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Military to probe why soldiers were told to buy tickets home
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BOSTON (AP) -- Military officials will investigate why many New England soldiers stationed in Kuwait were told they could buy commercial plane tickets home, for a leave that was later canceled.

An officer may have mistakenly told the 600 members of the Army�s 368th Engineer Combat Battalion that they could pay for commercial flights home because there were no more seats on military flights, Major Pete Mitchell, spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla. told The Boston Globe.

�Somebody in the chain of command that these reservists work for who told them to go ahead and get their own tickets may not have had the authority to do so,� Mitchell said. �This is certainly a matter that needs to be looked at.�

Last month, the U.S. Central Command announced that the �rest and relaxation� program�the only authorized leave program for soldiers in Iraq and the area�would fly the soldiers on military flights to Germany or the United States. They could then fly home at their own expense.

�I think there was a commander somewhere, perhaps the 368th, who opted to make his own leave policy,� Mitchell said.

The soldiers spent about $480,000 on nonrefundable tickets, family members said.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said that the soldiers and their families deserved an explanation.

�At the very least, the Pentagon should reimburse the soldiers for the nonrefundable costs they paid to book their flights home and for any other expense by the families to plan the homecoming before their hopes were dashed,� he said in a statement.

The Senate, on Thursday, passed an amendment calling for the Department of Defense to pay for full airfare costs for troops returning home on leave from the Middle East.

Relatives of soldiers from the 368th�that includes members from Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island and New Hampshire�welcomed the news of an investigation and efforts at reimbursement.

�(But) I�d rather have my soldier home,� said Beverly Bongiovanni, of Coventry, R.I., whose husband Matthew is an Attleboro-based reservist. �They shouldn�t be able to tell guys they are going home and then turn around and tell them they can�t.�


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