One went to the Oakland International Airport terminal to see his fiancée. One visited his uncle. A third service member obtained a ticket to fly to Houston to see a sick family member.

The three were among nearly 200 U.S. troops returning from Iraq painted by political blogs and talk shows as victims of the Bay Area's hatred of the military.

Airport officials' lack of respect for the military allowed North American Airlines charter Flight 1777 to be shunted off to a lonely section of tarmac without bathrooms, eateries or a place to buy a magazine, conservative pundits and bloggers said this week of the Sept. 27 incident.

The account offered by the manager of a ground support contractor who tended to the troops' needs paints a different picture of the two-hour layover.

The plane was parked on the tarmac, said Michael Sawley, station manager for Hilltop Aviation, hired by North American to reprovision its planes at Oakland. As airport management has contended, the perceived slight was because Sawley informed them that the plane contained weapons and its passengers had not been cleared by the Transportation Security Administration.

But when Sawley learned some of the military passengers needed to get to the terminal, he took them there.

"A sergeant came up to me and said, 'I have a couple of men here that were hoping to see friends and family,'" Sawley recalled.


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Sawley said he drove the three men in his company's Ford Aerostar minivan to the front of the terminal, where one of them met his fiancée, one met with an uncle and a third service member went to the Southwest Airlines ticket counter to obtain a ticket to Houston, where he needed to visit an ailing family member.

"The three guys who made their request known through their (commanding officer), we were able to help them out," Sawley said.

Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said that after the three men had been accommodated, airport representatives also visited the plane.

"We spoke to the commander of that group, and he said there were no complaints, that they didn't need any more attention from us," Barnes said.

Sawley also noted that passengers from an earlier military charter that arrived at Oakland the same day from Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C., were allowed to enter the passenger terminal.

The main difference between the two flights is that the first had no weapons and the second did, Sawley said, adding that if weapons are on an aircraft, it's normal for the airport to park it away from the terminal.

Since the story broke this week, airport officials have been deluged with complaints from across the nation, as well as requests to talk to media outlets and talk shows such as Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes."

Fox News helped focus nationwide attention by publicizing the complaint of a Marine chaplain who e-mailed his account of the layover to Michael Ledeen, a contributing editor to conservative magazine National Review.

The incident was compared to Vietnam War veterans' memories of being spat upon by Bay Area opponents of that war.

But the airport was remembered as a welcoming place by retired Staff Sgt. Mike Miles, who served until 2005 as the public affairs noncommissioned officer in charge at Camp Parks in Dublin.

"We got tremendous cooperation from them," Miles said of the airport's management, when the division sought to arrange a welcoming event for soldiers returning from Iraq in 2004. "It was extremely successful."

Families were brought inside the secure boarding area -- normally only for ticket-holding passengers -- and allowed to meet the soldiers as soon as they emerged from the jetway, Miles said.

After the greeting, an airline employee announced the arrival over a loudspeaker.

"These guys got a standing ovation from everybody on the concourse," Miles said. "I would say they got a pretty good welcome."