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Vets, families urge Bush administration to do more to protect troops
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Karma Kumlin says families of soliders used their own money to buy communication equipment that the military failed to provide. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

St. Paul, Minn. — A group of Minnesota veterans is calling for a congressional inquiry into whether troops in Iraq have adequate supplies and protective equipment.

Karma Kumlin, whose husband is a National Guard sergeant from Maplewood currently serving in Iraq, says until recently her husband's unit lacked proper body armor and protection for their military vehicles. She says they also used their own money to buy communication equipment that the military failed to provide.

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Kumlin says the Bush administration has been dismissive of soldiers' concerns, and she says that illustrates the depth of support the administration has for U.S. troops.

"Basically it amounts to the same thing as the yellow ribbon magnets we see on so many cars," Kumlin said at a Capitol rally. "It's a nice sentiment. And the troops really do appreciate the gesture. But a yellow ribbon will not stop a bullet."

Kumlin was joined by former governor and Navy veteran Jesse Ventura. Ventura refused to speak, but he's criticized the administration in the past for relying too heavily on Guard troops and reservists. Ventura has been acting as an advisor to the group "Operation Truth," a national non-partisan advocacy organization that says it represents America's newest veterans and soldiers. The group organized a rally and press conference at the Minnesota Capitol.

Former Marine Andrew Borene, who was part of the initial invasion force in Iraq, says two years after the military build-up began, soldiers still lack body armor and protective plating for their military vehicles.

Borene, who was active in John Kerry's presidential campaign in Minnesota, said supporting U.S. troops shouldn't be a partisan issue.

"It's unimportant how people feel about the war, if they're against the war or if they're for the war. The bottom line is if we're sending young Americans, men and women, into harm's way, we have a duty to ensure that their civilian leadership provides them with the best protective equipment money can buy," he said.

Borene said the Bush administration has been dismissive of soldiers' concerns. Borene criticized Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for his answer to a Tennesse National Guardsman's question in Kuwait last week.

"You go to war with the Army you have," Rumsfeld said, "not the Army you might want or wish to have."

The Army said late last week it was negotiating with an armor manufacturer to accelerate production of upgraded Humvees. The company said it could boost monthly production from the current 450 vehicles to 550 in February or March.

Meanwhile, six Ohio-based reservists were court-martialed for taking Army vehicles abandoned in Kuwait by other units so they could carry out their own unit's mission to Iraq.

The soldiers say they needed the vehicles, and parts stripped from one, to deliver fuel to Iraq, but their former battalion commander said Sunday the troops should at least have returned the vehicles to their original units.

Members of the 656th Transportation Company based in Springfield, west of Columbus, said they needed the equipment to deliver fuel that was needed by U.S. forces in Iraq for everything from helicopters to tanks.

The reservists took two tractor-trailers and stripped parts from a five-ton truck that had been abandoned in Kuwait by other units that had already moved into Iraq, one of the reservists, Darrell Birt of Columbus, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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