Steve Gill Talks to Colonel Mark Tillman About His Time on Air Force One Circa 9-11 and Love of Country


On Thursday’s Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill and Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am-Steve Gill spoke to Colonel Mark Tillman who is in town to attend the Reboot Alliance luncheon in effort to help raise money for veterans and first responders who are suffering with trauma and PTSD disorders.

Towards the end of the segment, Tillman and Gill reminisced about how Americans used to be proud of their country after 9-11 by displaying a love for country and unity by installing flags and decals on cars, and chanting USA at baseball and football games. They agreed that this enthusiasm has been lost and that in order for the country to move forward we need to get that type of mentality back.

Gill: There is non-profit here in the Nashville area called Reboot Recovery. It’s a Tennessee based nonprofit that offers trauma healing courses to veterans and first responders nationwide. And today they’re kicking off their weekend of Memorial Day with a banquet where Colonel Tillman is going to join them.

He is the guy who was literally flying Air Force One the day of 9-11. He’s going to be speaking at the luncheon. And if you’ll go their website you can get details on how you can be there for Reboot It’s going to be at Rocket Town. And Colonel good to have you with us, Mark.

Tillman: Hey good morning thanks for having me.

Gill: My dad was an Air force fighter pilot career so we always make room for the air force guys.

Tillman: Outstanding. (Gill chuckles) Thank you so much.

Gill: He flew the F104 which was a missile with a man in it. You’re probably familiar with it. They’re not flying it now but basically, you’d strap into a missile and had little short stubby wings and fly off. Not exactly as big as air force one.

Tillman: Nah, 747 was a lot of fun to fly. My son’s a fighter pilot in the Navy. He humbles me and lets me know of all the things he does off the carrier of a fighter versus a 747 that you can have a nice meal and a place to sleep in. So it’s a different life in the air force. But loved it.

Gill: As those Navy guys like to point out, they don’t land on a static runway they have to land on a ship that’s bobbing and moving so they think they’re better. The camaraderie and the rivalry in the services is always something worth honoring and respecting because you’re all on the same team when it comes to when it matters. Talk to us a little bit, Colonel Mark Tillman again was the pilot on Air Force One on the day of 911. When did you first get the indication as you all were preparing to fly or flying that something was up?

Tillman: We were on the ground in Sarasota and after the first attack on the tower in New York we were told there was an aircraft accident. Then subsequently when after the second plane hit the second tower that’s when everything started coming together. It was very obvious it wasn’t an aircraft accident. It was an actual attack occurring. FAA started giving us a lot of information about other aircraft that were high jacked and from that point on we started moving position to relocate the President to the United States. As you remember he was at the elementary school talking with the kids.

Gill: Right.

Tillman: Then he came rushing towards us.

Gill: Now when you all take off in a situation like that you’re not like going somewhere, basically you’re kind of hanging out in the air until you figure out where you’re going. Were you given directions of let’s go here, let’s land here or was it literally lets circle till we figure this out?

Tillman: You know initially we thought we were going to execute a plan and relocate the President. But President Busch as soon as he got on he made it very clear that he was not going to be relocated or hunkered down. He was heading back to Washington DC. So our orders changed the moment he got on the aircraft.

We made a direct bee line towards Washington DC going as fast as we could and as high as we could. We had a direction at that point. And then many things changed. We had to turn away from Washington to avoid in or around the country till we could get things situated for a safe landing in Washington.

Gill: After that day it was so strange that you don’t notice that for a lot of us, the jetliners flying up and above and for days after just the silence of no planes in the air was really. It was strange.

Tillman: Yeah, on the day I mean normally you hear tons of radio calls and shortly after airborne there were no more radio calls. All the planes had been put to the ground. Controllers weren’t even talking to us. They let us go wherever we wanted. We had control of the entire skies. And days later we flew up to ground zero and same thing. Kind of an eerie feeling with no planes in the air or flying into Manhattan. Seeing the damage was incredible.

Gill: Obviously you were in front of the plane so you weren’t spending a lot of time with the President on that day. The moments that you had with him seeing him. What was your impression of his status on that day?

