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Chief Jesse Peterson (BHS 1997) receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross from Captain Douglas M. Peterson (no relation), Commanding Officer, Naval Air Station Lemoore. / Courtesy Photo

BHS grad Jesse Peterson-Distinguished Flying Cross recipient

By Bruce Auld  News Review Correspondent–  The award presentation reads: “This is to certify that the President of the United States of America has awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to Chief Naval Aircrewman (Naval Aircrew Warfare) Jesse T. Peterson for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight from 5 September to 8 September 2020.  

“Chief Peterson’s actions, and the crew of LASSO 02, in September of 2020 were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service.  Their selfless heroism in saving 46 lives during a historic natural disaster, write a great chapter in the in the story of US Navy Aviation – and I am especially proud to know that Chief Peterson is a Burrough High School graduate.  I would like to think that growing up in that tight-knit naval community of China Lake helped shape his character.”  (Juan Garcia, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and 1984 BHS graduate)

Jesse Peterson graduated from Burroughs in 1997 and to my knowledge is the only Burro to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross.  Jesse received this award as a member of the search and rescue (SAR) flight crew of LASSO 02 flying out of Naval Air Station Lemoore.  Under incredible flying conditions of heat, blinding smoke, tree lined narrow canyons and dark of night, the crew of LASSO 02 pushed their search and rescue Sikorsky Seahawk to its absolute limits.  Flying seven harrowing sorties over ten hours, the LASSO 02 team rescued 46 civilians and four canines from mortal danger.  The Creek Fire devasted the Mammoth Pools area of Sierra Nevada in September 2020.

With over 4100 flight hours and ninety-one SAR/MEDEVAC missions, Jesse’s meticulous training, experience and discipline have resulted in saving a total of 156 lives and five canines.  In addition, Chief Peterson received the Navy Achievement Medal for his off-duty rescue of a woman swept into the rapids of the Kern River.

A Burroughs Naval Junior Reserve Officer Corps (NJROTC) cadet, one month after graduating from Burroughs in 1997, Jesse was off to Basic Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois.  His first assignment was as a flight deck aircraft handler and Crash and Salvage Crewman aboard the USS Essex, a Wasp-class Landing Helicopter Dock.  Jesse embraced his Navy career with great enthusiasm, advancing his knowledge, skill and experience at every opportunity.  In June of 1999, while assigned to the Naval Aviation Maintenance Training Group at Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, Jesse was promoted to Chief Petty Officer Third Class. In January 2002, Jesse earned his Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist designation and was promoted to Chief Petty Officer Second Class.  

In February 2002, Chief Peterson was accepted to the Aviation Search and Rescue (SAR) Swimmer Program, Naval Aircrew Candidate School, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training and Helicopter-3 Fleet Replacement Aircrew in the then new Sikorsky Seahawk.  Upon graduation, Chief Peterson was assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 at Andersen Airforce Base in Guam.  During that assignment, Chief Peterson and crewmates would perform the first maritime rescue conducted by the Sikorsky Seahawk.  During this deployment, Chief Peterson earned the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist designator (pin) and was promoted to Chief Petty Officer First Class.

After a brief training at Camp Pendleton, Chief Peterson returned home and reported to VX-31 at China Lake.  In 2008, Chief Peterson was the recipient of NAVAIR Weapons Division’s Senior Sailor of the Year Award and was a key member of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) SAR Model Manager’s Crew of the Year for 2008.

In June 2009, Chief Peterson returned to Guam for a second tour where he successfully completed two deployments.  While there, he served as Leading Petty Officer (LPO) for the Aircrew Division and two detachments, including one with the 2515th Naval Air Ambulance Detachment, Basra, Iraq, and was instrumental in the command’s recognition as Chief of Naval Operations SAR Model Manager Rescue Station of the Year 2011.

In January of 2013, Chief Peterson reported to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, where he served as SAR LPO, Rescue Crew Chief, Rescue Swimmer, and Helicopter Inland Rescue Aircrewman. As a result of his exceptional leadership, the command earned the CNO SAR Model Manager Rescue Station of the Year 2014 and Jesse was named as Navy Region Northwest Senior Sailor of the Year. 

In April 2016, Chief Peterson reported for sea duty with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron TWO THREE (HSC-23), where he was selected for promotion to Chief Naval Aircrewman, and served as the Aircrew Division and Operations Leading Chief Petty Officer. During his tour, he led two helicopter detachments onboard USS AMERICA (LHA-6) in support of RIMPAC 2016, and USNS MERCY (T-AH-19) in support of PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 2018.

Additionally, Jesse led an emergency humanitarian aid helicopter detachment to College Station, Texas where his flight crews delivered much needed food, water, and medical supplies to small rural towns on the boarder of Texas and Louisiana that were cut off by major flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

In August 2019, Chief Peterson reported to Naval Air Station Lemoore where he served as the SAR Operations Leading Chief Petty Officer earning the CNO Rescue Station of the Year 2022, Rescue Flight Crew of the year 2022 with Jesse being named Rescue Aircrewman of the Year for 2022, both awarded following Jesse’s retirement.

Chief Peterson retired from active duty in August of 2021 after 24 years of faithful service and resides in Inyokern, CA where he continues to serve the SAR community as a Senior Technical Advisor for U.S. Naval Aviation Search and Rescue operations. (Interviews With Chief Jesse Peterson)

This profile was suggested by Bernadette Elson.

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