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California airport isolates troops
Troops returning from Iraq were barred from entering the terminal at Oakland (Calif.) International Airport and instead parked 400 yards away — without access to food and bathroom facilities, a soldier reported.
The Sept. 27 incident was the last scheduled stop for fuel and food as the troops returned to their home base in Hawaii.
The situation was brought to the attention of two Republican House members, who are asking the Transportation Department’s inspector general to investigate.
“We believe this is not an isolated incident,” Rep. John L. Mica of Florida, ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin, ranking member of the subcommittee on aviation, said in a letter to Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III.
“If this is discovered to be a decision by the airport authority, a recipient of federal funding and operator of a public-use airport, it is simply unacceptable and may be in violation of federal laws and regulations,” the lawmakers said.
Mr. Mica told The Washington Times he has information that a similar situation occurred at the Oakland airport in which returning troops were deplaned and required to wait at a FedEx facility.
“That’s not much of a welcome home and not much of a greeting for people who have spent serious time in service to the United States,” he said.
An unnamed Marine reported the incident to the lawmakers in an e-mail and said the airport’s decision “felt like being spit on.” “Every Marine and soldier felt the message loud and clear. ‘You are not welcome in Oakland!’ ” the Marine wrote to the lawmakers.
More than 200 Marines and soldiers — traveling on North American Airlines Flight 1777 — were cleared through customs screening at John F. Kennedy International Airport and were allowed into the terminal during a 90-minute layover.
The Marine told lawmakers that when they asked why they were not allowed inside the Oakland airport, “they gave us some lame excuse that we hadn’t been screened by [Transportation Security Administration].”
A statement issued by the Port of Oakland said “the airport did not receive clear communication in advance from the charter airline that was hired by the military.”
“The airport received information that the passengers were not screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at their originating airport and that weapons were on-board the aircraft,” the statement read.
Christopher White, TSA spokesman, said the troops were screened by U.S. Customs Bureau officials and that no additional screening by TSA is ever required.
“In no way did we prohibit those soldiers and Marines from being in the sterile area at Oakland. There is no difference in our eyes on this flight or any other airline flight from JFK to Oakland. They are absolutely allowed to go into the sterile area,” Mr. White said.
A spokesman for North American Airlines did not respond to a request for comment.
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