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Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., apologized Tuesday for a tough letter his office sent in his name to area reservists called to duty in the Persian Gulf crisis -- one their Catholic chaplain branded "insensitive."

The Dec. 4 letter, sent with D'Amato's reproduced signature to several members of the 914th Tactical Airlift Group, expressed the senator's "disappointment" over their efforts to enlist his help to get them rotated back to the States when their 90-day term is up.

The letter criticized the reservists for waging a "letter-writing campaign" to get themselves relieved from active duty and implied that instead, they should be grateful to him and Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, for getting the 914th four new aircraft.

"Ironically," the letter said, "it was your deployment that served as a useful lever in persuading my colleagues to support this appropriation."

D'Amato said he never saw the letter, which was written and sent out by his legislative director. D'Amato said the aide, whom the senator did not name, has been "severely reprimanded."

D'Amato said the letter "does not reflect my appreciation for the service these reservists are rendering or the sacrifices they are making."

In a new letter mailed Monday to members of the 914th, D'Amato said he is "deeply dismayed," and "outraged" at the letter that was sent by his Washington office in his absence. "I apologize to those who received it," he said.

D'Amato told Defense Secretary Dick Cheney "unit morale has suffered" by the extension of its tour to 180 days and that there are 28 other Reserve and Guard airlift units in the United States that have not been sent to the gulf.

The senator stopped short of asking Cheney to bring the unit back at the end of the 90-day term.

Zenia Mucha, a spokeswoman for the senator, said, "We favor a rotation policy that would be fair to all branches of service and which, at the same time would not hamper the effectiveness of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf."

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