Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lack of policy behind snub of Iraq veterans at airport

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Miscommunication was one of the factors that led to an incident in which U.S. troops returning from Iraq were not allowed to enter an airport passenger terminal, according to a report released Wednesday.

The 204 soldiers and Marines, who were on a two-hour layover, were let off their plane in a remote field at Oakland International Airport in California and were not permitted access to the terminal -- a perceived snub that resulted in a firestorm of criticism on the Internet, in hometown newspapers and in the halls of Congress.

A government auditor said Wednesday that the incident last September was the result of a combination of factors, including concerns that the soldiers might be armed, miscommunication and a lack of coordination between government agencies.

One leading theory about the soldiers' mistreatment was that it stemmed from a dispute between Oakland International Airport and the military over nonpayment of airport fees.

But in his report released Wednesday, Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III said the primary reason was the airport's concern that Hilltop Aviation, the ground handler of the flight, "could not provide an adequate level of escort and control" at the gate.

"The payment or non-payment of airport fees played no role in this decision," Scovel wrote.

The report says if the troops had gone into the terminal, they would have required boarding passes to go through security screening and reboard the aircraft, which would have been a problem in the two-hour time frame.

Exacerbating the situation, Scovel said, was the lack of coordination between the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security over whether the soldiers' screenings at military bases prior to departure were sufficient to meet the Transportation Security Administration's standards.

At John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York -- one of several stops the plane made while flying from Kuwait to the soldiers' home base in Hawaii -- TSA officials told Scovel's auditors that they accept screening done at military bases.

At Oakland, the airport did not ask for TSA approval because the airport and Hilltop could not determine that the military personnel would have been screened according to TSA standards prior to arrival, Scovel said.

An official at TSA headquarters, consulted after the incident, agreed with Oakland's decision not to allow the soldiers into the terminal because the airport could not confirm that prior screening had occurred "in accordance with TSA standards and protocols," he said.

Scovel recommended the DOT and DHS develop protocols to deal with such situations.

He also said there was miscommunication about the storage of the soldiers' weapons.

"Hilltop Aviation could not confirm that weapons on Flight 1777 would be secured and safeguarded ... and that the Marines and soldiers would leave their weapons on board," the report says.

Rep. John L. Mica, R-Florida, who along with Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisconsin, asked for the investigation, said the lack of protocols was "no excuse for the poor treatment of these brave men and women."

"I believe Oakland airport made an error in judgment by preventing these Marines and soldiers from entering the terminal. What is even more concerning is the lack of TSA and government policy in treatment of our returning military at our nation's airports," Mica said.

Scovel's report concludes that the airport broke no federal laws or regulations.

He recommended creation of a task force of airline, airport and government personnel to develop a uniform process for handling military charter flights.


I thought I had seen it all, but this takes the cake. Sure why not, after a long flight why not just dump them out on a field. If you tried to do this to some dogs, PETA would have a field day.


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