On Friday, June 8, 2018 I was treated to an evening with the former pilot of Air Force One at the 14th Annual Tri-State Warbird Museum Gala. I came away with a greater appreciation for its mission and the Air Force members who make it go.
Our guest speaker was Colonel (Retired) Mark Tillman. Colonel Tillman flew as a T-37 FAIP (First Assignment Instructor Pilot) at Willians AFB in Arizona. He was then assigned to the C-130 unit at Pope. Beginning in 1990 he was assigned to the Air Force One.
He served as a copilot under President Bush 41. Then as a copilot for President Clinton. Finally, he was the Pilot in Command for President Bush 43. He spoke briefly about Bush 41, nothing about President Clinton and spent the vast majority of the talk about Bush 43.
The tales were sometime humorous and sometimes solemn. Stories of how the Navy SEALs cleared areas for President’s Bush’s cross Africa tour led to many laughs. Tillman was a master at poking fun at his own branch of service, the Air Force, as he complemented the Army, Navy and Marines.
However the highlight of the evening was Colonel Tillman taking us through the day of September 11, 2001 hour by hour. How the news arrived of the attacks, the initial reactions, the FOG of war as sometimes erroneous information arrived (e.g. the Pentagon was bombed versus an airliner hitting it). The decisions on where to take the President (back to Florida, or Louisiana, or Nebraska or DC). The timelines. Trying to find key individuals such as the Secretary of Defense. How to protect Mrs. Bush, etc.
The picture that Colonel Tillman painted was of a Commander in Chief who was patient yet decisive. A man who wanted to be informed by key members of his team, but a man who wanted to put the best interest of the country foremost.
When President Bush ended his second term, the Air Force One team gave him a window from Air Force One. It was the window on which he had looked out at fighter escorts on 9/11. On the window was etched, “The right man at the right time’.
Winston Churchill once said, “There comes into the life of every man a task for which he and he alone is uniquely suited. What a pity if the moment finds him either unwilling or unprepared”. I am thankful that not only President Bush, but the entire Air Force One team was prepared for that moment. Without that preparation those in New York City and Washington DC would have been even worse off.
My thanks to my Table Host for the fifth consecutive year, Mr. Howard Becker for the honor of hearing Colonel Tillman.
To learn more about he Warbird Museum see: http://www.tri-statewarbirdmuseum.org