MANTECA, Calif. (KTXL) — During President Donald Trump’s visit to McClellan Park Monday, he awarded seven National Guardsmen the Distinguished Flying Cross, an honor for heroism in aerial flight.
The service members rescued hundreds of people trapped near Mammoth Pool Reservoir, surrounded by the Creek Fire.
“We had never flown into that portion of a fire before, especially at night,” said Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Rosamond, the pilot in command for the California National Guard.
Rosamond said it was a rescue mission unlike anything he had ever been through. But he knew his Stockton-based helicopter crew had to try to fly families trapped by the fire to safety.
“We had a job to do. Those people weren’t going to get to see their family if we didn’t go get them,” Rosamond said.
He piloted a Chinook with a Blackhawk following behind.
With thick smoke clouding his vision, he said the only guiding light was the inferno burning beneath them.
“If it wasn’t for the night vision goggles, we would have had zero visibility,” Rosamond explained.
He said it was hard to even tell when they reached the lake.
“I didn’t quite see it yet,” Rosamond recalled. “And then realizing it was the only place that wasn’t on fire. It was the lake.”
Rosamond said his team loaded campers onto to their helicopters, making three treacherous trips back and forth from the Fresno Airport to carry more than 200 people to safety.
“It’s amazing,” said Rosamund’s wife, Gina. “Knowing that he is a risk-taker and he does tend to put himself out there. It brings me a lot of pride to know that my husband was out there doing what he loves and what I know he’s good at.”
On Monday, Rosamond was one of the guardsmen who received the Distinguished Flying Cross from the president.
“After 10 grueling hours they completed their mission having saved the lives of an astounding 242 people,” Trump said. “We are proud of them”
“Highest award for aviation across the services,” Rosamond explained.
While Rosamond said he’s honored by the medal, for him seeing the evacuees brought safely home is all the reward he could ever want.
“An absolutely amazing experience. I won’t forget it ever,” Rosamond said.