Wounded Soldier Charged For Damaged Body Armor
UPDATED: 8:32 am EST February 8, 2006
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A former U.S. soldier injured in Iraq says he was forced to pay $700 for a blood-soaked Kevlar vest that was destroyed after medics removed it to treat shrapnel wounds to his right arm.
First Lt. William "Eddie" Rebrook IV, 25, of Charleston had to leave the Army because of his injuries. But before he could be discharged last week, he had to scrounge up cash from his buddies to pay for the body armor or face not being discharged for months -- all because a supply officer failed to document that the vest had been destroyed more than a year ago as a biohazard.
"I last saw the (body armor) when it was pulled off my bleeding body while I was being evacuated in a helicopter," Rebrook told The Charleston Gazette for Tuesday's edition. "They took it off me and burned it."
Rebrook's story spurred action Tuesday from U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va.
"I've been in touch with his family, and I've already written (Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld) to request that they immediately refund his money and review this horrendous policy," said Rockefeller, who is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "I'm shocked that he has been treated this way by our military."
Byrd questioned Gen. Peter Schoomaker, chief of staff of the Army, on Tuesday during a Senate Armed Services Committee budget hearing in Washington.
"How can it be that the Defense Department, which is requesting $439 billion in this budget, has to resort to dunning a wounded soldier for $700 to replace a piece of body armor?" Byrd asked.
Schoomaker called Rebrook's story unusual and promised Byrd to "correct it if there's any truth to it."
Rockefeller said he first met Rebrook when he was an ROTC cadet at George Washington High School in Charleston and later nominated him to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., where he graduated with honors. Rebrook then spent four years on active duty, including six months in Iraq.
Rebrook's mother, Beckie Drumheler, said she was angry when she learned about the $700 bill. Soldiers who serve their country, those who put their lives on the line, deserve better, she said.
"He couldn't get out of the Army until he paid it and he had to pay cash," Drumheler said. "My son loved the Army and was proud of serving his country. For any soldier to be treated like this is outrageous."
Rebrook was standing in the turret of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle when a roadside bomb exploded Jan. 11, 2005. The explosion fractured his arm and severed an artery. A Black Hawk helicopter airlifted him to a combat support hospital in Baghdad. He was later flown to a hospital in Germany before being transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
His arm never completely recovered despite seven operations. He still has range of motion problems and pain.
After eight months at Fort Hood, Texas, he gathered up his gear to leave. Things went smoothly until officers asked him for his missing body armor. In the past, the Army allowed to soldiers to write memos, explaining the loss and destruction of gear but a new policy requires documentation from the field.
Rebrook said he tried to get a battalion commander to sign a waiver, but the officer declined. He was told he would have to supply statements from witnesses to verify the body armor was taken from him and burned.
"First Cavalry Division leadership is going to do everything to ensure this issue is brought to a conclusion that is both in line with procedures that apply to all its soldiers and in the best interest of our veterans who have served so proudly and honorably in Iraq," Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, the division's spokesman at Fort Hood, told the Killeen (Texas) Daily Herald for Wednesday's edition.
Bleichwehl said soldiers are not held financially responsible for any equipment lost, damaged or destroyed in combat operations.
Rebrook's story has prompted donations from residents. A local radio station raised $700 within 90 minutes Tuesday, and one woman dropped off a $200 check by his mother's home, said Rebrook's stepfather, Charles Drumheler.
"I thought that was pretty nice that people care," Charles Drumheler said.
Rebrook's father, Ed Rebrook, a Charleston lawyer, said while the donations were appreciated, his son did not plan to accept them.