- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Oakland International Airport did not break any laws or regulations when it denied 200 Marines and soldiers access to the passenger terminal during a layover last year from Iraq to the troops’ home base in Hawaii, the Transportation Department says.

Calvin L. Scovell III, the department’s inspector general, blamed the mix-up on security concerns and a communication failure between the Defense Department and the Homeland Security Department.

The contract to allow military layovers at the California airport “did not require that military personnel have access to the airport terminal; it only required that military personnel be allowed to deplane and stretch their legs on stops lasting over one hour,” said a report released yesterday to House lawmakers who requested an investigation into the matter.

The Sept. 27 layover was the last stop for fuel and food, but the troops, who were returning from a tour in Iraq, were denied access to food and bathroom facilities.

A Marine reported the incident to Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and said it “felt like being spit on.”

Airport officials were concerned that the flight’s ground staff could not provide “an adequate level of escort and control of such a large group of military personnel in or around the terminal area,” the inspector’s report said.

The report also said the Homeland Security and Defense departments have no coordinated policy to conduct security screenings or a communications process to allow the Marines and soldiers in passenger terminals.

The review also found “miscommunication about the proper storage and safeguarding of weapons carried on board aircraft during the layover” and that the airport “could not confirm that weapons [on the plane] would be secured and safeguarded in accordance with Department of Defense regulations and that the Marines and soldiers would leave their weapons on board.”

An airport spokeswoman and a Defense Department spokesman said they received the report but were not prepared to comment until their respective officials had a chance to review the findings.

Calls for comment to the Transportation Security Administration were not returned.

The inspector general recommended the establishment of a task force with representatives from the Homeland, Defense and Transportation departments, along with representatives from the airlines and airports, to develop a uniform process for handling service members on all military chartered flights at U.S. commercial-service airports.

The lack of protocol for treating military personnel during transport is “no excuse for the poor treatment these brave men and women received in exchange for defending our freedoms,” Mr. Mica said.

Mr. Mica said he and Rep. Tom Petri, Wisconsin Republican and ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation, will follow up on the inspector general’s report.

“The shocking thing is that there is no protocol for handling our returning troops, and at Oakland they got a very rude welcome,” Mr. Mica said. “We just need to get some regular order of the process so we don’t have a recurrence of what we saw happen here.”

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