Tillman: What was incredible was all the phone calls going to the President were put over speaker upstairs so we could all have situational awareness. Then Andy Carr, Mr. Carr was upstairs talking with us quite a bit. It was amazing the amount of information coming to the President. He was on the direct line with the Vice President. It was just constant. Any event occurring in the United States related to this. It was just constant. It was either Washington or New York. Status of the first responders. Mayor Giuliani. Everyone was putting information in the President’s head and he was reacting to it and making decisions and moving forward.

Gill: Now ya’ll were up in the air by the time the towers came down. That had to be a surreal moment as well.

Tillman: It was incredible what occurred. It was the Vice President who let the President know that the tower had come down. And he is looking in his office well we were flying in his office, he’s looking at the television, it shows the tower coming down. All of us just couldn’t believe it. We knew the first responders were in there and so did the President. And then when the second tower came down we were still moving towards our location so he could address the American public. It was quite a moving moment for the entire day.

Gill: Well and it definitely changed the direction in terms of his administration and a post 911 America where folks stopped what they were doing to join the military. Or kids that were in high school a few years later became part of that war footing against terrorism. And of course, the first responders that have suffered still so much from the dust and the air that they were breathing on that day.

That’s one of the reasons I know that you’re in town for this Reboot Recovery luncheon today to help raise money to help offer trauma healing courses to veterans, first responders nationwide. Tell us a little bit why this particular charity matters to you. by the way. And if the folks want to join Colonel Mark Tillman at lunch today its at Rocket Town at 11:30 am. So go to you can find out more there. Why does this particular charity matter to you?

Tillman: You know these folks are doing amazing things with our veterans and first responders who have basically done everything demanded of them. But they got the true heart. It’s America. And after September 11th we went all around the country and thousands of Americans came to the site of the aircraft and they were all yelling and screaming and chanting USA, USA. And they all came together. All Americans were together. It didn’t matter what your party affiliation was. Everyone was together.

It was just an incredible time. And I’d love to get that kind of mentality back. And that’s one of the things I want to make sure of. I want to take care of the veterans that paid the ultimate sacrifice but those that are still mending from the days in the war. Same with the first responders of all the tremendous things they’ve accomplished.

Gill: Yeah and for so many the emotional aspects, PTSD and others that it’s not a visible wound. I mean you see somebody that’s lost a leg or lost a limb. Or as Congressman Crenshaw has lost an eye. The invisible wounds are just as tough to overcome and to deal with and yet there a lot of those among us that suffer from those. And fortunately, Reboot Alliance does a lot with it.

By the way, Congressman Mark Green and Studio Bank President, Former Marine Intelligence Officer Aaron Dorn are on Reboot Alliance’s board of directors. I’m not sure if Mark will be there today because of his duties in Congress. But certainly will be a hopefully a great crowd there to join you and participate in helping this important and needed effort.

Yeah, it was interesting you mentioned after 911 you could not get those car flags, the American flags. They sold out, people couldn’t buy enough flags to fly. And you certainly don’t see those car flags flying on cars anymore. You don’t see the decals on every car. You don’t see the flags waving, not just on holidays like Memorial Day. It’s not just getting back to that unity Colonel. It’s why aren’t we embracing our country and standing together for our country?

Tillman: Absolutely. I mean back in those days everywhere we went it was an incredible amount of young people. Everyone just came out and they supported. You may not have been supporting President Busch but you were coming out to support the United States of America.  Throwing the first pitch out at the ball games.

At every ball game, you went to people were standing for the American flag and yelling and screaming USA before the first pitch. Before you know the kickoff. It was incredible. That’s what we are. And that’s what we will continue to be. Just we’ve got to get the right people in there to make sure everything’s going to happen and that kind of mentality’s back.

Gill: Well that’s one of the great things in the military. It’s mission focused and we’re all on the same team. And pulling in the same direction. And you’ve got to get that in our country if we’re going to get that sort of mission success. Colonel Mark Tillman, thank you for your service. Thank you for what you’re doing. Thanks for what you’re doing today to help Reboot Alliance.

Again, folks, the luncheon is at Rocket Town today. If you can’t go to their event today they’ve got several other events over the course of memorial day weekend that you may be able to be a part of. And you can find it all at Mark Tillman, welcome to Nashville!

Listen to the full hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to the Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill and Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Col. Mark Tillman” by Premiere Speakers. Background Photo “Reboot Alliance” by Reboot Alliance.






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