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Senate votes to reimburse soldiers who bought equipment for war

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate on Monday voted unanimously to reimburse soldiers who bought their own flak jackets, hydration packs and other equipment before heading into war.

The measure, an amendment to the Senate's defense bill, passed 90-0 amid news reports that families and communities were raising money to pay for protective devices that the Army wasn't supplying to soldiers bound for Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Pentagon opposed the amendment, saying the government would end up paying for unapproved equipment that hadn't been adequately tested. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the author of the proposal, dismissed the argument as "unreasonable."

"In spite of the millions (the Department of Defense) spent on testing equipment, the fact remains that they failed to outfit our soldiers with the gear they needed," he said.

Congressional aides said that based on past Army reports and accounts from soldiers, families have spent between $300 and $1,100 each outfitting soldiers with bulletproof vests, "Camelback" hydration packs and global-positioning devices.

Newspapers and news broadcasts also have reported widespread efforts by soldiers to add makeshift armor to unprotected Humvees.

The legislation covers expenses incurred between Sept. 11, 2001, and July 31, 2004, for Humvee protection; and from Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2003, for other equipment. Those time limits are based on Pentagon assurances that all soldiers are now properly equipped and that patrol vehicles will be fully protected by the end of next month.

The measure isn't in the House of Representatives defense bill. It would have to be settled in conference committee.

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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