Wearing the uniform of the Few and Proud doesn’t rate preferential treatment from the Transportation Security Administration or California capitol security officers, retired Marine Cpl. Nathan Kemnitz recently found.
Kemnitz, severely injured in 2004 in a roadside bomb attack in Fallujah, has limited use of his right arm and cannot lift it above his head. So when security guards at the state capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., asked him to remove his dress blue blouse “because he was wearing too much metal,” and TSA asked him to raise his arms above his head for the full-body scanner at Sacramento International Airport, he could not comply.
“My right arm doesn’t work. It’s a lot of hassle for me to do that,” Kemntiz said.
At the state capitol, the Marine’s refusal to remove his uniform top grew into a heated exchange between Kemnitz, a friend who was accompanying him and security officers.
At the airport, bystanders stared as the TSA security screener looked under Kemnitz’s medals, ran his hands under the Marine’s waistband and swabbed his shoes for explosives.
“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?” wrote Kemnitz’s escort, Patricia Martin, to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki following the incidents.
Martin took photos and disseminated them to family, friends and members of the media.
“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.
Kemnitz said after the incidents that he was not as annoyed with TSA officers as he was with a security screener at the California state capitol, whom he described as rude and unapologetic.
Kemnitz was visiting the building to be honored as his legislative district’s veteran of the year.
“At some places I’m treated like royalty and at some like a terrorist. There’s got to be something in the middle,” he said.
The incident was not the first to spark similar outrage. In January, NBC journalist Luke Russert tweeted his irritation at an enhanced security screening at Reagan National Airport of a troop wearing a prosthetic.
“Making Wounded Warriors with prosthetic legs go through extra explosives screening. #fail,” Russert wrote.
In March, bystanders notified Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., about what they perceived to be maltreatment of a double amputee by TSA screeners at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport.
Concurrent with that incident, TSA announced it had changed its rules to eliminate a requirement that injured troops remove their shoes, jackets or hats. But to receive the expedited service, TSA asks affected personnel to call the agency’s Military Severely Injured Joint Service Operations Center before traveling.
TSA also offers escorted “curb-to-gate service” for injured or ill personnel who request it as well as the TSA Pre program to service members with a military common access card at four airports: Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport.
The Senate Sergeant-At-Arms is responsible for security screenings at the California capitol building. No one was available Friday to speak with the media regarding the incident.