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Seven soldiers with the California Army National Guard were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross personally by President Donald Trump on Sept. 14, just nine days after the mission on which they plucked more than 200 people from the path of raging wildfires.
The Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight,” was bestowed by the president on Chief Warrant Officers Joseph Rosamond, Kipp Goding, Irvin Hernandez, Brady Hlebain and Ge Xiong, and Sgts. George Esquivel and Cameron Powell. The soldiers are assigned to the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade of the California Army National Guard.
“Today it’s my profound honor to award seven extraordinary soldiers with the Distinguished Flying Cross for their remarkable courage to rescue their fellow citizens,” Trump said Sept. 14 during the medal ceremony Cal Fire’s Hangar in McClellan Park, California, standing in front of the CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk used in the rescue.
“Just over one week ago, these brave pilots and crew members of the California Army National Guard embarked on a harrowing mission,” Trump said. “As the sun set on Sept. 5, they boarded two helicopters that are behind me. Then, they flew into blazing flames, raging wind — and it was raging — and blinding smoke to rescue families who were trapped by the massive Creek Fire at the Mammoth Pool Campground. . . . After 10 grueling hours, they completed their mission, having saved the lives of an astounding 242 people.”
That particular mission pushed the limits of both the helicopters and crews, as related to Vertical by some of the pilots and crew. Six days later, a call came that initiated a whirlwind of activity that culminated in the president commending them in person.
All seven soldiers were still fighting fires Friday, Sept. 11, out of Fresno, California, when they were abruptly told to fly back to base at Stockton Metropolitan Airport, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) northwest, according to Rosamond, the pilot in command of the Chinook.
They were ordered to fly the aircraft used in the Creek Fire rescue to McClellan Park, in North Sacramento by 10 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13, so they could be tested for Covid-19 at 11:30 a.m., sharp, Rosamond said. None of the seven knew the purpose of the orders.
“Saturday evening I opened up my Twitter and saw POTUS had tweeted his trip to Sacramento,” Rosamond said in an email. “I then put two and two together but it wasn’t 100 percent. Once we arrived and linked up with [Maj. Gen. Matthew] Beevers [assistant adjutant general for California Joint Force Headquarters], he asked us if we wanted to know what the award was. We discussed and said no, let it be a surprise. He did, however, let us know that this was for POTUS.”
At the rehearsal, the group of soldiers met with the president’s military aid, who spilled the beans by explaining the president would pin the DFC on their chests.
“We all let out a collective Oooooohhhh!!!! And proceeded to make him feel bad for letting the cat out of the bag,” Rosamond said.