Triple Amputee Purple Heart Veteran Undergoes Invasive Pat Down at Tucson Airport

The TSA itself said there were no actual active threats in the years following 9/11. However if there were the TSA wouldn’t likely be able to stop them since they miss most of the contraband going through checkpoints.

Nonetheless because of our fears – even our imagined ones – we’ve given up our freedom to travel. We have to carry papers with us and show them to authorities on demand. We go through invasive screening. And it’s all become so normal we don’t even question it. What was it Hannah Arendt said about the banality of evil?

Sometimes though something happens that seems so at odds with common sense that we wake up for a moment and question it.

Thirty seven year old Brian Kolfage was flying out of the Tucson airport on Saturday and was filmed receiving this pat down from TSA. He is a triple amputee with a purple heart who lost both of his legs and one of his arms in a rocket attack in Iraq in 2004.

Of course some readers won’t have sympathy for him because he raised $20 million in a GoFundme campaign towards building a wall on the US southern border — a wall that lacks Congressional support and would cost perhaps 1000 times that much to build and maintain, despite most people in the U.S. illegally entering legally and most drugs coming through U.S. ports. Politics notwithstanding though should any of us really be going through this to do something as mundane as travel? Should a purple heart soldier?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m not sure what the point of this is. I’m a life member of the Disabled American Veterans, body parts mostly intact, but with several operations and bone grafts over a period of time. I get stopped all the time at the TSA expeditious line and Global Entry in certain venues.To their credit, they ask me if I have any metal in me,. Well, yeah, I do. They take me aside and then, I proceed slowly, toward my gate or the exit. Deal with it .Build the goddamn wall!

    Don’t look back… know what I’m sayin’.

  2. Stories like this just feeds the image that we have simply not hired the best candidates for TSA; it just insults our intelligence to see such actions as depicted here.

    But during Vietnam, people at the airport would vilify and spit on returning troops.

    Today, wonder which action would be considered worse..? I’ll bet nobody has given it a thought for a second what happens when able bodied people stop responding to the bugle and call of arms?

  3. “Radical right wing terrorism is on the rise in our great country. And since 2008, terrorist attacks on the U.S. soil carried out by right-wing extremist groups, including white supremacists, outnumber those by Islamic jihadists by two to one. That is a statistical fact.”

    His campaign to fund a wall that no one but right-wing extremists want isn’t entirely unrelated. And I can think of a couple of veterans who have committed terrorist acts. So I don’t see why he should be immune from the same searches thousands of others undergo every year. He’s just complaining because he doesn’t think white people should be subjected to them.

  4. Where to begin on this trigger bait article?
    There was no mention of the circumstances surrounding the pat down. Was TSA alerted to something? Did the passenger refuse a search? What exactly was the reason for the pat down? Without any ‘reporting’ of the circumstances of the pat down it’s easy for anyone to infer whatever they want as to what happened and why.
    This article seethes with contempt for a triple amputee and a Purple Heart recipient being searched which leads me to ask the following questions of the author:
    Are amputees not subject to the same screening standards as other passengers?
    If you declare you are a Purple Heart recipient are you exempt from screening procedures?
    I’m an Army veteran and guess what? My Choose VA card doesn’t allow me to skip screening.
    Also this, “Nonetheless because of our fears – even our imagined ones – we’ve given up our freedom to travel. We have to carry papers with us and show them to authorities on demand.” YES, we must present a valid boarding pass and government issued identification to enter the gate area. What exactly is the issue with this? I for one am concerned about my safety when I fly, aren’t you? Do providing these two documents constitute some sort of oppressive government practice to you?
    While the author chooses to portray TSA agents as insensitive minions of a security state, he presents no solutions and fails to acknowledge the vast number of agents doing their best that travelers are as safe as they can be.

  5. That TSA agent should be ashamed of himself.

    He obviously is too stupid to realize he went too far in harassing that injured former soldier.

    What was the point of the long search?

    It was obvious that the traveler was harmless.

  6. Actually, my sympathy is lessened by the fact that he is a long-time scammer with ties to, shall we politely say, unsavory organizations.

    So him making sure this was on film is part of his campaign for $$$ that never ends. Is anybody above the law? Should we make special concessions for veterans, even when those veterans have been proven to be untrustworthy?


  7. Sorry to disagree with many here.
    TSA agents have a job and responsibility. They also want to do everything by the book so as to keep their job.
    It is also likely that one day, weapons will be brought through TSA in the guise of a disabled person. Wheelchairs are metal and hollow, enough said.

