I arrived back in the States last night. While selected for special customs screening, it was relatively painless. After being sent to the counter between the red pillars (never a good sign), I met with a customs officer. He looked at my paperwork, and noted that my travel took me to the UK, Jordan, and Iraq. "Yeah," I replied, "and I cant figure out why I would be selected for a special customs search." The Customs Officer then offered dryly, "Its a random search." After a few questions, including the standard repitition of questions to see if I would waiver, he let me through with a short stop at the Dept. of Agriculture desk (I have visited a farming area in the last week, and therefore they had to disinfect my shoes).
By contrast, I heard a very bad story about how the soldiers were treated on return at Atlantas airport. Sgt. Mattocks from the 196th traveled back to the United States for leave in June. When he got off the airplane in Atlanta, they had a special line for the soldiers, where they made them all remove their boots, hike up their desert camouflage uniform pants to about their knees, open their belts, and stand in a line of about 300 soldiers waiting to be searched. Aside from subjecting them to even closer scrutiny than they subjected to non-U.S. citizens traveling to the states, the TSA operated this procedure in front of the foreign travelers. This sent a very bad message about how we treat our soldiers.
As the spouse of a soldier currently serving in Iraq, I am completely disgusted with this. If we did this to a group of foreigners or suspect appearing individuals, there would be legal action taken against the TSA. And those individuals would win the battle citing that their civil rights had been violated. The men and women of our military deserve better respect than what they are being given, and I am ashamed for those who fail our servicemembers.
When it comes to officious behavior and questionable practical necessity, the Transportation "Security" Agency has few equals. Any terrorists who might want to take over a plane have long since changed their strategy, and the rest of us are still hobbling around airport lobbies clutching our shoes and belts.
Thats strange. I just returned from Iraq two weeks ago, through Baltimore, and heres the total interaction I had with the inspector:
"Got a weapon?"
The people who witnessed the goings-on in Atlanta may not know what the full story is. The policy on war souvenirs is very tight - not even a single spent bullet case is allowed. I am not intending to disparage the troops, but they tend to be young and think they can get away with infractions they dont consider serious. On the plane over I saw a youngun with a bottle of alcohol he was intending to sneak into the theatre of operations. This was after countless briefings warning us against violating General Order #1. For awhile we couldnt get sugar for coffee - the exchange had stopped selling it because too many troops were using it in their stills (the restriction was eventually lifted). What many people dont realize is how the Army itself tends to treat its soldiers like children. Im not excusing the TSA - the treatment described is disrespectful, but it could be that the Army (or the Officer in Charge) asked(!) them to do this. By the way, self-discipline and integrity were the norm, not the behavior described above.
The internet offers a wonderful venue for spreading information, but each account is still only a soda-straw view. Analysis by anecdote tends to lead to distortion. Heres a suggestion: go find out for yourself - visit a veterans or military hospital and talk to the troops. Theyll appreciate your visit (do NOT ask them for details about combat) and youll get another viewpoint. Dont forget to thank them for their service and sacrifice. Im just an Air Force weenie who volunteered for a few months there - I have tremendous respect for the soldiers and marines and what they have to endure. Most Americans will never understand the amount of gratitude they deserve.
Thank you Mr. Alt for keeping us posted here at home. I am certain the servicemen you spent time with there will never forget you. You made us proud.
Ditto Mr. Memmingers comments. My time in the service was in the Air Force, but I spent a couple years stationed at an AF hospital that mostly served Army units. I was not generally impressed with the way the Army treated its own. Not saying that is good or bad, it just is. Instinct tells me there is a story behind the reported story here by Mr. Alt. Whatever happened, it should have been taken care of behind closed doors.
Let me get this straight. We search soldiers coming home after theyve fought a war and old men have to take off their white loafers, but we dont check all Middle Eastern men at airports because of a fear of "racial profiling." I mean, hey, its not as if all the September 11th terrorists were Arabs or anything like that to make us introduce prudent policies. What a world!
In responce to comment #3 he is right, the story is always one sided. No officer in charge requested such treatment, they were subject to the same treatment, and discussed with it as well. I guess i am the only on to speak up. the tsa agents i am sure, are just doing their jobs, and what a good job they do. Being a solider, does not make me above the law, or in this case should not come with special privlage, lets face it there are soliders who could be doing wrong. There for it works as a system of checks and balances. But since we went through an even more extensive search before we left Kuwait, and kept in a controled enviroment, there after. So we could not get and contraband if we wanted to. I guess i think they can do it alittle more discreet than search 300 soliders not random search. infront of all the foreign people looking at us we go through it. thank you for your ear JIM..