By Debbie Stevenson
Killeen Daily Herald
The 1st Cavalry Division is investigating claims by a former junior officer that he was forced to pay for body armor he last wore when he was injured in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.
First Lt. William Eddie Rebrook IV, a 25-year-old from Charleston, W.Va., received a medical discharge last week from the Army.
He had received shrapnel wounds to his right arm in the roadside bomb attack Jan. 11 while riding atop his Bradley fighting vehicle in Iraq with the 1st Cavalrys 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment.
Rebrook last saw his Kevlar vest when it was removed by medics to treat his wounds, he told his local paper, The Charleston Gazette, for its Tuesday edition.
Soaked in his blood, the vest was declared a biohazard and disposed of, Rebrook said.
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. They took it off me and burned it.
Since that fateful day in Iraq, Rebrook and his unit were reunited in April at Fort Hood. Rebrooks arm never completely recovered despite seven operations, troubling him with motion problems and pain.
His last position with the battalion before his discharge was the S-1, or personnel officer.
A division senior officer, who declined to be named because of a pending congressional investigation, said the battalion has separated 21 soldiers for combat injuries without incident or bills for lost equipment. Much of that paperwork had to have crossed Rebrooks desk as personnel officer.
When Rebrooks turn came, he reported the loss of four items from the attack to his units supply sergeant, the officer confirmed.
Later, at Fort Hoods Central Issuing Facility, 25 items from his field gear issue, dubbed TA-50, that had been signed out by Rebrook were listed as missing. Rebrook turned in five of those missing items later that day.
Instead of returning to file a report with the supply sergeant for the remaining items, Rebrook opted to pay for the missing field gear, including the vest. The bill was $632.
Bottom line, he was given the opportunity not to pay for those items as a matter of due course, sworn statements, the officer said. All he had to do was go back to the supply sergeant and get the paperwork and all of it would have been settled.
Once home, Rebrook told his mother, Beckie Drumheler, about the experience, claiming he had to scrounge up cash from his buddies to pay for the body armor or face not being discharged for months. Angry, she wrote a letter to the editor.
The publication of it set off a firestorm with U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both Democrats from Rebrooks home state.
Ive been in touch with his family, and Ive 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. Im 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 Re-brooks story unusual and promised Byrd to correct it if theres any truth to it.
Soldiers who serve their country, those who put their lives on the line, deserve better, Rebrooks mother told the Gazette.
He couldnt 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.
Rebrooks story prompted donations from Charleston-area residents. A local radio station raised $700 within 90 minutes Tuesday, and one woman dropped off a $200 check by his mothers home, said Rebrooks stepfather, Charles Drumheler, the Gazette reported.
I thought that was pretty nice that people care, Charles Drumheler said.
Rebrooks father, Ed Rebrook, a Charleston lawyer, said while the donations were appreciated, his son did not plan to accept them.
Officially, the 1st Cavalry could not comment once the senators launched the congressional investigation into the incident.
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, said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, the divisions spokesman, noting that soldiers are not held financially responsible for any equipment lost, damaged or destroyed in combat operations.
Rebrook reportedly called his former unit after his mothers letter was published to apologize, telling them I was at fault, an officer close to the process said.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report
Contact Debbie Stevenson at email@example.com