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Wednesday, April 2

Senate approves pre-paid calling cards for troops

By Sergio Bustos | GNS

WASHINGTON - U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan may soon receive monthly pre-paid phone cards worth $40 to allow them to call home.

The ``Troops Phone Home Free Act of 2003,'' sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, was approved by the Senate on Tuesday. The bill has yet to be introduced in the House.

``This bill would ensure that the brave men and women who are putting their lives in harm's way for the cause of our protection are not forced to pass up on opportunities to talk with their loved ones because of the cost of placing such calls," said McCain.

One Marine corporal told McCain's Senate staff that he didn't have enough money to call his son on his birthday, McCain said.

McCain's legislation is part of a stampede of bills and resolutions introduced by lawmakers since the start of the war with Iraq.

Apart from the legislation, 50 U.S. telephone companies have voluntarily agreed not to cut off telephone service to any military family during the war and to provide reduced long-distance rates for calls to Iraq or Afghanistan, McCain said.

Andrew Telephone Company President Milt Cornelius in tiny Andrew, Iowa - population 450 - wrote McCain, promising his company would not disconnect service to area military families. The community has 19 men and women serving in the war.

William P. Heaston, vice president and corporate counsel of PrairieWave Communications in Sioux Falls, S.D., wrote: ``I am a retired Army officer, who served in Vietnam and other remote areas, (and) I can assure you that PrairieWave fully appreciates the benefit to morale and military service that the ability to communicate with loved ones brings.''

PrairieWave serves small communities in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

McCain said large companies, including Quest, Southern Bell, SBC, Verizon, AT&T, MCI, Sprint, also have written to support the voluntary measures.