Mark W. Tillman is the epitome of the Air Force’s service before self core value. He was born on 27 December 1957 in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. In his formative years, his fascination with rocketry and aircraft led him to a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Tulane University in 1979. Upon his commission in the United States Air Force, he initially served as a rocket propulsion engineer before being selected to attend pilot training. At the completion of his training he was selected to fly the C-130 in various tactical airlift roles. From the tactical realm he was selected to enter the VIP transport community as a military Gulfstream pilot. Colonel Tillman distinguished himself with superior leadership and airmanship, and it was clear why the newly-elected President George W. Bush chose him as the presidential pilot and as the commander of the newly activated Presidential Airlift Group. As the commander of this unique organization Tillman orchestrated “zero fail” actions of 250 personnel and a fleet of aircraft whose sole responsibility is the safe transport of the president of the United States anytime, anywhere. On the morning of 11 September 2001, as the world began to realize the terrible events of the day, Tillman swiftly coordinated and executed the successful evacuation of the president and his staff during an extremely volatile security environment. In 2003, Tillman led the most daring mission in Air Force One history as he transported President Bush into Baghdad, Iraq, to surprise the troops with Thanksgiving dinner. He bravely led his team to execute this highly secretive mission in the most recognizable aircraft in the world. Throughout the Global War on Terrorism, Tillman led numerous high profile missions into the war zone. As August 2005 found the southern United States reeling from Hurricane Katrina, Tillman led his crew to deliver the president safely into the disaster zone only four days after the hurricane’s landfall. Over the next several months, Air Force One made 17 additional trips to the devastated region. Over the term of Tillman’s command of the Presidential Airlift Group, he safely executed countless complex missions with the highest level of perfection. During President Bush’s final foreign trip to Africa, National Geographic filmed their documentary, On Board Air Force One, highlighting Tillman as he walked through each element of the presidential airlift mission. For his remarkable leadership and aerial achievements, Tillman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2004. In addition, President Bush promoted him to the rank of brigadier general, making Tillman the first military line officer to receive this honor without Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation. Now retired from the Air Force, Tillman flies for a corporate company and spends his spare time speaking to our nation’s professional, military, civic and youth groups on teamwork and ‘zero fail’ leadership. Tillman currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, and has three children, Patrick, Erinn, and Reilly.
Years Honored: 2011
Aircraft/Specialty: Air Force One
On 26 November 2003, Tillman watched from the cockpit of Air Force One as the President of the United States arrived at an airport in Waco, Texas. Wearing discrete clothing and a baseball cap, the President entered the aircraft through the rear staff entry and prepared to embark on an extremely secretive mission into the heart of the Global War on Terrorism. Tillman's leadership and "zero-fail" philosophy shined during this grueling 30-hour mission, and with every other Presidential movement. Poised at the very tip of the United States military sword, Tillman, the aircraft commander of Air Force One, skillfully directed the secure movement of the nation's most valuable leader.