DoD Sec. Ash Carter orders Pentagon to stop reclaiming reenlistment bonuses

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Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon on Wednesday to stop clawing-back the bonuses that thousands of soldiers got for reenlisting to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people," Carter said in a statement. "That means treating them fairly and equitably, honoring their service and sacrifice, and keeping our word. Today, in keeping with that obligation, I am ordering a series of steps to ensure fair treatment for thousands of California National Guard soldiers who may have received incentive bonuses and tuition assistance improperly as a result of errors and in some cases criminal behavior by members of the California National Guard."

Carter's announcement was greeted with cheers in Kempner, Texas where Don and Susan Haley — both Iraq War veterans — had been struggling to pay back the bonuses they got when they reenlisted a decade ago in the California National Guard.

"This is awesome," Don Haley, 47, told NBC News. "I wish this happened a week ago. My wife just cut a check for $650 to cover this month's payment."

Related: Also see the U.S. military in Afghanistan:

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TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers load ammunition into rifles during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers part of NATO patrol during the final day of a month long anti-Taliban operation by the Afghan National Army (ANA) in various parts of eastern Nangarhar province, at an Afghan National Army base in Khogyani district on August 30, 2015. Afghan security forces launched a joint anti-militant operation in three districts, killing over 150 armed insurgents and wounding 112 others with 13 security personnel killed and three others were wounded in the past 30 days, Afghan National Army Commander Zaman Waziri said. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada (Photo credit should read Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers are served lunch at a kitchen inside a base in the Khogyani districtin the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers fire during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army personnel keep watch at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers play basketball at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, a US army soldier and military dog keep watch as Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk through coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier takes aim during a military exercise at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers play chess inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier poses for a photograph at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier looks on with binoculars at Coalition forces Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier plays on a smartphone as he lies on a bed at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers walk past an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the U.S. Air Force stands guard, inside a C-130 Hercules aircraft, that belongs to the Afghan National Army, in Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Since the departure from Afghanistan last year of most international combat troops, Afghan security forces have been fighting the insurgency alone. Figures show that casualty rates are extremely high, reflecting an emboldened Taliban testing the commitment and strength of the Afghan military. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
U.S. military officers pay respect during a change of command ceremony in FOB Oqab, Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
U.S. military vehicles stage at the site of a suicide attack that targeted a convoy of American troops in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Aghanistan, Friday, April 10, 2015. An Afghan official says the bomb killed and wounded several civilians. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack. (AP Photo)
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks to American troops during a visit in FOB Gamberi, Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Hagel visited the Forward Operating Base to meet with Afghanistan military officials and visit with American troops stationed there. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
US military forces listen to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaking at Tactical Base Gamberi in eastern Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Hagel was winding up a two day visit, his last to Afghanistan as secretary of defense. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
FILE- In this file photo taken Sept. 23, 2009, a column of U.S. Army mine-resistant armored vehicles (MRAPs) and Afghan National Army vehicles pass through a village during a joint patrol in the Jalrez Valley in Afghanistan's Wardak Province. As the United States military packs up to leave Afghanistan, ending 13 years of war, it is looking to sell or dispose of billions of dollars in military hardware, including its sophisticated and highly specialized mine resistant vehicles, but finding a buyer is complicated in a region where relations between neighboring countries are mired in suspicion and outright hostility.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, file)
US soldiers and service members with the NATO- led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) attend a religious ceremony on Christmas Eve at Bagram military base in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday Dec. 24, 2013. The commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan spent Christmas Eve visiting U.S. troops at bases across the mountainous region to bring them holiday greetings and gifts for a few lucky soldiers. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
In this Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, center, arrives at Kandahar Regional Medical Hospital to visit medical staff and patients in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. America's top military officer said Tuesday the U.S. does not intend to renegotiate a security deal with Afghanistan and that a full withdrawal of its forces from the country at the end of 2014 could reverse gains made by Afghan troops in their war against the Taliban. (AP Photo/D. Myles Cullen, DOD)
In this March 22, 2013, photo, U.S. Marine Major Christopher Bourbeau, deputy commander at the 1st Brigade, 215th Corps Afghanistan National Army Advisor Team, at Camp Garmser, Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan, staging a pop quiz on how to tie tourniquets for the Afghan army troops he advises. The Afghan soldier tied the tourniquet in just over 30 seconds. U.S. commanders trying to hand off war-fighting responsibility by the end of 2014 are encouraged by the uneven yet steady progress of fledgling Afghan security forces. (AP Photo/Kim Dozier)
A Chinock window gunner guards, near U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, on a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. Hagel spoke with troops and thanked them for being deployed for the holidays. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
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The good news for the Haleys, whose son lost a leg while fighting in Afghanistan, came after Carter — in an exclusive interview with NBC News — blasted the treatment of thousands of soldiers who were being forced to return the bonuses they got for signing up for six more years.

