Sunday, February 19, 2006

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Latest Newspaper Column:

This will be a column of surprises.

The first surprise is that I’m not going to write about Dick Cheney shooting a guy in the face. For one thing, this column runs on Sunday, and there’s not a joke I can think up that won’t already have been done, and done better, by Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, etc. etc.

For another, the condition of the guy he shot took a turn for the worse as this column was being written, and the whole story may get really unfunny by the time you read this. So, this story’s about a guy named Eddie Rebrook.

The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette tells the story of 1st Lt. Rebrook, a Charleston native and West Point graduate serving his country in Iraq. When he was wounded by a roadside bomb, corpsmen cut away his Kevlar body armor so that they could treat his badly wounded arm. After months of surgery and rehab, his arm was still not back to 100 percent, so the Army gave him a “medical separation” discharge.

They also charged him $700 for the lost body armor.

At first, Lt. Rebrook couldn’t believe it. But the Army was serious. Since nobody on the battlefield had apparently taken the time to fill out the requisite paperwork to have the armor declared a “combat loss,” the Army said he had to pay for it before he mustered out after eight months of recuperation back home at Fort Hood, Texas.

Rebrook said he tried to get a battalion commander to sign a waiver on the armor, but the officer declined. Rebrook was told he’d have to supply statements from witnesses to verify that the body armor was taken from him and burned to keep it out of the hands of the enemy. Of course, all those witnesses were back in Iraq, and he probably didn’t think to take their names down, since he was too busy bleeding. But the Army was adamant. No check, no ticket home. So he scrounged up the money by borrowing from his buddies, paid off the armor, and went home.

This is the second surprise, at least who like to think the worst of me: I’m not going to use this as an example of the uncaring Bush administration and its disregard for the troops. This, I’ll wager, is the sort of bureaucratic snafu that’s happened in armies for thousands of years, probably since the time of the Roman legions:

“Sorry, Maximus, this gladius has a nick in the blade.”

“That’s where I buried it in the head of a Gaul who was trying to run my centurion through with a spear.”

“Well, we can’t take it back in this condition. You owe us 700 denarii.”

Potes meos suaviari clunes, felator!”

But the story does have a happy ending. AmericaBlog, a Web site run by a fellow named John Aravosis, found out about this story. Aravosis got, to put it mildly, hopping mad. He set up a special online fund-raiser to solicit donations to reimburse Rebrook. The fund raised over $5,400 in two hours. Aravosis sent a check to Rebrook.

Then Rebrook’s home-state senators got into the act. They fired off angry letters to the Pentagon and demanded explanations from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, at Defense Department budget hearings. So the Army finally relented. They said that, not only would they pay Rebrook back, but they’d also investigate why he was charged for losing his body armor after getting blown up.

Rebrook, according to an article in Editor & Publisher magazine, said he wasn’t going to keep the donations. He’s paying back the people he borrowed from to take care of the $700 bill, and also passing along the money to charity and a Louisiana woman who lost her home in Hurricane Katrina. The woman’s son helped save his life in Iraq, he said. So all’s well that ends well.

So who are these patriots who gave of their own hard-earned money to help a wounded veteran wronged by an unfeeling and insane bureaucracy? Who were the senators who put pressure on the Army to right this wrong? That’s the third surprise, at least it’ll be to some of you.

AmericaBlog and its contributors were once described as “a bunch of wackos” by admitted drug abuser Rush Limbaugh. Aravosis is “a particularly angry activist,” says the Family Research Council. Aravosis is a staunch proponent of gay rights, which makes sense since he’s gay.

And the senators who put their own pressure on the Army? — Jay Rockefeller and Robert Byrd, both among the many Senate Democrats the right wing loves to hate.

Yes, the people who came to help a wounded vet when no one else would, the people who held the online equivalent of a bake sale to help out a soldier getting screwed by the system ... were liberals.

And now, as ol’ Paul Harvey likes to say, you know … the rest of the story.

Good day!


David Terrenoire said...

Quel surprise! The Frenchified among us really do support the troops.

But, that would make all those conservatives who say otherwise, wrong .


James said...

I'm glad that story ended up with a positive ending. I blogged about the incident when I heard about it, but the resolution somehow slipped under my radar.