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Wounded Marine says the TSA treats him like a terrorist

Published time: July 09, 2013 19:37
Reuters /  Jonathan Ernst

Reuters / Jonathan Ernst

A decorated United States Marine who almost died from injuries suffered during the Iraq War says he’s being treated as a terrorist when he tries to clear security checkpoints in the US.

Retired Marine Cpl. Nathan Kemnitz, 29, has begun to speak publically after a recent encounter with Transportation Security Administration agents at California’s Sacramento International Airport left him with yet another bad taste in his mouth thanks to TSA screeners.

Kemnitz, a Purple Heart medal-recipient, said a recent stop at the airport in California’s capital ended with a humiliating experience that was only made worse when he tried to attend to attend a ceremony in town honoring him as veteran of the year.

Both recent incidents, he said, has left him feeling like a terrorist.

When Kemnitz was asked by TSA agents at Sacramento International to raise his arms up during a security screening, the decorated vet said he could not comply because a war injury rendered one of his appendages almost immobile.

My right arm doesn’t work. It’s a lot of hassle for me to do that,” Kemnitz told Military Times.

Then when Kemnitz went to attend the ceremony in his honor at the California Capitol Building, screeners yet again hassled him at a security checkpoint. In that instance he was asked to remove his Marine uniform adorned with numerous awards “because he was wearing too much metal.”

At some places I’m treated like royalty and at some like a terrorist. There’s got to be something in the middle,” he told Military Times.

"He kind of looked around on me and said, 'Whoa.  There's a lot of metal on you,'” he recalled to an ABC affiliate. 

Kemnitz said it wasn’t an easy task to accomplish given the roadside explosive injury that has left him partially paralyzed since 2005, and added, "Even getting into that uniform, somebody had to help me.”

Patricia Martin, a friend of Kemnitz who accompanied him to the award ceremony, wrote a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki asking him to investigate the incidents.

What does a uniform and heroism represent if our own citizens — in this case employees of the TSA and security personnel — have no regard for them?” she wrote.

I feel so strongly that you need to know just how shamefully even a Purple Heart recipient/disabled veteran can be treated by some TSA and security employees,” she said.

Ross Feinstein, a federal spokesperson with the TSA, issued a response on Monday apologizing for the conduct but standing by his agency’s actions.

Our intent is to treat all injured service members and veterans with the dignity they deserve,” he wrote. “As always, all passengers with disabilities and medical conditions are eligible for screening procedures sensitive to their particular disability, medical condition or other unique medical circumstance.

“Transportation Security Officers have to resolve any anomaly detected at the checkpoint,” Feinstein continued. “As is standard procedure for all passengers, if travelers alarm when passing through a metal detector or an advanced imaging technology (AIT) unit, additional screening is required in order to resolve that anomaly.”

Mark Hedlund, a spokesperson for the California Capitol Building, also dismissed the notion that the screening before the award ceremony was anything out of the ordinary.

"We have the utmost respect for our veterans," Hedlund told the ABC station. "But people who come to the Capitol, just like when you go the courts or get on an airplane, we have to go through the screening."

To Kemnitz, that treatment doesn’t sit well given all he’s done to defend his nation.

"You could almost say the terrorists won because now we're searching our own men and women in uniform," he said.