On July 22, 2005, Marine Major Clark Pollard was the co-pilot of the Marine One helicopter that landed on the South Lawn of the White House to pick up its most important regular passenger, the President of the United States.
On that day Pollard helped fly President George W. Bush from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base.
“It was a very uneventful flight,” said Pollard a 1987 graduate of Riverside Brookfield High School. He will be honored at a dinner Thursday evening as one of three recipients of medals awarded by RB’s Alumni Achievement Committee. “The only person worked up about it was yours truly.”
Pollard, is currently stationed at the Miramar Marine Air Corps Station outside San Diego and is awaiting deployment to Afghanistan. He served in the Marine Helicopter Squadron One from 2005 until April 2007. He helped fly Bush about 15 times, including flights to Camp David and flights in Texas to and from the former president’s ranch.
“It was very exciting,” Pollard says. “You’re trying to do the best job you can to get the President from Point A to Point B.”
Pollard said that he did not have much interaction with Bush, but the ex-president had his own way of saying hello.
“President Bush was infamous for giving a slap on the shoulder for the co-pilot so that kinds of stands out,” Pollard says. “The overall perception is that the President, and all the rest of his family, were genuine personalities, very nice people.”
Pollard says that Bush made things easy on the crew.
“His administration was famous for whenever he was going to go to an event he was on time or early so that made it made it very easy on us,” Pollard said.
Being selected to serve with the Marine One squadron is a high honor for a Marine helicopter pilot.
“Basically you’re selected by your peers,” Pollard said. “It’s based on the reputation you had out in the fleet Marine forces. It was very flattering to be recognized by your peers in that manner. I’m very grateful for the opportunity. It’s an honor because it’s something that only a handful of helicopter pilots will ever get to do.”
Pollard also frequently transported then Vice President Dick Cheney and members of the Bush and Cheney families.
Commissioned as a Marine Corps officer upon graduation from Southern Illinois University with a degree in aviation management, Pollard has served three tours of duty in Iraq.
He served in Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003, was the operations officer of a helicopter squadron in the western desert of Iraq during a period of heavy fighting during 2004 and served another tour of duty in Iraq in 2008.
He flew many missions in 2004 during tough fighting against insurgents in Al-Anbar province in western Iraq.
“It was very hot, dirty, gritty demanding work,” Pollard said. “You were constantly battling fatigue from flying in a western desert that was probably 100 to 125 degrees in the summertime. We were transporting captured enemy combatants to security stockades, we were transporting air conditioning units, we were transporting building materials, we were transporting the Marines themselves back and forth between forward operating bases all across the western desert. We were flying a lot in support of ground forces at that time.”
Flying in the desert was a particular challenge. “It was never fun to be caught flying in a sand storm, I can tell you that,” Pollard said.
Pollard grew up in Brookfield and attended S.E. Gross School before going to RB. His dad, Chuck, served as an enlisted man in the Air Force and his parents took him to air shows all throughout the Midwest during his childhood. His mother Helen recalls taking Pollard to the Chicago Air and Water Show when he was just 2.
He always wanted to fly and, influenced by movies like Top Gun, wanted to be a military pilot. “It was always something I wanted to do,” Pollard says. “Pilots were always like the cool guys you wanted to be like. I loved airplanes.”
At RB, Pollard wrestled, played soccer and water polo.
He credits RB teachers George Miller and Gary Johnson for inspiring him.