Soldier forced to pay for missing body armor will get refund

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 says he had to scrounge up 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 the vest was taken from him and burned.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., questioned Gen. Peter Schoomaker, chief of staff of the Army, on Tuesday during a Senate Armed Services Committee budget hearing, and on Wednesday an Army official said Rebrook would get a refund for the $510 vest.

Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, spokesman for the First Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, said there have 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 bureaucracy.

"It's the nature of 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 has movement problems and pain, despite seven operations.