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What happened to our troops in Oakland

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By Michelle Malkin  •  September 30, 2007 10:58 AM

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Two days ago, an e-mail about the rude treatment of Marines and soldiers returning from Iraq started making the rounds on the Internet. The brother of one of the mistreated troops who described the incident at Oakland Airport works on the Hill. The brother forwarded his family member’s e-mail around. The e-mail is real, contrary to the Daily Kos nut who dismissed it as “fake” without any evidence whatsoever (can you say p-r-o-j-e-c-t-i-o-n). I contacted the Navy chaplain who serves with the Marines to verify the e-mail on Friday. He confirmed.

You can read the whole thing here or here at The Corner from Michael Ledeen.

In short: “On September 27th 204 Marines and soldiers who were returning from Iraq were not allowed into the passenger terminal at Oakland International Airport.Instead they had to deplane about 400 yards away from the terminal where the extra baggage trailers were located. This was the last scheduled stop for fuel and food prior to flying to Hawaii where both were based. The trip started in Kuwait on September 26th with a rigorous search of checked and carry on baggage by US Customs. All baggage was x-rayed with a ‘backscatter’ machine AND each bag was completely emptied and hand searched. After being searched, checked bags were marked and immediately placed in a secure container. Carry on bags were then x rayed again to ensure no contraband items were taken on the plane. While waiting for the bus to the airport, all personnel were in quarantined in a fenced area and were not allowed to leave.” Nevertheless, Oakland forbade them from entering its terminal. According to the Marine, a Lieutenant who served in Afghanistan with the same unit in 2006 noted that Oakland had treated troops the same way before. He “was almost arrested by the TSA for getting belligerent about them not letting the Marines into the terminal,” despite more rigorous screening prior to landing in Oakland. Both JFK airport and in Germany had no problem with the Marines entering their terminals.

I have also obtained the Port of Oakland’s response about the incident to Captain David Epstein of the Reserve Officers Association. The Port official blames a lack of “clear communication” from the charter airline hired by the military. In other words: it’s the troops’ fault:

Thank you so much for sharing with me the information you had regarding the incident at the airport. As you know sometimes the way things appear initially regarding an incident turn out to be different after looking into the details. We checked into this once you had called me and raised your public relations concern, so again thank you. Here is the background information I have about the incident as well as the procedures and policies that affected decision-making that day.

In the case of North American Airlines Flight #1777, a military charter flight that arrived at OAK on Thursday, September 27, aircraft parking and passenger service arrangements were coordinated and approved in advance between the ground handling company and Airside Operations. The airport received information that the passengers were not TSA-screened
at their originating airport and that weapons were on-board the aircraft. Together with our security partners, the airport made a decision to park this aircraft at a remote location on the tarmac. It is the responsibility of the charter airline that its operation is compliant with TSA screening requirements.

Upon landing and parking at OAK, the pilot-in-command advised the ground handling company that the parking and passenger handling provisions did not meet expectations. Upon learning this, Airside Operations and Aviation Security worked with the ground handling company and other law enforcement partners to coordinate a plan that was satisfactory to the pilot and passengers, and which was compliant with all airport safety and security standards.

Oakland International Airport (OAK) makes customer service a priority for all its passengers, whether they are traveling on commercial, military or general aviation aircraft. Charter airlines operating at OAK can choose to contract with a number of ground handling companies. Ground handlers coordinate flight services such as passenger handling, and aircraft fueling, cleaning and catering. It is the responsibility of ground handling companies to communicate aircraft and passenger operational needs to OAK’s Airside Operations Office in advance so that special accommodations can be coordinated to ensure that all airport operational, safety and security concerns are addressed.

The scheduled arrival and departure time of the flight is set by the aircraft operator. Time is needed to refuel the aircraft, perform maintenance inspections, refresh the catering, and give passengers time to stretch to break-up long travel periods. An analysis of the incident and prior correspondence between OAK’s Airside Operations and the ground handler determined that the airport did not receive clear communication in advance from the charter airline that was hired by the military.

I am out of town starting tomorrow for a convention. If you have any further inquiries about this incident and the way it was handled, Rosemary Barnes who is part of our Public Affairs team would be happy to speak with you. You may also call Joanne Holloway, the acting manager of the Port’s Community and Customer Relations Department.

Kindest regards,
Marilyn Sandifur
Port Spokesperson
Port of Oakland

“The airport did not receive clear communication” is not a satisfactory explanation. The bottom line is that Oakland officials made the final decision (“the airport made a decision to park this aircraft at a remote location on the tarmac”). The Port of Oakland’s p.r. flacks have passed the buck and seem to believe they can blow off this incident without bothering to apologize to the troops who felt mistreated and without pledging to ensure that the troops are received properly the next time they touch down at that airport.

Big mistake from a region of the country that already has a bad, longstanding rep as anti-military.

All fair-minded observers should agree: The troops deserve better.

***

A commenter at Patterico’s notes:

When I was returning from the first Gulf War, we went through the quarantine process prior to boarding the plane to leave Saudi Arabia. After our baggage and bodies were searched we went into the quarantine holding area from which we could not leave, ensuring that no contraband would enter the US. Our first stop was Rome, and we stayed on the plane. We landed at JFK and went into the terminal for a couple of hours. A security detail stayed on board the aircraft. We then re-boarded and returned to Ft. Hood, TX.
Troops returning from overseas have to pass through customs. In the case of troop transports, this is actually done overseas, hence the quarantine area. The only processing we went through in the US was turning in weapons & other sensitive items when we returned to Ft Hood. Remember, troops do not carry passports in combat zones. I assume that the military follows the same procedures that they did in the 90’s vis troops returning from overseas deployments and they should be able to disembark during layovers in the US. I can tell you from personal experience, troops just want to get a quick stretch, a chance to clean up before returning home and maybe a cool drink: I hope the Oakland airport can accommodate these simple needs.

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