“IF YOU’RE NOT LIKED, THEY WOULD VOTE YOU OUT”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Oct. 27, 2018) — This section of former U.S. Army Capt. Gary Mason’s story outlines his transition from the 3/4 Cavalry unit, with which he was stationed in Iraq during the fall of 2008, to the Public Affairs office of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command in July 2009. In a recent interview Mason described how he was grateful for the opportunity to take his military career in a different direction following his observations of racism compounded by an assault by an enlisted soldier which went unpunished.
At the same time, Mason had to obtain permission to make the change from 3/4 Cav. Commander Lt. Col. David Hodne, who was responsible for sending him back to Schofield Barracks, HI from Iraq after he suffered an allergic reaction to fumes from a burn pit, something later found to have sickened many American service members, some fatally.
It became clear to Mason through a series of emails that Hodne wanted him to leave the infantry branch or even the military altogether, likely the result of a face-to-face meeting between the two men prior to Mason’s departure from Iraq, ostensibly for medical reasons. At the time, Mason told Hodne that the lack of discipline he observed in the unit, to include racism and the assault from the enlisted man, was “a reflection of your leadership.”
After his return to Hawaii and several medical workups at Tripler Army Medical Center, Mason was declared fit for duty with the exception of serving in areas in proximity to burn pits. He was then sent to Japan to assist in the conveyance of equipment and personnel back to U.S. Pacific Command bases in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. It was at Camp Zama in Japan that Mason learned of the Public Affairs opportunity from two enlisted soldiers who communicated Mason’s interest to the unit commander back at Ft. Shafter in Honolulu.
Having worked in media prior to enlisting in the Army in 2000, Mason was excited at the prospect of leading a unit of public affairs soldiers as a first lieutenant promotable to the rank of Captain. In fact, the transition was dependent upon a favorable Officer Evaluation Review (OER) and the updating of his military record to show that he had earned a Master’s degree while in the service, a task which proved to be a daunting one.
Having chosen to deploy rather than remain stateside to complete the military chaplaincy program he had undertaken as a first lieutenant, Mason required just three more online classes to finish that course of study, which would earn him a Master’s of Arts in Practical Theology.
Mason’s narrative of this new phase of his military career continues:
I left 3/4 Cav. the last day of June and started July 1, 2009 at 8th Theater Sustainment Command. That interview was amazing. The colonel told me, “Your background and experience far exceed what we do as public affairs officers. Where you were the cameraman and did the editing and the broadcasting, you will no longer do that; you will manage enlisted people who will do that for you. You might have to write a media release, but this consists of community relations, media relations, and command information. Command information is telling our story to the public and telling the command what they need to do to address the media. You’ll be the subject-matter expert on what’s going on in the media and relaying that to the commanders and any media relations with the local news and when you’re out in the community outside of military bases in Hawaii. There might be individual assignments where we have to send you different places. The experience you have is probably at the rank of a colonel or higher.”
I was so happy about that that I began to put what happened at 3/4 Cav. behind me. So now, I reverted back to what God was saying to me and I thought, “God is trying to use my experience to strengthen me to do something on a different level, so I can’t take what happened personally. My wife and I prayed about it and decided that I would take that job if the opportunity presented itself. The colonel was willing to put in the paperwork to make it happen.
In my mind, I was thinking, they’re going to call 3/4 Cav. and then he won’t want me to come. I was very cautious about explaining to 3/4 Cav. that I was going to work at the U.S. Army Pacific Command level. That was when I walked in and saw the picture of George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the wall.
I left it alone, and as I was leaving headquarters, walking down the steps, I heard heels behind me. It was an African-American woman who said, “How are you, lieutenant?” and I said, “Hi.” She said, “I’m Ms. Johnson.” She was the civilian secretary for the battalion. I didn’t know that her husband was the senior director of the Soldier Support Center for Schofield Barracks. We talked; she asked who I was and where I had come from. I told her that I was transferring out to another unit. Slowly, she began to share with me the same problems she recognized in the unit; administrative problems and issues between the commanders and mistreatment of the service members. I didn’t take it beyond that, but I began to realize, “I’m so glad that I’m leaving.”
I had to get them to give me an OER, and the promotion board was saying, “We need your stuff.” They sent it back at the last minute, and the only thing that needed to be added at the Pentagon was a copy of my Master’s degree which they hadn’t uploaded. It looks good before the board to have a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s. I had a Master of Arts in practical theology but needed 72 credit hours to get my Master’s of Divinity. I needed my OER from Lt. Col. Hodne and Captain Johnson to follow up. I decided I would find other people to help me get what I needed to make sure the Pentagon and promotion board had what they needed so that I could get promoted to captain.
