CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former soldier injured in Iraq is getting a refund after being forced to pay for his missing body armor vest, which medics destroyed because it was soaked with his blood, officials said Wednesday.
First Lt. William "Eddie" Rebrook IV, 25, had to leave the Army with a shrapnel injury to his arm. But before he could be discharged last week, he said, he had to scrounge cash from his buddies to pay $632 for the body armor and other gear he had lost.
Rebrook, who graduated from West Point with honors, said he was billed because a supply officer failed to document that the vest was destroyed as a biohazard. He said a battalion commander refused to sign a waiver for the vest, saying Rebrook would have to supply witness statements to verify that the vest was taken from him and burned.
"I last saw the [body armor] when it was pulled off my bleeding body while I was being evacuated in a helicopter," the Charleston Gazette on Tuesday quoted Rebrook as saying. "They took it off me and burned it."
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) questioned Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, chief of staff of the Army, on Tuesday during a Senate Armed Services Committee budget hearing.
Schoomaker promised to look into the matter, and on Wednesday an Army official said Rebrook would get refunds for the $510 vest and its contents, worth about $50.
Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, spokesman for the 1st Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas, said there had been at least 21 similar cases.
"In all of those cases, not one soldier was held accountable for items lost in combat," he said.
Told of the refund, Rebrook said: "How kind of them."
He blamed the dispute on Army bureaucracy.
"It's the nature of the beast.... I still love the Army, loved being a soldier and loved my unit.
"I'm not going to look back on my service with anything but pride," he said.
Rebrook was standing in the turret of a Bradley fighting vehicle when a roadside bomb exploded Jan. 11, 2005, fracturing his arm and severing an artery. He said he still had movement problems and pain, despite seven operations.
Rebrook's mother, Beckie Drumheler, said she was furious when she learned about the bill for the armor.
Soldiers, who put their lives on the line for their country, deserve better, she said.
"My son loved the Army and was proud of serving his country," she said. "For any soldier to be treated like this is outrageous."