Tillman recalls flight

STEUBENVILLE – Mark Tillman remembers the first time he was at he controls of Air Force One, and it came on a flight that was headed not too many miles north of here.

“My very first flight was taking former President (Bill) Clinton to Akron,” Tillman recalled in a story written by Ashley Ilg that appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of Lift, the alumni magazine of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

“I was flying as pilot in command. I’m nervous on every flight – I’m flying the leader of the free world,” Tillman continued. “It is always a challenging mission because everything is recorded by video and audio, and if anything happens, it’s in the media. I had to keep it perfect. I also had to take away any of the president’s fear and keep the focus on his message.”

Tillman, a retired Air Force colonel who served as commander of Air Force One from 2001-09, will share his experiences with area residents when he makes the next presentation in the Herald-Star, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Speaker Series.

That presentation, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 in the Steubenville High School auditorium, will include a remembrance of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and a salute to area first responders and military personnel, active and retired. The evening will include a color guard and an appearance by the Heaven Scent quartet, which will perform the national anthem.

“If, for just one hour, Tillman can convey to the audience the magnitude of some of critical decisions and actions that were taking place during the events of Sept. 11, that we did not see and that were not reported in the media in any level of detail, then we all have an opportunity to understand how complicated and intricate the components of our national defense plan must be,” said Rich DeLuca, president of the chamber of commerce.

“This is not an opportunity that comes to every town, or for that matter in every county or every state. We need to take full advantage of this opportunity.”

Tillman is an important figure in the history of Sept. 11. He was responsible for protecting President George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and the crash of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers tried to retake control of that Boeing 757 from the hijackers. He kept the president in the air and in contact with the nation’s first responders.

Bush learned of the attacks while speaking at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla. Tillman’s job was to safely return the president to Washington. It was a journey that included stops at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, La., and Offutt Air Base in Omaha, Neb., before the president was safely delivered to the White House.

The familiar Boeing 747 recognized around the world as Air Force One had received the classified call sign of Angel that day. Tillman admitted the events Sept. 11 made it one of the most stressful periods in his life. Especially tense was the flight from Nebraska to Washington.

“All along, everybody knew I was bringing him (the president) home, so my fear was they’ve done all of this, they know Air Force One is eventually going to come back to Washington, D.C.; they are sitting there, they’re waiting for us,” Tillman said in a Sept. 7, 2011, story that appeared in Great Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.

Tillman was born on Dec. 27, 1957, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Tulane University in 1979 and a master’s degree in aeronautical sciences from Embry-Riddle in 1995. His 30-year career in the Air Force eventually led to his selection as the nation’s 12th presidential pilot. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2004 and was promoted to brigadier general by the president, the first military line officer to receive that honor. According to his biography, that promotion was not confirmed by the Senate for political reasons and Tillman retired from the Air Force as a colonel.

Among the other memorable flights Tillman carried Bush on was a trip to Baghdad, Iraq, in November 2003 that allowed the president to surprise troops there with Thanksgiving dinner.

Another flight Tillman remembers occurred on Jan. 20, 2009, when he flew then-former President Bush to his home in Texas shortly after Barack Obama had been sworn in as his successor. Because Bush was no longer president, the plane carried the designation of Special Air Mission 28000.

“On the flight home as former president, I remember seeing him being extremely relaxed for the first time since he had taken office,” Tillman told Ilg. “He had his entire staff with him on the flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Waco, Texas. He thanked his crew and had a chance to sit with old friends and talk about their accomplishments and say goodbye.”

Each of our area’s first responders and servicemen and women, 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.

The free tickets are available thanks to the generosity of several area business and organizations, including Cattrell Cos. Inc., platinum level; Ambulance Service Inc., Axess Management Group LLC, First Choice America Federal Community Credit Union, Hauser’s Furniture, Mosti Funeral Homes 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, Sterling Auto Body and Tri-State Financial Services, silver level.

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’oeuvres; 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.

Students at schools throughout the region will have an opportunity to see 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.