My VIPs for this week are the military personnel who risked their lives to make “multiple perilous flights to rescue stranded and injured campers – saving 242 people.” President Donald Trump awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to seven California National Guardsmen. This military decoration “recognizes heroism and extraordinary achievement. President Trump tells the story like no one else could.
Just over one week ago, these brave pilots and crew members of the California Army National Guard embarked on a harrowing mission….
Our Nation is strong because of remarkable individuals like these service members…. In the midst of our greatest trials and biggest challenges, America prevails because of the brave and selfless patriots who risk everything.
I searched for some names and found the names of the pilots and crew members in this article. Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joseph Rosamond piloted a California Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook. He made the decision to attempt a rescue by landing close to the desperate campers. CWO 5 Kipp Goding trailed Rosamond as the pilot of a California Guard UH-60 Black Hawk. The two aircraft went through “peaks rising to 7,000 feet and then dropping down to a valley leading to the dock.” They knew that they did not have much time.
Emergency crews on the ground from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, radioed to Rosamond that it was too risky. The Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest was out of control and they should put down at a nearby ranch miles away and wait for the smoke to clear, they were told.
“I was listening to the radio calls when the Chinook approached restricted airspace” near the lake, said Army Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, adjutant general of the California National Guard.
“Chief Rosamond told them, ‘Just tell us where the people are. We’re going to go get them,’” Baldwin said in a video conference call Monday with the aircrews and defense reporters.
“Joe [Rosamond] was leading the way,” Goding said, as the two helicopters approached the lake at sunset and prepared to find landing zones. “Every piece of vegetation as far as you could see around the lake was on fire,” sending up clouds of smoke that made the approach risky.
“We knew that it was a dire situation, and we knew that this was not going to be like anything we had done in the past,” Rosamond said. “Conditions were pretty extreme…. There were points along the route where we were just about ready to say, ‘That’s enough.’”
The aircrews donned night vision goggles to penetrate the smoke. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brady Hlebain, the Chinook’s co-pilot, said the goggles “allowed us to see through the smoke to have some contrast and a silhouette on where we were going.”
Without the goggles, “all we could see was a wall of smoke,” he added.
Rosamond and Goding found spots to set down near the boat dock. Sgts. George Esquivel and Cameron Powell, both flight engineers on the Chinook, rushed out of the aircraft as the fire, fueled by record-breaking heat and high winds, approached within 50 feet. [Warrant Officer 1 One Xiong and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Irvin Hernandez were with Goding in the Black Hawk.]
The men found the campers, and many of them were burn victims. The guardsmen set priorities as to who would be taken first, and they crammed as many people into the two aircraft as they could carry. They flew to the Fresno Airport, turned around, and went back for more campers. Then they returned a third time, and they did all this over a period of ten hours.
Col. Dave Hall, commander of the California Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, checked on the condition of the crews at the airport. He asked the crews each time they returned to the airport if they were ready to go again. “Every single time, they said, ‘Send me out.’” Col. Hall said that the crews “pushed the edge” with fatigue from flying in the terrible conditions. Twelve of the campers were hospitalized, but all are expected to recover.
The seven men deserve to be recognized and honored for their courage, conviction, and grit in carrying out an impossible rescue. I am positive that the campers are grateful for their rescue. All Americans should be proud of these heroes!