by Colton Fast / Staff Writer
At Tuesday’s Dillion lecture series, most people came to hear Colonel Mark Tillman’s incredible story over the events he experienced during the 9/11 attacks.
However, his story on George Bush’s secret Thanksgiving journey to Baghdad in 2003 to celebrate with U.S. soldiers was just as good if not better. In fact it was so secret that it was kept a secret from the secret service, beating them at their own game.
Tillman, being the commander of Air Force One, took charge of the mission and had to secretly contact people and organizations without letting those same people know of what they were doing as well.
Tillman eventually located a safe landing spot on the corner of a small Baghdad airfield where it would be safe from mortar fire. Tillman and his crew snuck Bush out of his Texas ranch and started their flight to baghdad.
The flight was going just as planned until a plane near the British coast spotted them flying by and asked them if that was Air Force One and Tillman answered that they were flying a Gulfstream V, a small 12 person passenger jet. Air Force One on the other hand is a massive and powerful Airliner that holds more than 250 people. The pilot supposedly laughed and said ok in a sarcastic tone. Air Force One ended up coming in undetected and unscathed. Bush was then escorted to a military outpost where he would only have about 3 hours until they would be detected by hostile forces.
After about 2 hours, and 30 minutes later they were set to depart.
As Bush boarded the plane, Tillman asked him how the dinner was and Bush said “I didn’t get to eat, I got to serve the finest Americans in the world”. Truly illustrating the appreciation that our leaders have for our soldiers at war.
Rewind 2 years and it’s November 11th, 2001, arguably the most dreaded day in American history. Early that morning, President Bush was at an elementary education visit in Jacksonville Florida.
At 8:46 A.M. the first tower was hit. Admittingly, Tillman said that they didn’t expect that it was a terrorist attack but knew that it wasn’t a small aircraft like reports were saying. At 9:03 the second tower was hit. Instantly, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card infamously whispered “A second plane hit the second tower, America is under attack”.
Bush is then escorted back to Air Force One where they are planned to move Bush to a multitude of safe zones for the president to be at. However the fog of war that day could not get any worse as there were plenty of false reports of lethal threats.
However, with so much panic ensuing that day, it wasn’t an option to not believe them. Even before takeoff, reports of a man with a long gun and a plane descending towards them were already getting to them before takeoff. Tillman taking the reports seriously taxied the plane around and took off from the supposed long gun user.
Tillman shortly found out that this was false information. They first touched down in Louisiana where Bush then insisted that they take him back to Washington D.C. to address the situation at hand. During this flight to D.C. two more flights were hijacked and crashed, one into the pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania.
Tillman talked about the people who took the plane back from the hijackers in Pennsylvania saying “We need to remember what these people sacrificed for America, those people possibly saved thousands of innocent lives”. However, I think that we shouldn’t forget the important 30 years that Colonel Tillman served in the Air Force. He saved countless lives and maintained the safety of important political members for years. His contribution to America couldn’t possibly be measured and is a gold standard for patriotism.