McClellan Park, California
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. This is a great honor. And this is a beautiful aircraft we’re looking at. Look at that beautiful, very expensive plane — for good reason.
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. I want to very much thank Major General Matthew Beevers for being with us today. Thank you, General. Thank you very much. Thank you, General, very much. It’s a great honor to see you.
I want to welcome — and please, sit down. Families, please, sit down. You’re all very proud of these gentlemen, I think. Right? I think. Is anybody not proud of their husband? Is anybody not proud? No? Good. Then we’ll proceed. (Laughter.)
Welcome to Chief Warrant Officers Joseph Rosamond, Kipp Goding, Irvin Hernandez, Brady Hlebain, Ge Xiong; and Sergeants George Esquivel and Cameron Powell. Thank you very much. And I will say that it’s such an honor to be in your presence. You’ll hear a story shortly that was very inspiring to me and to everybody else, and that’s why these are very important medals. And it’s great to be with you.
Joining us are also warriors, but warriors of a different type. They’re called “great congressmen,” and they’re from your area. Doug LaMalfa. Thank you, Doug, very much. Appreciate it. Tom McClintock. Thanks, Tom. Doing a great job. And Greg Walden. And we’ll miss you, Greg. I can’t believe you’re not going to be there. He’s retiring undefeated. Nobody would defeat him. And — but it’s a great honor. And you — it’s really been fantastic working with Greg. We worked on something in particular: Right to Try. Right, Greg? And we got it done. After 44 years, we got it done. So, thank you very much.
Just over one week ago, these brave pilots and crew members of the California Army National Guard embarked on a harrowing mission. As the sun set on September 5th, 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.
While they were on the way to the campground, the crew received word from state and local officials and headquarters that it was far too dangerous to continue the mission. “Turn back.” But they decided to continue anyway, knowing they might not return. They knew that people were in danger — great danger.
As night set in, they could see almost nothing through the miles of dense smoke. Using their night goggles and their expert navigation skill, they reached the camp. They found the stranded families — many of whom were badly burned and injured — and they loaded them, as many as they could, onto the two helicopters. Then they made the perilous flight back to the base.
As soon as they unloaded the passengers, they again risked their lives and flew back into the blazing fire to rescue more victims. Their superior said, “You cannot do this. You cannot do it again.” They did it.
The smoke had become even more overpowering, yet they returned a third time. After 10 grueling hours, they completed their mission, having saved the lives of an astounding 242 people. We are proud of them. (Applause.) Wow. That’s inc- — that’s an incredible story. And I spoke to some people that really didn’t want you to do it. They didn’t want you to go back on those flights.
To each of you: Your unyielding determination lifts our nation. You’re what makes our nation great. And we thank you very much. Thank you very much. Incredible job.
Over the last week, these devoted soldiers have continued to rescue more stranded individuals from danger. In fact, less than 48 hours after their rescue at Mammoth Pool, they flew to another treacherous mission. On the first two attempts, they were forced to turn around and they were advised to abort their mission. “You must abort the mission.” But they chose to try a third time, at great risk to their own lives. Through tremendous skill and incredible valor, they saved 50 people from absolute imminent danger.
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 so that they may save lives of people, in many cases, that they don’t know. They have no idea who they are. It’s like law enforcement: They save the lives of people that, for the most part, they have no idea who they are, but they’re so determined to do it.
Today, our country honors their courage, and we are inspired by their example, and we thank God for the blessing and all of our blessings that you’re safe. Our nation has really benefited by your bravery.
And on behalf of our great nation, I thank you very much. As your President, I thank you very much. Great job. (Applause.)
And now I’d like to ask the military aide come forward and read the citations. Please.
Okay, thank you.
MILITARY AIDE: Attention — attention to orders: The President of the United States hereby awards the Distinguished Flying Cross to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joseph Rosamond, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Kipp Goding, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brady Hlebain, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Irvin Hernandez, Warrant Officer 1 Ge Xiong, Sergeant George Esquivel Jr., and Sergeant Cameron Powell of the California Army National Guard for distinguished acts of heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight on September 5th, 2020.
The brave actions and superior airmanship of these soldiers resulted in the successful rescue of 242 adults and children from the rapidly developing Creek Fire in Central California. Their actions are in keeping with the highest military traditions of selfless service, honor, and personal — personal courage, and reflects a great credit upon themselves, the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, the California Army National Guard, and the United States Army.
(The medals are presented.) (Applause.)