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Extra armor may not pass muster

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Fearing roadside bombs and sniper bullets, members of the Army Reserves' 428th Transportation Company turned to a home-state steel fabricator to fashion extra armor for their 5-ton trucks and Humvees before beginning their journey to Iraq earlier this month.

But their improvised armor might not make it into the war, because the soldiers didn't get Pentagon approval for it.

The Army, which is still developing its own add-on armor kits for vehicles, doesn't typically allow any equipment that is not Army tested and approved, Major Gary Tallman, a Pentagon spokesman for Army weapons and technology issues, said Thursday.

"It's important that other units out there that are getting ready to mobilize understand that we are doing things" to protect them, Tallman said, "but there's policy you have to consider before you go out on your own and try to do something."

The possibility that the soldiers could be denied extra protection because of an Army policy has outraged some of their friends and neighbors who tried to help.

"I just hope the government is not dumb enough to make them go out there without something that's going to protect them somewhat," said Virgil Kirkweg, owner of a Jefferson City steel company, which rushed to meet the reserve unit's armor request.

The 72 vehicles operated by the 428th Transportation Company aren't designed for battle. They have thin metal floorboards and, in some cases, a canvas covering instead of doors. Iraqi guerrillas have been targeting all types of military vehicles with bombs and small-caliber weapons.

E-mails from soldiers already in Iraq urged the Missouri reservists to get extra armor if possible, said First Sergeant Tim Beydler of the Jefferson City-based unit.

The soldiers got a local funeral home director active in community affairs to pay the roughly $4,000 tab for 13,000 pounds of one-quarter inch steel. Industrial Enterprises Inc. donated the fabricating work, valued at nearly another $4,000, so the steel could be fitted under vehicle floorboards and on the inside of doors.

The soldiers drove off in convoy Dec. 12 for Fort Riley, Kan., planning to fasten the specially made steel to their vehicles when they got to Iraq.

"We're doing what we can to protect our soldiers. That's the bottom line," Beydler said last week as news of the donated steel was being praised locally as an example of grass-roots support.

Fort Riley spokeswoman Deb Skidmore said Thursday that the Army reserve unit will be allowed to take their steel with them to Iraq, but she said Central Command will decide later whether the troops will be allowed to use it.

The Army's concern, Tallman said, is that unapproved steel plating could affect the vehicles' performance.

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