Support our mission

Going once, going twice, SOLD to the highest bidder: Military-issue items including body armor, combat helmets and gas masks.

Apparently you really can buy anything on the Internet.

A simple search for “military” on the online auction site eBay turned up such items for sale as Meals, Ready-To-Eat, Kevlar helmets, military communication radios, body armor and a gas mask complete with carrying case, decontamination kit and chemical protective suit.

One Kevlar helmet hawker offered this selling point: “You may have never gone to war, but this bad boy has. It is a true war hero too.

“It has a [camouflage] cover too, but I want to keep it for sentimental reasons ... got some blood on it actually.”

It sold for $43 with five bids.

It’s not necessarily illegal to sell military items on eBay, depending what they are, said Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pamela Hart. Items that one might find in a military surplus store, for example, are legal to sell online.

But Army-issue items, such as a gas mask — which didn’t get a taker with an opening bid of $300 — cannot be sold online, she said.

There seems to be no strict guidance on what soldiers can sell online, only that they cannot sell items issued by the military that must be returned. In addition, they cannot place items for sale during the duty day on a Department of Defense computer and servicemembers cannot ship the items they sell through the Army postal system, Hart said.

Army Criminal Investigative Command officials said in an e-mail statement to Stars and Stripes that the CID does investigate theft of government equipment, including items illegally sold on the Internet.

“Items illegally sold on eBay [are] just one example of alleged criminal activity that CID investigates, as do other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies,” CID spokesman Christopher Grey wrote.

Many items, like battle dress uniforms and Kevlar helmets, can be purchased at military surplus stores, so it is difficult to determine if the item was an issued item or if the seller is a soldier, Hart said.

Military items issued to a soldier when he reports to a new unit must be returned when he leaves, Hart said. The cost of items that are not returned may come out of the soldier’s paycheck, she said.

Even equipment that is not on the books must be returned to a designated turn-in facility for unused Army equipment or furniture, Hart said.

“Even if it is not on a hand receipt, the soldier can’t just take it home,” she said.

However, most supply personnel won’t search the Internet or pawn shops to find missing items. They’ll probably just dock the servicemember’s paycheck.

Hart said the Army has not launched a formal investigation into the illegal sale of military-issue items on the Internet.

However, the Department of Defense’s “Operation Highest Bidder” in 2004 turned up 150 online sellers of military body armor in 33 states. Information on how many of the sellers were indicted was unavailable, but one former Air Force staff sergeant, Brandon Berryhill, was convicted of selling small-arms protective inserts and sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay $5,500 in restitution to the DOD, according to the June 24 edition of Federal Daily, an online news digest for federal employees.

In another case reported in the Nov. 9 edition of the Rocky Mountain News, Spc. Curba Merrill was sentenced to 42 months in jail and a bad conduct discharge for selling more than 130 items of military equipment on the Internet, including body armor with plate inserts.

Hart said the punishment for soldiers who illegally sell issued items online varies depending on the action his commander takes. Even if a family member were to sell a soldier’s equipment online, the soldier is accountable.

“The family is an extension of the soldier,” Hart said.

LEGAL TO SELL

Items that can be found in military surplus stores.

ILLEGAL TO SELL

Army-issue items like gas masks or items that are issued when someone reports to a new unit.

PENALTIES

Servicemembers who don’t return equipment may be docked the cost of the equipment from their paychecks.

At least two servicemembers have been sentenced to prison terms for illegal sales since the Department of Defense began investigating online auction activity.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up