Award Winners - 2013 Detail

Community Resilience Hero

State Trouper Roupen Bastajian

Presented by Clean Care of New England Inc.

Off-duty Rhode Island State Trooper Roupen Bastajian had just completed the Boston Marathon when two bombs exploded, changing many people’s lives forever, and turning Bastajian into lifesaving hero. Trooper Bastajian might not agree with the term

hero, but his actions clearly demonstrate the fact.

According to an Associated Press report, moments after receiving his medal for completing the marathon, Trooper Bastajian was dehydrated and huddled in a foil blanket awaiting attention at the medical tent when the blasts occurred. At a press conference where he was presented the service ribbon from the Rhode Island State Police, Bastajian said he remembered “just taking off the foil and running toward where everything was.”

He recalled helping several people, among them a man whose legs were severely injured. He applied tourniquets to slow the man’s bleeding and eventually secured a stretcher to help transport him for care.

At the press conference, Bastajian spoke of the bravery of many of the injured. He recalled the gravely wounded man nodding his head when he told him he would be alright. He also recalled helping a woman with a major wound to her leg who helped him to tend her by holding the wound closed while he applied a tourniquet.

While many have called Bastajian a hero, he does not like the title. He told Rhode Island Public Radio’s Flo Jonic “I was just there. Someone said, you know, wrong place, wrong time, you did the right thing. I kind of like that statement.”

Bastajian was born in Beirut and immigrated to the U.S. as a child. He is a former U.S. Marine and, after recovering from severe injuries sustained when he was struck by a car, Bastajian finally achieved a longtime goal of becoming a State Trooper in 2009.

Youth Services Hero

Rafael Gardiner

Presented by Amica Insurance

Rafael Gardiner is no stranger to the Red Cross. Gardiner is the Youth Council Chairman at the Rhode Island Chapter. In his two years with the Chapter, he has become increasingly involved in the mission of the organization and in helping other youth to become part of the organization.

But his path to becoming a leadership volunteer in the Youth Corps was perhaps not the typical approach. Gardiner first came to the Red Cross because of a court-ordered 20-hour community service requirement.

Gardiner says that, after choosing to perform his community service at the Red Cross, “my life did a 180.” He enjoyed his work so much, he decided to complete 100 hours, instead of the mandated 20 hours. “I saw the bigger picture and realized the opportunity I was being given to change not only my life, but the lives of others as well.”

Jason Campagnone, Director of Volunteer and Youth Resources at the Rhode Island Chapter, nominated Gardiner for recognition. He says, “Raffy has become a role model for countless youth within the American Red Cross both regionally and nationally.”

Gardiner has worked with Campagnone and the members of the Youth Corps to complete projects that support members of the military, increase the readiness and skills of youth volunteers and support the work of the Red Cross in Rhode Island.

Gardiner says he is proud of his work and his opportunity to “encourage, motivate and guide youth in creating a lasting impact in their communities and becoming the best person they can be.” He says his route to the Red Cross reminds him “that good can come from bad and that it’s never too late for change.”

Spirit of the Red Cross Hero

Christina Pilkington

Presented by CVS Caremark

Last summer, Red Cross volunteer Christina Pilkington was driving home from work when she saw a man collapse along Route 116 in Lincoln. He was clearly in distress, slumped over on the side of the road while traffic whizzed by.

Pilkington stopped her car, put on the reflectorized vest she uses as a driver for Durham School Services and finally got an opportunity to cross the busy road to approach the man. She asked if he was okay.

In a weak voice, the man told Pilkington he thought he was having an asthma attack and was unable to walk any further. Pilkington asked if he was in pain; when he told her no, she began to help him to safety off the road. Another bystander spotted the pair from a nearby parking area and rushed to help.

Pilkington asked him to call 911 and to stay with them until help arrived.

She was able to get the man to lie down on a blanket and to ease his breathing. He told her his name and address and that he had been walking from the Special Olympics office in Smithfield to catch a bus and underestimated the distance and the heat. Soon, emergency responders arrived on the scene and the man was transported to the hospital.

