Final ride with band of brothers the gift of a lifetime

Christian Redman sits in the clubhouse of his Parker condominium complex, wearing the sweatshirt of his beloved Blackhorse regiment. Blackhorse veterans are planning a last ride for Redman, who is dying of cancer.
Christian Redman sits in the clubhouse of his Parker condominium complex, wearing the sweatshirt of his beloved Blackhorse regiment. Blackhorse veterans are planning a last ride for Redman, who is dying of cancer.
Ann Macari Healey
Posted

Christian Redman always knew the late-stage colon cancer he has furiously fought for three years was incurable. 

But he had hoped for remission, a chance to grab as many extra years as possible, to watch his 17-year-old daughter graduate from college, to walk her down the aisle.

The come-to-Jesus sobering reality check, as he called it, came in November: eight to 16 months left. In early February, he and his doctor had the hospice talk. To ease his mind, he planned his funeral.

But the question from someone he didn’t know more than 1,800 miles away hovered above him, a spark of joy to hold onto: “What do you think, a last hurrah?”

A last hurrah. A last ride with his band of brothers — friends and strangers bound by a fiercely loyal bond who have lifted him up, so that he can be with his daughter on her 18th birthday, then sink his toes, one last time, in the sand of a Key West beach.

“Life keeps going on around you, but you’re kind of stuck in a pause mode,” Redman, 51, says about his battle with this ruthless enemy, as he sat recently in the clubhouse of his Parker condominium complex, his words consistently interrupted by the beep of the small pump that delivers pain medication into his body six times an hour, 24 hours a day. “The trip is giving me the opportunity just to be one of the guys again. For a little while.”

• • • • •

The guys are the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, an Army unit also known as the Blackhorse Regiment, who also describe themselves as a Band of Brothers, the words splayed across the back of Redman’s black sweatshirt.

Formed in 1901 as a mounted regiment to help with territorial administration following the Spanish-American War of 1898, the regiment today is a mechanized unit that has been involved in just about every national and global conflict since. Ask any Blackhorse trooper and he’ll tell you this: There is no unit more steadfast, more devoted, regardless of whether they know each other. 

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It’s like this, says Blackhorse veteran Ray Simpson, 72, a first sergeant who fought in Vietnam and lives in Colorado Springs: You’re at Popeye’s, waiting to order, when you see the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment crest on another man in line. “You look at him and you say, ‘Hey, brother.’ You shake his hand, maybe give each other a hug, because you know — it’s just a thing … When you’re in it, you’re all in, you don’t half-step … you just go all the way with it.”

“It’s the weirdest experience you could ever have,” says Rocky Cuda, a retired sergeant and president of the Florida chapter of the Blackhorse Regiment Cavalry Motorcycles. “All you do is see that badge and you’re connected.”

Which is why Cuda and Simpson, without knowing Redman, have powered into his life. 

They all connected on the Blackhorse Association Facebook page, which Redman helped start in 2006. Every now and then, Redman would post an update on his health. Before Christmas, he shared that he was reaching the end of the line.

It was Cuda’s idea: What about a kind of make-a-wish last ride for Blackhorse troopers, with Redman as the inaugural event? Call it Maverick’s Last Ride, after Redman’s call sign from his Army days. He would leave from Parker March 4, get to Louisville, Kentucky, in time for his daughter’s birthday on March 10, head to Daytona Beach, Florida, for the world’s largest motorcycle gathering and finish in Key West, Redman’s all-time happy place. 

There would be other stops along the way, too, and Blackhorse troopers and veterans, either on motorcycles or in cars, would join in to form a caravan of brotherly love, cavalry-style.

Redman loved the idea. But he didn’t know how to make it happen. 

He hasn’t been able to work since soon after his July 2016 diagnosis. The cancer treatments, hospitalizations and medications depleted his bank account and shuttered his burgeoning construction business. Friends and strangers rallied a little more than a year ago to raise about $23,000 to help with his rent, medical costs and bills. Over the past year, he has sold his treasured ’70 SS cobalt blue Chevelle with the silver stripes, two Harleys and Kentucky Derby and NFL memorabilia to pay bills. He will move in with his parents next month because he can no longer pay the rent.

Then Simpson stepped in. He would drive them in his Ford pickup — the back seat is outfitted with a memory foam pad for comfort — pulling a 36-foot camper for sleeping and eating. A small trailer attached to the camper will have Simpson’s Harley and a Sportster, a smaller, easier-to-handle Harley loaned by a fellow trooper to Redman, which he’ll try to ride when he feels well enough. 

Simpson knows about cancer. And suffering. His oldest son, who underwent 53 surgeries related to spina bifida, died of an aggressive form of cancer at 45.

“He’s a brother,” Simpson says simply, about why he’s doing this. “He’s been through the hardships that I’ve been through, that we’ve all been through.”

Cuda and Simpson estimate gas will cost about $2,000 for the almost 5,000-mile roundtrip. Mike Endres, 69, a retired Army health care administrator and service officer for Parker American Legion Post #1864, is working with Redman’s friends Ron Meier and Bob Nobles, owner of the Parker restaurant Takoda Tavern, to help raise money to cover that and other related costs of the trip.

“We want to make this trip doable,” Endres says. “That group of men — the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and its veterans — they are a national treasure. They love each other as brothers .… I’m inspired by their togetherness, their closeness, their desire to make this happen.”

There is also a GoFundMe campaign set up to help fund the ride.

Having some money to cover expenses would be nice, Simpson and Cuda say. But they aren’t worried —they’re going regardless.

“I don’t know him personally,” Cuda says of Redman, “but I’m taking him personally …. As long as he’s one of our Blackhorse, I’ll take care of him.”

The generosity of spirit has overwhelmed Redman.

“They said ‘All you got to do is show up and be healthy — we’ll take care of it,’ ” he says quietly. “Can you believe that? Isn’t that something?”

• • • • •

Being on the receiving end of generosity has been humbling to Redman, known in the community for being the one to always help others. He was the can-do guy, the problem-solver, the man “with a heart of gold” as friends say, ready to step in when needed.

A cavalry scout stationed in Germany near the border with the Soviet Union when the Chernobyl nuclear explosion occurred in 1986, Redman later taught armor operations warfare and was called up in the reserves during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. He was a police officer for 23 years in Kentucky before moving to Parker to help care for his aging parents. He worked construction and started his own business.

But the cancer, which has spread to his liver and stomach, has ravaged Redman, leaving him with an ileostomy bag outside his stomach area to collect waste products from his body, whittling him down from a “maverick” 230 pounds to 140 pounds at one point. He has since gained back 40 pounds, despite the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation that make it difficult to eat.

There have been dark days, where he’d sit in his condo, watch TV and not open the door for four or five days.

“Just couldn’t summon the energy,” he says.

His daughter, prayer, talking scriptures with his brothers have helped him move forward. His dad, Dave Redman, 78, a retired Navy master chief, has been a constant presence — the rock — who still takes him to every appointment.

But this chance to live with joy for a little while has been an unexpected, spirit-lifting gift.

“I get to see brothers I haven’t seen in years, meet new brothers, be with my daughter on her birthday,” says Redman, his voice tinged with a soft longing. “Go down to Florida, get up in the middle of the night and walk down to the beach, feeling the breeze in your hair, smelling the salt, looking up and seeing the palms. It just calms your soul.”

He pauses, remembering.

“And it’s never bad to feel the sand beneath your toes.”

Ann Macari Healey writes about people, places and issues of everyday life. An award-winning columnist, she can be reached at ahealey@coloradocommunitymedia or 303-566-4100.

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