WASHINGTON — A decorated veteran of the Army's elite Rangers unit, indicted for stealing tons of grenades, anti-tank rockets and plastic explosives, testified today that military pilfering is flagrant at all levels of the Army.
"Pilfering is Army-wide, almost soldier-wide," Shawn Helmer, a former ammunition officer at Ft. Lewis, Wash., told a congressional task force led by Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.).
"As far as fighting units, the stealing (of ammunition and explosives) took place from the private level on up," he said.
Helmer, when assigned to the 75th Rangers unit, "knew he could find a ready cash market for any of the items he came up with," a spokesman for Wilson's panel said.
The task force is studying military theft in the wake of the scandal aboard the carrier Kitty Hawk, in which $10 million in weapons and spare parts were smuggled to Iran from Navy supply centers.
"The word was out at the (Army base) that grenades went for $50 apiece. They were hot items among local motorcycle gangs," the panel's spokesman said.
Helmer was arrested this summer near his home in Tampa, Fla., after he tried to sell undercover police a truckload of explosives.
Authorities confiscated 23,000 pounds of ammunition and explosives from Helmer's garage. Included in the cache were more than a hundred pounds of C-4 plastic explosive, 60 anti-personnel mines, fragmentation grenades and anti-tank rockets.
Helmer's methods were not sophisticated.
"He just backed up a government vehicle to the supply point," Wilson's spokesman said, "filled it with the help of a guard and drove off. Since he was a supply officer and controlled all the paper work, he was never stopped or questioned."