Pilkington later phoned Special Olympics to make them aware of the situation, but learned that emergency officials had already called. She learned a few days later that the man was home and “doing well.”

Chris Hopkins of Special Olympics, who nominated Pilkington, wrote, “The group home where [the man] lives was extremely grateful that Christina stayed with this athlete on such a busy highway.”

Pilkington was surprised to learn of her nomination. She describes a hero as someone “who gives without expecting anything in return.”

Military Valor Hero (in memoriam)

Army Sgt. Dennis P.Weichel, Jr.

Presented by Alex and Ani

Sergeant Dennis Weichel of the Rhode Island National Guard gave his life to save a child while deployed in Afghanistan in March of 2012.

Weichel was an Infantryman with Company C, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 56th Troop Command, at Camp Atterbury in Indiana when he was deployed to Afghanistan.

On March 22, Sgt. Weichel and his unit were on the road in Laghman Province when a group of children entered the path of their convoy. Weichel and several other soldiers exited their vehicles to disperse the children.

When one child attempted to retrieve something from beneath a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (MRAP), Weichel, himself a father, pulled the child to safety, but was struck in the process. He was evacuated to Jalalabad for medical treatment, where he died of his wounds.

Staff Sergeant Ronald Corbett, who had deployed to Iraq with Sgt. Weichel in 2005, told a reporter for that Weichel’s actions spoke to his character. “He would have done it for anybody,” Corbett said. “That was the way he was. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.”

Weichel’s son, Nick, wrote a paper for school on heroes. About his father he wrote, “When he was training, he saw a boy about my age running to get a shell casing. He saved the boy and he didn’t save himself… He did what any parent would do. If he was still alive, he would do it again. He’s my hero!”

Military Valor Hero (in memoriam)

Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Raymond McGill

Presented by Alex and Ani

Staff Sergeant Timothy Raymond McGill was a Green Beret from A Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces from the Rhode Island National Guard. He was killed in action September 21 while deployed in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. McGill enlisted in the US Marine Corps after graduating high school in 2001. The terror attacks of September 11 happened while he was in boot camp at Parris Island. He served in the Iraq war and returned home a decorated combat veteran.

A native of Ramsey, New Jersey, McGill remained an active volunteer with the local fire

department, responding to calls when he was home between deployments and training.

McGill’s father, Raymond, says that, soon after returning home, Staff Sgt. McGill pursued his dream of becoming a Special Forces soldier and joined the Rhode Island National Guard. In 2011, Staff Sgt. McGill successfully completed his training and became a Green Beret Weapons Specialist. He volunteered to go to Afghanistan in 2013 and was deployed in April.

Raymond McGill told a reporter from the Star-Ledger newspaper in Newark, New Jersey, that Staff Sgt. McGill had planned a career in the military.

An imposing figure at 6-feet, six-inches tall and 280 pounds, Tim McGill had been a football and hockey player in high school. But his father described him to the Star-Ledger reporter as “a gentle giant. Everybody loved him.”

Staff Sgt. McGill is survived by his parents and two sisters.

Life Saving Hero

Mac Walsh, Cody Arsenault

Presented by Cox Media

Lifeguards Cody Arsenault and Mac Walsh went above and beyond their duty as lifeguards at the Ocean House beach in Watch Hill last summer when they helped to rescue seven people stranded by a strong rip current at the neighboring public beach.

Recent graduates from Stonington High School in Connecticut, the young men were enjoying their summer work at the Ocean House in Watch Hill. The small neighboring public beach is a popular destination for beachgoers seeking clear water and good surf. Last summer brought the added attraction of being near singer Taylor Swift’s newly purchased home at the end of the beach. Arsenault and Walsh were at their stations on a crowded day in early July when they heard screams from the nearby public beach. Investigating the trouble, the men found a group of seven swimmers at the unguarded public beach had become caught in a rip current. “They weren’t from around here,” Arsenault said to a WTNH TV8 reporter from Connecticut, discussing the fact that the swimmers were not familiar with the hazards at the beach.

