Gulf War Vets Home Page

February 08, 2006

Army blasted over soldier’s body armor

Sympathizers raise nearly $6,000 to repay Army for missing item

By Eric Eyre
Staff writer
http://wvgazettemail.com/section/News/2006020719?pt=0 

West Virginia’s two U.S. senators asked top military leaders Tuesday to explain why 1st Lt. William “Eddie” Rebrook IV had to reimburse the U.S. Army $700 last week for body armor and other gear damaged after he was seriously wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

More than 200 people —from West Virginia and across the country — donated more than $5,700 to Rebrook after reading about his body armor payment to the Army.

Rebrook, 25, who was medically discharged from an army base in Fort Hood, Texas, last week, said he wouldn’t keep the donations. He’s passing along the money to charity and a Louisiana woman who lost her home in Hurricane Katrina. He said the woman’s son helped save his life in Iraq.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Tuesday, demanding that the Army refund Rebrook’s money immediately.

“I was outraged this morning when I read the story about what happened to Eddie,” said Rockefeller, who nominated Rebrook for admission to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., when Rebrook attended George Washington High School in Charleston. “I’m heartbroken that he can’t continue his career, and I’m shocked that he has been treated this way by our military.”

At a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., asked why Rebrook was forced to pay for body armor damaged when he was wounded in Iraq.

“How can it be that the Army is charging wounded soldiers for replacing damaged body armor? Is this standard practice?” Byrd asked during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Department of Defense’s 2007 budget.

Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, attended the hearing.

“That is a very unusual story,” Schoomaker responded. “I have no idea why we would ever do something like that. We have issued body armor, the very best that exists in the world. Every soldier has it.

“We certainly have procedures that account for battle loss, and I just find it a highly unusual story. But we’ll certainly follow up and correct it if there’s any truth to it.”

“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 Daily Herald for today’s edition.

Bleichwehl said soldiers are not held financially responsible for any equipment lost, damaged or destroyed in combat.

Rebrook said he borrowed $700 from his buddies to pay back the U.S. Army for the destroyed body armor and gear. He plans to pay them back out of his own pocket.

A Charleston radio station, WKWS-FM 96.1, raised $700 for Rebrook in less than an hour Tuesday morning. One woman hand-delivered a check for $350 to the radio station Tuesday.

“We read the story on the air, and the phones started ringing,” said the station’s Mike Fitzgerald.

The bulk of money for Rebrook was raised Tuesday after the soldier’s story was posted on americablog.com, a popular liberal political blog.

Donations ranged from $1 to $400, said John Aravosis, who runs the Internet blog. More than 187 people gave money. About 200 people posted to the blog.

“Everybody thinks liberals hate soldiers,” Aravosis said. “But the majority of people get that it’s not right to abuse our troops.”

Rebrook’s right arm was shattered in an explosion while he was standing in the turret of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle in January 2005. Field medics removed his body armor, and it was later incinerated, Rebrook said. A Black Hawk helicopter airlifted him to a combat support hospital in Baghdad.

Rebrook, who graduated with honors from West Point, said he was never given any records that documented the body armor loss.

When he turned in his gear last week, Rebrook said he was told to pay nearly $700 or face not being discharged for weeks. The bill included a $570 charge for his Kevlar vest and gear destroyed in battle, and $130 for other lost items.

Rebrook said he was asked to provide statements from witnesses that he lost his body armor in battle.

He said he thought he could write a memo, explaining that the body armor was stripped from him after he was injured. But that wasn’t sufficient, he learned last week.

“I understand what they were saying, but from my perspective it was a hard pill to swallow,” Rebrook said Tuesday.

Despite the “bureaucratic snafu,” as Rebrook calls it, he holds no grudges. “I love the Army,” Rebrook said. “I love my soldiers. I loved being in it.”

Dozens of Charleston Gazette readers called the newspaper and sent e-mails, criticizing the Army and praising Rebrook for his service in Iraq. Some readers offered to pay Rebrook for the entire cost of his body armor.

“It’s a disgrace to humanity for our military to do that to a young boy who graduated from West Point,” said William Crouch of St. Albans. “I’m so mad now I can’t stand it.”

To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.