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Oak Island man shares stories of serving three presidents on Air Force One

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By Brian Slattery

If you have ever been curious about what happens after the news clip shows the president boarding Air Force One, Steve Lominac is a man you want to talk to.

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Lominac, who now lives in Oak Island, spent much of his career in the Air Force as a flight attendant on Air Force One, serving Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

He grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia from 1954 until the family left in 1971.

“I tell people it was a great place to grow up but not a good place to visit,” Lominac said.

Lominac said he once was caught in a gunfight between two gangs and also saw a friend stabbed.

But he said he also learned about the possibility of military service from the older fellows from his neighborhood.

“A lot of the older guys in the neighborhood had been drafted and said if they had the chance they would’ve gone into the Air Force, after they came back from Vietnam,” he said. “They said the quality of life, from what they saw, was better.”

Lominac was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. But it was only after working two jobs at a time for a few years that he went into the service, joining the Air Force in 1975

Thanks to the G.I. Bill, Lominac worked on a college degree through a correspondence program with the National Louis University and earned a degree in business management in 2004 at age 50. He is the first person in his family to earn a college degree.

Air Force to Air Force One

While serving in Germany chartering planes to move Army troops back and forth from the United States, Lominac learned of a program that needed flight attendants.

He said several of his co-workers had served in the position, including his superior who was a flight attendant on Air Force One for President Lyndon Johnson, and recommended he apply.

Lominac was accepted into the program and for his first decade served on various aircraft from different bases around the globe including Germany, Hawaii and eventually Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.

There he began serving in the program that handles the fleet of planes serving the president, vice president and administrative staff, like the Secretary of State, and Congressional delegations.

In the late 1980s Lominac served on Vice President Dan Quayle’s plane.

In 1990, he got the chance to serve on Air Force One for the first time.

Air Force One isn’t one plane, but rather call sign or designation for whichever aircraft the president is aboard.

The flight attendant’s job was to prepare a menu for each trip taken on the plane, which could be flights of varying lengths.

He would determine the number of meals that would be needed, get a menu approved, go shopping — in civilian clothes — then prepare meals on the ground so they could be finished on the airplane in one of two galleys on board.

“We made sure everyone got the same meal, except the president had more choices,” he said.

Lominac said those who served on the president’s plane worked either in the galley preparing meals, snacks drinks or whatever was planned or worked in the aisles attending to those on the plane.

Once he moved up to serving on Air Force One, Lominac worked his way through the hierarchy aboard the plane the same way he moved up the pecking order for the flight attendants.

Lominac worked the galley in his early years on Air Force One when presidents used one of two 707 aircraft. A few years into his time with Air Force One, the planes were upgraded to 747s.

Lominac said the commercial version of the plane could hold more than 400 passengers, but on Air Force One the most it would carry was about 100 people.

Besides the president, his family and any guests, the passengers would include the president’s senior staff, other staffers, and the press corps.

He said there were also always at least six members of the Secret Service on the plane.

Lominac spoiled some of the fantastic ideas about Air Force One that have been created by the movies.

“There is no escape pod or parachutes like in (the Harrison Ford movie) ‘Air Force One.’ That’s Hollywood,” he said.

But he did give Hollywood credit for getting at least close to accurate representing the Secret Service’s advance team that prepares for the presidents visits in Clint Eastwood’s movie “In the Line of Fire.”

Lominac said he flew to every continent except Antarctica.

“So many trips look good on paper,” he said, but the reality was often less than stellar.

He said Air Force One once had to fly back from Thailand so the president could be in Washington to pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving.

41-43

In 1998, Lominac was promoted to chief flight attendant, which meant he would take care of the president and first family as well as those in the compartments closest to the president.

Lominac called Bush “41” — for 41st president of the United States; When his son George W. Bush was elected 43rd president, he became “43.”

Although Lominac served on Air Force One with the first President George Bush, he said he did not have much interaction with him while he was in office.

But on the last Air Force One flight Bush took after he lost the 1992 election, the president worked his way through the airplane meeting each member of the flight staff and thanking them for their work.

“It was unique, when Bush 41 lost the election. On his last flight he talked to each one of us and told us good luck. That was a nice feeling,” Lominac said.

He said Bush 41 became his favorite president because he got to know him well during his years as chief flight attendant when he flew along on trips with his son.

“I did not get to know him as well until he was the ex-president because as chief flight attendant when he would fly along I would interact with him. He was a nice man, very happy-go-lucky,” he said.

A Presidential tongue lashing

Lominac said Clinton was also a personable man, but had a bad temper that could erupt at any time.

While giving a talk to residents of Arbor Landing in Shallotte recently, Lominac asked if anyone in the room had ever been chewed out by the president of the United States.

“Well I have,” he said.

Lominac said the galley crew forgot to brew coffee for the flight and made the mistake of trying to make Clinton a cup of instant coffee. The president saw what was going on and took his complaint to the chief flight attendant, poking him in the chest with his finger while demanding to know why he couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee on Air Force One.

Lominac said Hilary Clinton, who he described as always a pleasant person when they interacted, talked the president into apologizing for his temperamental behavior.

President Clinton later wrapped his arm around Lominac and did just that.

As chief flight attendant, Lominac had full access to the president — meaning he could walk right into the president’s rooms while staff members would have to ask permission. On one occasion, he said, he walked in to find Hilary Clinton poking her husband in the chest in a heated conversation, but he quickly slipped out.

During Clinton’s presidency, Lominac once served four presidents at once when Clinton and former presidents Ford Carter and Bush flew on Air Force One to Jordan for the funeral of King Hussein.

W

After Clinton’s two terms in office, Lominac worked as chief flight attendant for five years of George W. Bush 43’s two terms before retiring in 2005.

Lominac said during the changeover from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration, there was a report claiming the Clintons took a number of items off Air Force One.

Lominac said he told the new president’s staff that none of it was true and was asked to tell President Bush directly.

When he did, Bush scheduled a news conference to set the record straight.

Lominac said he is often asked about Sept. 11, 2001, but he was not on Air Force One that day.

“I was here at Brunswick Plantation” attending a real estate seminar, he said.

Lominac said his first wife, Regina, died after a long battle with cancer five weeks before he retired.

“President Bush (43) called when my wife passed away and invited (my family) to the White House for a retirement photo,” he said.

He didn’t bring the retirement photo to Arbor Landing, but Lominac showed off another memento from his time serving on Air Force One: a framed photo of him presenting Bush 43 with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while he is meeting with his White House Counsel Harriet Miers.

Bush 43 liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Fritos.

“He loved his Fritos,” Lominac said.

Clinton loved sweets, Lominac said, and enjoyed sampling the desserts they brought on the flights.

Lominac said Bush 41 didn’t have any favorite item; he just didn’t want any broccoli. But he would have an occasional martini, the only president he served who ever drank.

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.