Army Capt. Timothy D. McIlwain knows it takes teamwork to fulfill missions in both the military and civilian sectors.
A captain and Apache helicopter pilot with the 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion of the Pennsylvania National Guard, McIlwain said the 38 soldiers under his command and other members of the battalion served with distinction while in Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013.
McIlwain, a third-generation owner and operator of a bus company bearing his surname, said he cannot say enough about his dedicated employees who make the company successful.
McIlwain, whose National Guard unit is based at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, said his unit’s mission in Afghanistan was to escort ground convoys, support ground troops and perform reconnaissance in direct support of special operations.
“It was a complete eye-opener and certainly a humbling experience to complete missions every day in a country that has been at war for thousands of years,” he said.
“I think we sometimes take for granted every day the freedoms that we all enjoy, such as the ability to obtain a quality education and the freedom to worship as we please without consequences.
“It was an honor to serve our country and hopefully our time in Afghanistan has helped the Afghani people take a step forward in the right direction.”
McIlwain, a 2002 graduate of Conemaugh Township Area High School, started preparing for a career in the military after high school by enrolling in the Army ROTC at the University of Pittsburgh.
It was there he met his wife, Chelsi, who is from Westmont.
Chelsi was commissioned into the Army Nurse Corps. She became a nurse at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, where she cared for wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
McIlwain went to flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, for two years.
After graduating from flight school, he returned home to work full time in the family business while still serving in the Guard. He has been vice president of McIlwain School Bus Lines Inc. and McIlwain Charter and Tours Inc. since 2008.
McIlwain, who resides with his wife in Westmont, said McIlwain School Bus Lines was started in 1947 by his grandparents, Robert and Margaret McIlwain.
The business continued to grow over the years with the company serving several school districts and adding a charter service.
In 1980, his grandfather retired and sold the company to his father, Douglas, and his father’s brother, Robert Jr. In 1991, his father bought out his uncle.
McIlwain said he, his father and mother, Sally, are continuing the family business that began more than 65 years ago.
The company transports 9,500 students daily, has a fleet of over 220 vehicles, and employs more than 250 compassionate and hard-working employees, he said.
“McIlwain School Bus Lines is proud to call Somerset and Cambria counties home and is looking forward to providing many more years of safe and reliable student transportation,” he said.
The company also is the first school bus line in the region to introduce an alternative fuel – propane – into its fleet, he said.
Propane provides a cost-effective, clean, safe and reliable alternative fuel, he said. More than 90 percent of the propane used in the United States is produced domestically, thus reducing our dependence on foreign oil, he said.
In addition to offering charter bus service and student transportation, the company offers executive limousine service and corporate travel for businesses.
Douglas McIlwain said it is rewarding to see his son working at the bus company, knowing that the company continues into the third generation in capable hands.
“Tim has been working in maintenance and many other capacities since he was 14 years old,” he said. “He developed a love of machines and vehicles which piqued his interest in flying.
“My wife and I, along with our other two sons, feel great pride that Tim has served our country and has gained a deeper appreciation for our American values.”
Maj. Jack E. Wallace Jr., commander of the 1-104th Air Reconnaissance Battalion, said McIlwain is a dynamic leader who, through this past deployment, has gained valuable tactical knowledge that enables him to effectively lead an attack helicopter company.
“He also has the skills that allow him to lead his soldiers back home and possesses the ability to genuinely care about his soldiers and his soldiers’ families.
“Tim is the type of officer and commander who is a pleasure to have in my command.”
Frank Sojak is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/FrankNews10.