U.S. Army Veteran Shares Painful Experiences of Military Racism, Part 14


by Sharon Rondeau

Tent City at Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait, where Mason stayed prior to entering and after departing the Iraq combat zone for the return trip to Hawaii

(Aug. 29, 2018) — In the last installment of the story of former Army Captain Gary Mason, he described the sense of disquiet that had come to overshadow his deployment to Iraq’s Sunni Triangle after he became aware that his command at FOB Paliwoda wished to discharge him as a result of a complaint he filed against an enlisted man who assaulted him.

“I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry at that point,” Mason told us in recalling his reaction to what he believed to be a sudden rocket attack while he was showering alone.  “I had it coming from the friendly side and the enemy side,” he said.

Prior to his deployment, Mason had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant as a result of his enrollment and near-completion of the military chaplaincy program.

Not long after arriving in-country with the 3/4 Cav. unit commanded by then-Lt. Col. David Hodne, he observed overt racism which shocked him. Putting that aside, Mason began his assignment as night-shift Battle Captain, which he found challenging but rewarding, he said.

Approximately two weeks later, Mason awoke with severe swelling in his face which proved to be a reaction to a “burn pit” located close to his housing unit. A doctor-ordered, two-day absence from work ensued, followed by a return to work.  At that point, the enlisted man, a sergeant major, sought him out and sharply criticized his work.  Mason asked the sergeant major to wait until the shift change brief was over, but the sergeant major insisted that they both step outside of the Tactical Operations Center to resolve the conflict privately, after which the sergeant major hit him in the chest without provocation.

Mason recounted that he told his assailant, “Do not put your hands on me again. Since you want to assault me and curse me out, our conversation is over. I’ll address you in front of the other commanders, but you will never in your life put your hands on me again.”

It is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for an enlisted soldier to assault an officer.

Following the altercation with the sergeant major, Mason was sent to Joint Base Balad, the major U.S. military hub in the region, ostensibly to receive a thorough medical checkup for the allergic reaction.  However, Mason soon discovered that something much more sinister was in motion.

Upon his brief return to FOB Paliwoda to retrieve the remainder of his personal belongings and distribute a formal complaint to MPs and the unit commander about the assault, Mason was provided, confidentially, a copy of an email sent by Hodne’s administrative officer, Captain Johnson, alleging that he possessed a “little heart,” a claim Mason said was never part of his medical history. Further, the email said, “Since he just came on active duty talk to post and see if we can kick him out under anything.”

Mason continued his story:

I decided to tell the doctor about the email I had been provided showing they were trying to put me out.  He became very angry and said, “He shouldn’t be discussing any of your personal or medical information; this could be a HIPAA violation.”  So I said, “I want that to be a part of the complaint – the HIPAA violation, the assault, and the racial slide.”

They knew I was flying out; the doctor went and complained to Hodne; Hodne supposedly gave Capt. Johnson a verbal scuffing-up.  Hodne called me before I got on the flight and said, “Mason, I just wanted to call and let you know we’ve done the investigation.”  So they were trying to hurry up and do the investigation while I was still in-country and close the case so that there wouldn’t be an open investigation when I was back in garrison. I guess it would have made them look bad.

Hodne said he wanted to address the three matters, to which he said, “As far as the computer with the slide on it, we found out that the computer wasn’t ours; it belongs to the 101st.  We didn’t know that slide was on there.  As far as the HIPAA complaint, we didn’t do anything wrong; we’ve already checked into it.  I verbally scuffed up Capt. Johnson for sending that email out because an S-1 shouldn’t do that.  About Sergeant Major Manis, we found out that some soldiers walked by and said they saw you yelling at him; they didn’t see him put his hands on you.  As far as I’m concerned, at this point, that’s between you and Sergeant Major Manis; you don’t have any proof that he put his hands on you.”