There were problems with that; whatever they could do to delay it, they did. I think they were upset because I did not leave the Infantry branch. I chose to stay in Public Affairs. Hodne had other things to do; he didn’t have time to go back and forth with me. We exchanged a few emails wherein I said, “Hey, sir, I’m praying for you and the platoon; I’m willing to come back if you want me to. Since I’ve been home, I’ve gone to Japan and come back; I’ve been cleared medically.” I don’t think he wanted to hear that. He said, “I’m not going to approve any career or job moves until I know what’s going on with you.”
[Editor’s Note: The following is an email exchange between Mason and Hodne approximately two months before he successfully transitioned from 3/4 Cav. to the Public Affairs Officer division.]
From “Mason, Gary N II 1LT MIL USA USARPAC” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date Tue, 31 Mar 2009 14:21:14 -1000
To “Hodne, David M LTC MIL USA USARPAC”
Subject 1LT Gary Mason II (Rear Detachment – Status)
LTC Hodne,Sir, first and foremost, I’m praying for the continued success and safety of all of our 3-4 CAV Troop service and family members.
I wanted to take this opportunity to properly inform you that my medical evaluation is completed. The attachment that I’ve provided for you has been forwarded to all pertinent personnel here on rear detachment. If possible, I’m requesting your career guidance as it relates to my future success as a US Army appointed officer. In light of my current medical status, I am fully capable of fulfilling my military career obligations. My desire is to be a success and an asset to my future military Command.
Sir, I am willing to continue in service to you and your Command if you believe it is in the best interest of the 3-4 CAV mission and purpose to come back and complete the current tour in a position that meets your needs. If not, I’d like to request your support in transferring to the 8th TSC PA unit, which is a functional area of interest to me. I’ve talked to the current Commander and staff briefly about my medical situation and the possibility of gaining support from my current chain of command in order to best meet the needs of the Army and utilize the skill set that I have to best serve and support the Army in my current status.
Sir, any of your professional guidance and advice will be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time and leadership.
(– Is there any status on my OER? I sent out an OER Support form on 13 JAN 09.–)
1LT Gary Mason II
From: “Mason, Gary N II 1LT MIL USA USARPAC” <email@example.com>
Date: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 3:24
Subject: Fwd: 1LT Gary Mason II (Rear Detachment – Status)
To: “Hodne, David M LTC MIL USA USARPAC” <firstname.lastname@example.org>> Sorry Sir,
From: Hodne, David M LTC MIL USA USARPAC <email@example.com>
Sent: Thursday, April 2, 2009 12:36 PM
To: Mason, Gary N II 1LT MIL USA USARPAC
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Subject: Re: Fwd: 1LT Gary Mason II (Rear Detachment – Status)
You OER should be with CPT Almaguer ATT.
I read this to be a P2 profile with a condition that limits your deployability to locations in Kuwait (immediate access to hospital level care). I do not think any locations in Afghanistan meet this criteria unless the Bagram CSH was upgraded from my last trip there. This certainly requires consideration in evaluating your career options.
My career advice is simple. I recommend you seek a branch transfer out of the Infantry to one of the Operational Support (OS) or Force Sustainment (FS) career fields. You currently lack both Rifle Platoon Leader (K&D billet) and Company XO experience that arguably makes you unqualified for Company Command in the Infantry. This, combined with the fact that Infantrymen are expected to operate in remote locations (often w/o access to hospital level care), further casts doubts on your potential to serve as an Infantry officer. I’d argue this makes you unqualified for most of the Maneuver, Fires, and Effects (MFE) branches…potential even Public Affairs (PA) given their responsibility to circulate through the supported unit’s operational environment.
I support your desire to transfer to the 8th TSC. I’m unclear as to the MMRB status that supports MOS reclassification. Have you contacted your branch rep and communicated your desire to transition to a different branch? In this respect, I recommend you look at all the options and not limit yourself to what might seem to be immediately available (8th TSC)…particularly if this puts you in another branch where you might not to achieve your full potential because of your profile considerations that affect you down the road in a Key and Developmental assignment.
Please let me know the IN branch position after you contact them.
In order for me to transfer to another job, he had to release me; it’s called a conditional release. I think he was trying to see if there was any way he could get me discharged out of the military. What they were saying was, “We will allow you to leave the Infantry branch to do something else, and if you don’t we want you out of the Army.”