"Well, of course I am outraged," Carter said. "This is a case where we have a trust with the service members who have served us and ... we need do justice. And we need to do it fast."

The scandal involving some 9,700 California National Guard soldiers who got the bonuses in 2006 and 2007, when the Bush Administration was struggling to find soldiers to fight the two wars, stoked nationwide outrage after The Los Angeles Times broke the story over the weekend.

But the Pentagon determined that a majority of those soldiers, about 6,500, needed to repay the bonuses because they were not actually eligible for them or the paperwork at the time had errors.

Related: Raqqa Offensive Against ISIS to Begin Within Weeks

Soldiers who refused to pay the bonuses back faced possible interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens.

The Pentagon's demand that they return the cash angered Washington lawmakers, who in a bipartisan show of support launched an investigation into the scandal and ordered the California National Guard to turn over documents and audits concerning the program by Nov. 7.

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has called for the officials who mismanaged the program to be "held accountable."

Other lawmakers, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, vowed to pass legislation to halt the recovery of the bonuses as soon as Congress is back in session after the Nov. 8 election.

Carter said he does not yet know how far-reaching the problem has been although the Department of Defense has acknowledged it could extend beyond California. He said he would like to remedy the issue without waiting for Congress.

"We are going to do everything we possibly can without waiting for any change in the law [although] there are some legal limitations," he said. "We need to do the right thing by our service members — that's the main thing. We also have to do the right thing by the taxpayer. And of course we will."

US Arm Mayor Jamie Davis, a Defense Department spokesman, said they are reviewing other cases where vets were ordered to pay back reenlistment bonuses.

"As it looks right now, this is an isolated incident in California and not a nationwide issue," said Davis. "There may be some others out there, but nothing to this extent."

Related: Also learn more about the U.S. Army:

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U.S paratrooper of the 4th Infantry Brigade, Combat team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division, part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo serving as NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo looks through his scope after parachuting down from a Hercules C-130 in a military exercise near the village of Ramjan on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. U.S Army peacekeeping force regularly conducts parachute exercises to maintain proficiency in airborne operations on this deployment in Kosovo. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
U.S paratroopers of the 4th Infantry Brigade, Combat team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division, part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo serving as NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo parachute down from a Hercules C-130 during a military exercise near the village of Ramjan on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. U.S Army peacekeeping force regularly conducts parachute exercises to maintain proficiency in airborne operations on this deployment in Kosovo. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, second from right, Commander of the Lithuanian Land Forces Major General Almantas Leika, left, and U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division Commander of the Mission Support Element Brigadier General Michael Tarsa,right, arrives to attend in the combined Lithuanian-U.S. training exercise at the Gaiziunai Training Area some 110 kms (69 miles) west of the capital Vilnius Lithuania, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
Members of the U.S. Army of the Mission Command Element (MCE) of the 4th Infantry Division attend a welcome ceremony upon their arrival by plane at a airport in Vilnius , Lithuania, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno attend in the combined Lithuanian-U.S. training exercise at the Gaiziunai Training Area some 110 kms (69 miles) west of the capital Vilnius Lithuania, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
Members of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade practice during the combined Lithuanian-U.S. training exercise at the Gaiziunai Training Area some 110 kms (69 miles) west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
U.S. Army Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson stands on the field before a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park, Thursday, June 25, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
An army honor guard folds the flag over the casket containing the remains of four soldiers missing from Vietnam War: Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 James L. Phipps, Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rainer S. Ramos, Army Staff Sgt. Warren Newton, Army Spc. Fred J. Secrist, during a group burial services, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
U.S. soldiers attend an opening ceremony of military exercise 'Saber Strike 2015', at the Gaiziunu Training Range in Pabrade some 60km.(38 miles) north of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, June 8, 2015. The annual multinational Exercise Saber Strike 2015 organized by the U. S. Army in Europe (USAREUR) on June 1 through 19 comprises brigade-level command post exercise held concurrently in all the three Baltic States and Poland. This year the exercise will train the record number of 6,000 troops from 13 NATO member and partner states - Denmark, Estonia, U.S.A., UK, Canada, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Norway, Germany, Portugal, Slovenia and Finland. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
U.S paratrooper of the 4th Infantry Brigade, Combat team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division, part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo serving as NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo take part in a military exercise near the village of Ramjan on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. U.S Army peacekeeping force regularly conducts parachute exercises to maintain proficiency in airborne operations on this deployment in Kosovo. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
U.S paratrooper of the 4th Infantry Brigade, Combat team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division, part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo serving as NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo packs his gear after jumping from a Hercules C-130 in a military exercise near the village of Ramjan on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. U.S Army peacekeeping force regularly conducts parachute exercises to maintain proficiency in airborne operations on this deployment in Kosovo. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
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