WISCONSINREPORT.COM (04/03/08) - Fourteen administration officials and airport representatives gathered Wednesday in a closed meeting to explain to Congressional Representative Tom Petri of Wisconsin why 204 Marines and soldiers returning from Iraq were barred from the Oakland, California airport terminal on September 27th, 2007. The military personnel felt slighted when they were deplaned onto a grass median between runways instead of allowed to taxi to the terminal and deplane there. Officials said it was a mistake and not an insult, and measures are being taken to prevent it from happening again.
According to one of the returned Marines, the military personnel on the flight had been previously screened by the Transportation Security Administration, had gone through U.S. Customs, and had already deplaned and entered the terminal at JFK International Airport in New York.
However, instead of being permitted into the Oakland terminal before the final leg of the flight home to Hawaii, the men and women in uniform were required to deplane onto a grass median between runways.
In an e-mail, the Marine wrote: "It felt like being spit on. Every Marine and soldier felt the message loud and clear, "YOU ARE NOT WELCOME IN OAKLAND!"
Petri, the ranking Republican on the Aviation Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was joined by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Republican Rep. John L. Mica of Florida, and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee.
Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel and others discussed actions they are taking as a result of an investigation of the incident initiated at the request of the congressmen.
"They made several points, but what it all comes down to is that the airport wasn't prepared for such a large number of troops, wasn't clear about the screening they had gone through earlier in the trip, and was further unclear that the weapons carried with the troops were secured and under guard in the luggage compartment," said Petri.
Petri said that members of the armed forces traveling together on military charter flights should receive expedited VIP treatment at security checkpoints.
As a result of the investigation requested by Reps. Petri and Mica, a task force has been formed and is meeting to establish uniform protocols for charter flights transporting troops through U.S. airports.
The task force consists of relevant federal agencies including the Department of Defense, the Transportation Security Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as representatives of air carriers and airports.
Members of the task force told the congressmen that the Oakland incident and the representatives' concerns about it served to identify gaps in policy and made clear the need for greater coordination and communication between all groups involved.
The task force hopes to complete a "Memorandum of Understanding" by the end of May or the early summer.