“They didn’t know what to do… to get out of a rip, you don’t swim against it, you swim sideways and you’ll get out of it, but they were all swimming against it.”

The seven swimmers, including a child, were tired and frightened. Walsh told the reporter the child was crying. The two sprang into action, swimming out to the group with a “rescue can,” a special flotation device with grab handles that the two attached to a tow rope anchored back on the shore. They gathered the swimmers and Ocean House colleagues on shore helped to reel in the group.

Arsenault told the reporter their actions were not heroic, but simply what they were trained to do.

Animal Rescue Hero

Earl O'Keefe,Retired Dog

Presented by American Red Cross

Lance Corporal Bradley O’Keefe, with the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines Lima Company, was a trained explosive detection K-9 handler deployed in Afghanistan and assigned with his K-9 partner, Earl, to patrol for explosive devices that were killing

American soldiers.

On April 14, 2010, LCPL O’Keefe and Earl were on patrol with a group of soldiers when Earl detected the scent of an explosive. While Earl was working to locate the explosive, a hidden insurgent detonated an improvised explosive device only six feet from LCPL O’Keefe, seriously injuring both O’Keefe and Earl. Although they were injured, their work saved the other soldiers on their mission.

Despite his injury, Earl ran five miles to wait by his handler’s gear for his return. ’Keefe did not return, having sustained serious shrapnel injuries to his legs. He was evacuated back to the U.S. where he underwent multiple surgeries to repair the damage to his legs. O’Keefe was awarded the Purple Heart for his heroic actions before retiring from the military in December, 2012. He never thought he’d see Earl again.

O’Keefe’s sister, Rachel Lawson, was inspired to find out about Earl for her brother. A long search led her to Rhode Island, where Earl had been placed with the Rhode Island State Police as a member of its bomb detection team. Lawson contacted the department and inquired about the possibility of reuniting Earl with her brother, explaining it would be a boost to O’Keefe’s recovery.

After hearing Lawson’s request, State Police Sergeant Matthew Zarella arranged an emotional reunion. Earl’s new partner, State Trooper Damien Maddox agreed that, although he and Earl had formed a strong bond, the dog’s place was with O’Keefe. The Providence Journal reported that O’Keefe said his heart had a place only Earl could fill.

Rachel Lawson has since formed Boots and Collars, which helps reunite military K-9s and their former handlers.

First Responder Hero

Richard Cordeiro

Presented by Webster Bank

East Providence Police Officer Richard Cordeiro is likely responsible for saving the life of a runner who collapsed last June on a city street.

Officer Cordeiro’s fast response to the scene and quick administration of CPR were certainly a factor in the runner’s survival, as well as use by emergency responders of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

Cordeiro was on duty June 11, when a call came in about an “unresponsive” man in the road on Blanding Avenue, according to a news report on the East Providence Patch website.

Officer Cordeiro was first to arrive on the scene and found the victim unconscious and bleeding from a wound likely sustained when he collapsed. After calling for assistance, Cordeiro began administering CPR. When Emergency Medical Technicians arrived, they continued CPR and used an AED to restart the collapsed runner’s heart. The runner regained consciousness before being transported to the hospital.

Neighbors in the area told investigating police officers that they had seen the runner in the area on a regular basis. Officer Cordeiro later stopped by the runner’s room while at the hospital on other business, according to the Patch article, and met family members who were able to update him on his condition.

First Responder Hero

David Reed

Presented by Webster Bank

Pawtucket Fire Lieutenant David Reed was off duty last December, attending a Christmas concert at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Newport. He heard someone gasping for air and approached to offer assistance to a 72 year-old man who was having difficulty breathing and subsequently collapsed.

Lt. Reed checked for breathing and a pulse and, finding none, began CPR while another bystander called 911. A rescue crew arrived with an AED and used it to shock the victim’s heart three times and restore a regular heartbeat. He was transported to the hospital and is alive and well today thanks to Lt. Reed’s quick actions and the rapid response of emergency personnel from the Newport Fire Department.