Gulf War Vets Home Page

February 07, 2006

Soldier pays for armor

Army demanded $700 from city man who was wounded

By Eric Eyre
Staff writer
http://wvgazettemail.com/section/News/2006020623 

The last time 1st Lt. William “Eddie” Rebrook IV saw his body armor, he was lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered and covered in blood.

A field medic tied a tourniquet around Rebrook’s right arm to stanch the bleeding from shrapnel wounds. Soldiers yanked off his blood-soaked body armor. He never saw it again.

But last week, Rebrook was forced to pay $700 for that body armor, blown up by a roadside bomb more than a year ago.

He was leaving the Army for good because of his injuries. He turned in his gear at his base in Fort Hood, Texas. He was informed there was no record that the body armor had been stripped from him in battle.

He was told to pay nearly $700 or face not being discharged for weeks, perhaps months.

Rebrook, 25, scrounged up the cash from his Army buddies and returned home to Charleston last Friday.

“I last saw the [body armor] when it was pulled off my bleeding body while I was being evacuated in a helicopter,” Rebrook said. “They took it off me and burned it.”

But no one documented that he lost his Kevlar body armor during battle, he said. No one wrote down that armor had apparently been incinerated as a biohazard.

Rebrook’s mother, Beckie Drumheler, said she was saddened — and angry — when she learned that the Army discharged her son with a $700 bill. Soldiers who serve their country, those who put their lives on the line, deserve better, she said.

“It’s outrageous, ridiculous and unconscionable,” Drumheler said. “I wanted to stand on a street corner and yell through a megaphone about this.”

Rebrook was standing in the turret of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle when the 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 for surgery, then on to Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington, D.C., for more surgeries. Doctors operated on his arm seven times in all.

But Rebrook’s right arm never recovered completely. He still has range of motion problems. He still has pain when he turns over to sleep at night.

Even with the injury, Rebrook said he didn’t want to leave the Army. He said the “medical separation” discharge was the Army’s decision, not his.

So after eight months at Fort Hood, he gathered up his gear and started the “long process” to leave the Army for good.

Things went smoothly until officers asked him for his “OTV,” his “outer tactical vest,” or body armor, which was missing. A battalion supply officer had failed to document the loss of the vest in Iraq.

“They said that I owed them $700,” Rebrook said. “It was like ‘thank you for your service, now here’s the bill for $700.’ I had to pay for it if I wanted to get on with my life.”

In the past, the Army allowed to soldiers to write memos, explaining the loss and destruction of gear, Rebrook said.

But a new policy required a “report of survey” from the field that documented the loss.

Rebrook said he knows other soldiers who also have been forced to pay for equipment destroyed in battle.

“It’s a combat loss,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a cost passed on to the soldier. If a soldier’s stuff is hit by enemy fire, he shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

Rebrook said he tried to get a battalion commander to sign a waiver on the battle armor, but the officer declined. Rebrook was told he’d have to supply statements from witnesses to verify the body armor was taken from him and burned.

“There’s a complete lack of empathy from senior officers who don’t know what it’s like to be a combat soldier on the ground,” Rebrook said. “There’s a whole lot of people who don’t want to help you. They’re more concerned with process than product.”

Rebrook, who graduated with honors from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., spent more than four years on active duty. He served six months in Iraq.

Now, Rebrook is sending out résumés, trying to find a job. He plans to return to college to take a couple of pre-med classes and apply to medical school. He wants to be a doctor someday.

“From being an infantryman, I know what it’s like to hurt people,” Rebrook said. “But now I’d like to help people.”

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