Excitement grows as Speaker Series nears

STEUBENVILLE – When retired Air Force Col. Mark Tillman takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 in the Steubenville High School Auditorium, he will certainly share experiences from the period during which he served as the commander of Air Force One.

Included will be his actions on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was charged with protecting President George W. Bush and flying him to safety in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and Pentagon and the heroic efforts of the passengers of United Flight 93 to thwart hijackers before that plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

Tillman’s presentation, the next in the Herald-Star, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Series, will include a remembrance of the events of Sept. 11 as well as salute to area first responders and military personnel, active and retired.

As a way of saying thanks to those men and women, each area first responder, serviceman and servicewoman, active and retired, is eligible to receive one free reserved seat ticket to the Sept. 11 program, while supplies last. The tickets may be claimed at the Herald-Star, 401 Herald Square, during regular business hours with proper identification.

The free tickets are being made available through the efforts of area businesses and organizations, including Cattrell Cos. Inc. Christine Hargrave, CFO and secretary-treasurer of the Toronto-based firm, has vivid memories of New York City from not too long after the attacks,

“On Oct, 31, 2001, my husband and I visited New York City with two of my cousins (then 10 and 12.) We were walking across 59th Street when a fire truck drove by. As they passed, those of us on the street stopped and started to applaud, one block after another, as far as I could see and hear. In the seven weeks from 9/11, New Yorkers got it, and knew to say thanks,” Hargrave said.

“We should all get it -not just for those heroes in New York, but for the heroes we entrust with our safety every single day. Thank you, police, firefighters, EMTs and service persons. We need you – and we appreciate you. I look forward to a special celebration just a month away,” she added.

Cattrell is the platinum sponsor for the free tickets. Also helping to provide tickets are Ambulance Service Inc., Axess Management Group LLC, First Choice America Federal Community Credit Union, Hauser’s Furniture and the Rotary Club of Steubenville, gold level; and Apollo Pro Cleaning, Em-Media, Frank and Jerry Furniture and Appliances, Heritage Complete Home Health Care, McBane Insurance, McDonnell Chiropractic, New York Life, Mosti Funeral Home, Sterling Auto Body and Tri-State Financial Services, silver level.

Tillman commanded Air Force One from 2001 to 2009. He was at the controls of the Boeing 747 for many historic events. By the time he retired after a 30-year career in the Air Force, Tillman had flown Bush to every state except Vermont and on 49 foreign trips to 75 countries.

He was commander of the Presidential Airlift Group, which is a part of the 89th Airlift Wing and stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. While each trip the Boeing 747 made with the president of the United States onboard had its own challenges, Tillman said his most stressful day while serving as the 12th presidential pilot was, no doubt, Sept. 11, 2001.

“Sept. 11 was a challenge for us because we didn’t know what was going on,” Tillman told Mark Knoller of CBS News shortly before he flew his last mission in January 2009.

Bush had been speaking at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., when the world learned of the attacks. Tillman was in charge of evacuating the president and his staff and safely returning them to Washington. That journey took the president to Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, La., and to Offutt Air Base in Omaha, Neb., before the president was safely delivered back to the White House, a path that took Air Force One right over the Tri-State Area.

No one at the time had any idea of what the terrorists had in mind at that point, Tillman remembers, and that led to some anxious moments.

“As we got over Gainesville, Fla., we got the word from Jacksonville Center. They said: ‘Air Force One, you have traffic behind and basically above you that is descending into you. We are not in contact with them -they have shut off their transponder,” Tillman said in a Sept. 7, 2011, story that appeared in Great Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.

“In reality, just his transponder was off and he hadn’t checked in with the controller right afterward,” Tillman told Knoller. “But we kind of made our own scenarios that day where anything that could go wrong would go wrong.”

Reserved seat tickets for the Sept. 11 presentation are available for $20 each at the Herald-Star, 401 Herald Square, Steubenville. Credit card orders can be placed online by visiting heraldstaronline.com and clicking on the speaker series button in the left column of the homepage. Phone orders can be placed by calling (740) 283-4711.

VIP packages for the presentation can be purchased by contacting the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, 630 Market St., at (740) 282-6226. The packages sell for $150 each and include a reception with Tillman at the Bayberry House Bed and Breakfast; cocktails and hors d’oeurves; the opportunity to have a picture taken with Tillman; transportation to and from the presentation at the high school; and a ticket to the presentation in a priority seating area.

Area students will have the opportunity to attend the presentation at no charge thanks to the support of the Health Plan of the Upper Ohio Valley. Distribution of those tickets is being coordinated by school officials throughout the Tri-State Area.

Presenting sponsors for the series include Eastern Gateway Community College, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Trinity Health System, the Health Plan and WTRF-TV.

Special support is being provided by Bayberry House Bed and Breakfast, Piergallini Catering, Steubenville High School, Newbrough Photo and Hertz-Thrifty Car Rental.

(Gallabrese can be contacted at rgallabrese@heraldstaronline.com)