THE man who guided Air Force One and President Bush through frightening air space on 9/11 says we need to rediscover the spirit that enveloped the nation in the aftermath of that dark day.
“You may remember the days after September 11—everybody coming together,” said Colonel Mark W Tillman, who served as pilot and commander of Air Force One from 2001–2009. “Everybody rallied around to protect our country. People come up to me and say, ‘I think we’re just the way we were back then.’ I’m telling you you’re not. America has to come together the way it did after September 11.”
Chosen as the nation’s 12th Presidential pilot, Tillman was at the controls of Air Force One through numerous national events—including 9/11, when he protected the President by connecting the flying oval office to the nation’s first responders.
He also was the first pilot to fly the Commander-in-Chief into a war zone when President Bush went to Iraq to have Thanksgiving dinner with the troops.
The challenge was unprecedented: transport the most targeted man in the world into the heart of terrorism. One mistake would have left the President open to attack and cost the lives of US service members. His planning, done in complete secrecy, allowed for a complete surprise to the entire world.
Tillman’s career spans 30 years in the United States Air Force. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2004.
In his keynote presentation, Tillman gave a first-hand account of some remarkable moments in history and delved into the key factors to success in our own “Zero Fail Missions” in life.
He said detailed planning, measurable expectations, and personal responsibility are only a few of the important elements. He stressed the importance of teamwork, management, and leadership.
He also encouraged the audience to offer more vigorous and public praise of those who serve, or have served, in the military.
“We can still do it day after day,” he said. “It doesn’t take anything to stand up in a bar and say, ‘USA! USA! USA!’ You’d be amazed how many free drinks you get. Don’t be hesitant to do that.
“Ladies and gentlemen, never forget what they did to us on September 11, and what they have the potential to do to us constantly. But the biggest thing I want you to remember is the United States military. If you want to donate money, it doesn’t matter to me. But when you see one of the kids at an airport and know he’s a military member, go ahead and give him a hug. He may not want it, but that’s OK. Tell them you love them and if you have kids in the military right now, call them all the time. They’re about to do stuff that you have no idea they’re about to do. They’re in danger all the time. So take care of them. Don’t be afraid to stand up and say, ‘USA! USA! USA!’ ” ♦