  8. And if he was exempted then wouldn’t that be viewed as discrimination or viewed as being treated not same as others? Common sense…if exists

  9. What other civilized, developed nation on earth has a governing body that insists on an open border and looks the other way at crime, human trafficking and drug smuggling?

    None, only Congrassional Democrats

  10. Although I’m sure most of us are thankful for the veteran’s voluntary service and sacrifice, he is a citizen after all and has the same rights and obligations as every one else – I’ll file this under “nothing here”!

  11. Several comments are simply confirming Gary’s main point that the erosions of our freedoms in the name of security are becoming so normal that they go largely unquestioned. Politically I strongly disagree with Kolfage, but his treatment here is a disgrace.

  12. The problem with this post is that it confuses politics with TSA screening.

    For right or wrong, the TSA is required to screen passengers. We don’t know the backstory here, but it very much suggests that Kolfage did something to arouse suspicions. Assuming he did arouse suspicions, then he will get the full treatment. The more he resists, or fails to cooperate, the more those suspicions will be reinforced. It has nothing whatsoever to do with his politics, his disabilities or his former military service.

    Do I wish we didn’t have to bother with airport security? Of course. Do I wish that the TSA were more efficient at their job? Of course. Do I think it would be wise not to bother with airport security? Of course not. We know enough about how terrorists work to realise that, given the opportunity, bringing down a plane is a huge publicity win. We have to deny them that opportunity.

  13. I’m confused. He wants to build a wall for greater border security, but he won’t accept being subject to heightened border security? So hypocritical.

  14. And in just a few short days, we’ll be hearing this blog and everyone “boo hoo’ing” about how these people aren’t being paid during a government shutdown again.

    TSA is a worthless, inept unconstitutional mess of an organization. Terrible employees who aren’t capable of holding any real private sector position. Disband it.

  15. If the TSA every becomes what you would consider “needed” or if the MAX lavs are made 2 inches larger, I honestly do not know what you will have to write about. How will you ever get anyone to apply for a credit card?

  16. @rjb “What other civilized, developed nation on earth has a governing body that insists on an open border” – most civilized countries have what you are calling open borders or at least borders like ours. Most civilized nations do not have walls around their country. They have check points, if anything at all. They have checks at airports and other points of entry, and maybe a border patrol, they don’t wall in their countries.

    ” looks the other way at crime, human trafficking and drug smuggling?” – We don’t do this, this is a talking point that is untrue – otherwise known as a lie. We arrest people all of the time for these offenses.

  17. This is a standard pat down that is done for a person who uses a wheelchair. I have had more invasive female pat downs where they touch into the crotch area too. Politics aside – this is showing standard TSA practice and nothing more.

  18. I’m almost afraid of commenting, because I certainly DO NOT want to get into a political discussion. But as someone who flies his 250K miles per year, with 50% in our USA/TSA airports and 50% globally elsewhere, I feel that this subject needs to be separated into coherent non-political parts: First, it’s a “cryin’ shame” that any Purple Heart Vet should have had this happen. Next, especially with the reality and sadness of PTSD, it is not above the possibility of even a fine Vet feeling a residual need to carry a weapon “at all times”. Third, we have already seen (in FLL) where someone extracted a weapon from their bag on delivery and let loose; yet even that would have been 100x more lethal if it had happened in the air. Is this true or not, my flying friends?

    So of course a key point, or question, will be discussed when TSA Management surely asks the agent “why” this person was given the strictest pat-down. And if the agent overstepped, he will need to be seriously retrained. But for any of you fine people (even the respected Gary Leff) to “piss and moan” about TSA, when we see how incredibly many “accidentally fully loaded” (please gimme a break) weapons the TSA crews do actually find in carry-ons… it is simply wrong, and in fact almost selfish, to always beat down these people who at least make an attempt to keep us safe. Need I say more?

    So, as much as I detest and resent any pat-down myself, or having my carry-on stupidly ripped apart, I’ll grin and bear it if they catch even a solid percentage of what other people bring onboard that risks all of our lives. And if any of you fly internationally (and Gary – this is said with the greatest respect for you), you know that if any of us EVER gave a hard time to a Security Officer or agent in Europe, or Asia, or most anywhere in the Middle East… you would get a “free night” at the Steel Bar Hilton… rather than the right to take your seat on the airplane.

    Happy trails and safe travels to all…

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