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 the Ohio Valley.
It was transporting President Bill Clinton to Akron, and Tillman said he was nervous.
"I was flying as pilot in command. I'm nervous on every flight - I'm flying the leader of the free world," Tillman said in a published interview. "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.
Each of the 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.
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.