies, Caridad grew. When Spriggs moved to Las Vegas in 2014, she brought Caridad there – and has helped more than 1,400 homeless there to date to find housing, jobs and to obtain Social Security disability benefits if they qualify.
“It’s incredible,” she says.
When she landed in Las Vegas, she worked with the homeless through a privately funded group called the Downtown Rangers.
As Caridad expanded, she found new, innovative ways to help the homeless. “What’s different is that I use the concierge service model,” she says. “I always say that we have VIPs and we need to treat our clients like VIPs.
“I call it a concierge service because we’re not handholding but we’re walking with them and it’s never been done and it’s cutting through that red tape.
Besides running Caridad, Spriggs is also the Southern Nevada lead for outreach for the federal 25 Cities Initiative, working to end veteran homelessness.
In October 2015, the City of Las Vegas honored Spriggs and her efforts by awarding her Citizen of the Month.
She works so hard, she says, because “I care. I’ve been there. I see the human side.”
Staci and Scott Baldwin, both 47, of Lewiston, Idaho
When the Baldwins took their terminally ill son, Jackson, to the hospital for blood transfusions in May 2006, they didn’t know he would never be coming home.
“He was in a lot of pain,” says Staci. “They were doing some testing and that’s when they discovered that the cancer had spread to every part of his body except his heart and his brain. His bones were almost rotted out.”
The Baldwins were devastated when they learned that Jackson, who had battled cancer for four years, didn’t have long to live.
“He was on a lot of painkillers and was coming in and out of consciousness and looked at us and said very clearly, ‘Mom and Dad…am I going to die?’ ” says Scott. “We both took a deep breath and said, ‘Yes, Jackson. It looks like that’s what’s going to happen. We will miss you greatly, but you won’t miss us because you will be in heaven, the greatest place ever created.’
“That was the toughest thing we had ever done.”
But Jackson shocked his parents when he showed that in his final hours, he was thinking of others.
The Baldwins had planned to throw a party for Jackson’s 10th birthday that coming Saturday, May 13, 2006.
He was concerned about a 3-year-old boy named Connor Frei, also from Lewiston, who needed a bone marrow transplant.
“He said, ‘Why don’t we ask people to bring money for Connor to help with that instead of bringing me gifts?’
“We were both blown away by that.”
Jackson died the day before the party. “To honor his wishes we had to go through with it,” she says. “Thanks to our friends, Scott and I didn’t have a lot to do with putting the party on at that time.”
They ended up raising over $6,000 for Connor, “based on Jackson’s wishes,” she says.
Inspired by the money they raised for Connor, the Baldwins asked mourners to donate money to help other families with sick children in lieu of flowers so they could “continue to pay it forward” and help a couple families, she says.
“But it just kept going,” she says. “It truly took on a life of its own.”
In 2011, they founded Jackson’s Pay it Forward Foundation, a non-profit to help the families of children suffering from serious illness or injuries.
The foundation holds auctions to raise money to give them pre-paid credit cards as well as gift baskets filled with iPads and blankets and other items to support them while their children recover.
“You feel like you’re on an island when you’re going through this with your child,” says Scott. “We want families to know we are there for them. They’ve got an entire foundation and a community behind them.”
“All because of Jackson’s wishes,” says Staci. “That’s how this whole thing got going.”
Since its inception, the foundation has raised more than $800,000 to help the families of children who are sick or injured.
While she and Scott are grateful to their community for their generosity, she also credits Divine Intervention with helping create the foundation.
“The only way that that party and the start of the foundation could have happened is because the timing happened the way it did,” says Staci.
“I just think that God just has a plan,” she says.
9/11 Hero: The Red Bandanna Legacy airs on AHC on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 10/9c.