I said, “Lord, I’m going to pray to you. Whatever you need to do to get me transferred into the Public Affairs branch, I’m asking you to help me.”
They had to authorize me to go to Public Affairs Officer school, which is in Ft. Meade, MD. I was in Hawaii, and it would have been a 3-4 month training period. My wife and children were to stay in Hawaii. As to that prospect, my wife said, “I’m fine here in Hawaii with the kids; you know we will be praying for you.”
During all this time, I was finding my family a new home on the base. The good thing was the kids could go to school on the post. My wife ended up getting a job at the Soldier Support Center with Mr. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson, the lady I met at headquarters that day, was the person responsible for people who wanted to transfer from one place to another.
The problem was that they would not upload my Master’s degree. It seemed they were hoping they could get me out based on my medical condition or give me a low rating so I’d be overlooked as fit for promotion.
I had a job offer, and it had been agreed upon. All of a sudden, on July 1, 2009, there were military orders that came down from the personnel command, which had transferred me from 3/4 Cav. to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, but I had to have an official date. Apparently, another exercise happened, and this time, it was in Korea. So all of a sudden, I was being asked to go straight to Korea. I was thinking, “Is this by chance? Is someone still manipulating the system?”
The majority of things we do is command and staff; we’re going to command-and-staff you all over the Pacific for exercises. They could be two-week, four-week or six-week assignments. So they said I had to go straight to Korea because I was going to be the public affairs officer for the exercise in Korea. My wife asked, “Are they ever going to let you stay home?” but she was alright, because she had everything pretty-much together. She is a strong woman. In retrospect, she had been prepared for this life even before I met her.
So I got to Korea, the Second Infantry Division, at Camp Casey. It was 40-50 miles south of the DMZ. I was probably there for 3-4 weeks. I was going in, briefing commanders, working with generals and full-bird colonels. I had to jump right in to the mold of briefing, but I was already used to doing it from having been downrange. I didn’t need training on that. I was using my media expertise to help the military be successful. I would have to give them something called a murder board to brief them for the meeting. It would indicate, “This is what you can’t say and this is what you can say.” I would speak for them and then they could speak for themselves.
While I was in Korea, Lt. Col. Garner finally took the job of supervisor. He was an old Black Hawk pilot who became a public affairs officer. As my supervisor, I was telling him that I needed my Master’s degree entered into my file so that they could board me properly. He looked at me and said, “Why do you need your Master’s degree uploaded? I’m a lieutenant colonel, and I don’t even have a Master’s degree, so why are you worried about that?” and I said, “Well, Col. Garner, anytime I get education, it’s my responsibility to have it uploaded before the Board convenes.” I kind-of sensed a little something but didn’t take it personally.
I ended up calling the Pentagon myself and told the public affairs branch manager that my degree was not being uploaded and I needed it done. I could possibly still not get promoted and lose this job. The Board was getting ready to convene in two days. I sent a letter to two colonels up there and said that my degree hadn’t been uploaded.
I finally went into the public affairs office when I returned from Korea and the sergeant major said, “Hey, Mason, there’s a colonel on the phone from the Pentagon and he’s p****** off.” And I said, “P****** off about what?” and he said, “Somebody marched into his office and told him he cannot leave the Pentagon today until he uploads your degree,” and I said, “Really?” So he said, “Is it Col. So-and-So?” and I said, “Sergeant major, I asked them to upload my degree over a week ago.” And he said, “Well, he’s mad.” And I said, “Well, he needs to upload my degree.”
I guess I must have gotten someone mad at the Pentagon, which you don’t want to do. But the point was, why weren’t they uploading it? It had to go in my file. Why were they holding it back?
Then the sergeant major said, “Gary, I talked to them. He asked, ‘What’s this guy like?'” So apparently, someone said, “He’s a great addition to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command public affairs office. This guy’s a beast and knows his stuff.” So guess what? He uploaded it.
It was almost like a gatekeeper-type thing. Later on in the story, we’ll get to what was really going on. That’s when I realized it’s really a matter of who you know and who you are. It’s all based on your peers. You might be a great person in a Ranger battalion or going through Ranger school; you might be the best, most qualified service member out there, but if your peers vote you out, you’re out. It’s based on peer evaluation.
That’s when I began to learn that if you’re not liked – and factors such as if you’re male or female, it could be your fraternity involvement; if you’re a Free Mason or not; if you went to West Point or the Naval Academy – if you didn’t go to an academy, they would vote you out. Nobody teaches you that; I didn’t know any of that.
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.