The ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee (search) urged the Army's top civilian official Monday to seriously consider allowing an Army Reserve unit to outfit its vehicles with homemade armor while serving in Iraq.

Army policy generally prohibits troops from using equipment that has not been tested and approved by the military.

But fearing roadside bombs and snipers, the 428th Transportation Company (search) turned to local businessmen to fund and fabricate special steel plates for their five-ton trucks and Humvees, which have thin metal floorboards and, in some cases, a canvas covering for doors.

The Army has made no decision yet on whether the soldiers will be allowed to use the armor.

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the House Armed Services Committee's senior Democrat, sent a letter Monday urging Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee to encourage the Army to "give every consideration to the efforts of the 428th."

"The Army should commend the soldiers of the 428th Transportation Company for their innovation and old fashioned American ingenuity," Skelton wrote.

Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said policy prohibits the Army from commenting on letters between congressmen and senior Army leaders. But Smith added the Army has asked the steel fabricator to submit a sample of the armor for testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Brownlee told the Senate Armed Services Committee in November that the Army was examining ways to add armor to vehicles, but he said it could take until summer 2005 to have armor on all the Humvees in Iraq.

A spokeswoman at Fort Riley, Kan., where the Missouri-based troops are preparing to depart for Iraq, said the unit will be able to take the steel with them, but that the Central Command will decide later whether it can be used.