And I said, “Well, Col. Hodne, as an officer to an officer, I would never lie to you.  I was giving him an order to stand down.  So that’s what you all want to go with?” and he said, “Mason, I’m closing the investigation out; I’m just letting you know that whatever happened here is here; it’s kind-of like Sergeant Major Manis’s word against yours.”

I said, “Col. Hodne, thank you for giving me your assessment and your report; I have a flight to catch.”

That’s how it ended.  They sent me down to the Joint Base Balad flight runway and I waited for my plane. One of the staff sergeants came to the flight terminal and said, “Hey, Sir, we’re just glad you’re getting home.”

US Army Command Camp Cell at Ali Al Salem Air Base

I didn’t go right back to Hawaii; I had to go through Kuwait.  When I got to Tripler [Army Medical Center], the doctors were getting word from Hodne to “do whatever they had to do; they don’t want me in the command.”  If I were cleared medically, I would have gone back.  Well, Hodne said, “I don’t want him back; I want him out of the Army.  I don’t even want him around.”  He basically told the doctor, “Just put him out; whatever you have to do, put him out.”

My hope was that someone would believe what I was saying.  What about all the racial graffiti and the other things gong on?

Later on, I found out that Hodne was reaching way down into his list of power partners. He was calling the Infantry branch and everyone he knew to tell them, “Don’t give him a billet; let him just ride his time out; he won’t get a good OER; he won’t be promoted to Captain.”  He was calling the Tripler Army Medical Center doctor in Hawaii, Col. Piatt, the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Commander, who had been in the same Ranger battalion as Hodne.  They all knew each other.

Col. Piatt sent me a memorandum saying, “If you’re all good medically, you need to return to the deployment at FOB Paliwoda.”  But Hodne said, “No.” So Hodne told — or had had Col. Piatt tell the doctor — “We don’t want him.”  And I said, “Doc, you’re supposed to be checking my health; I’m cleared; I’m fine.” He kept saying, “You can get out; you can get a medical board,” and I said, “Are you trying to ask me to get out? No; if anything, I want to continue my career.”  And he said, “Lt. Mason, your commanders downrange don’t want you back.  I don’t know what happened there, but they don’t like you. You made someone mad and they want you out of the Army.”

COL Piatt Letter

This was a full-bird colonel doctor, Dr. Yang of the Allergy and Immunology Clinic.  At that point, I said, “OK.”

When The Post & Email asked Mason if he believed the command was politicized, he responded:

It is; very much so.  The S-1 (Personnel Officer), Captain Johnson, was one guy who didn’t have a Ranger tab.  He was the personnel actions officer.  He did whatever Hodne told him to do.  He wasn’t an Infantry guy; he was an administrative guy, an officer, working for Hodne.

When I was trying to get him to find out about my promotion while serving at Joint Base Balad, he was on speakerphone with the young sergeant who gave me the email.  This is what he said:  “I don’t give a **** about Lt. Mason and his promotion.  Lt. Mason is a coward and a troublemaker; I want to do what I have to do administratively to get Lt. Mason out of country.  I don’t want him getting another tax break, hazard-duty pay or any more money while serving here in country.  We’re going to get him out of this country.”  And I was asking myself, “What does this have to do with a tax break or hazard-duty pay?”

He didn’t know that I was on the speaker phone and could hear every word. While listening to him berate me, the staff sergeant said, “We just need you to go in the system and pull up Lt. Mason’s record and find out when he’s promotable.”  They still had to give me an OER.  The bottom line was, “We’re going to **** Mason; we’re not going to give him a positive OER because we don’t want him promoted to Captain; we want him out of the military.”

It is very political.  I did not realize that that’s what the military is made up of.  It’s a lot of politicking on the officers’ side.

All the training I had, all the leadership qualities I had, all the degrees I had didn’t matter to them.  The bottom line was, “This is a black officer who doesn’t want to just take orders and do what we say.  He doesn’t want to hear ‘black’ jokes; he doesn’t want to play…He’s not the kind of officer we want in uniform.”  That’s in writing, too, by the way.

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