U.S. Army Veteran Shares Painful Experiences of Military Racism, Part 18

“THAT’S WHEN THE FIREWORKS BEGAN”

by Sharon Rondeau

Gary Mason and son Martel, Oahu, HI between Mason’s deployments to Japan and Korea

(Dec. 14, 2018) — In our last segment on the story of former Army Captain Gary Mason, he described how he continued his Army career after returning from Iraq in late 2008 with the knowledge that the commander of his unit, 3/4 Cav., wanted him discharged from the Infantry and, for that matter, the military as a whole.

When deployed to Iraq, Mason was a First Lieutenant and therefore an Army officer.

The friction between Mason and Lt. Col. David Hodne stemmed from the unprovoked assault by a senior enlisted 3/4 Cav. soldier at FOB Poliwoda in the Sunni Triangle.  With some trepidation but determined to obtain a response from his command, Mason submitted a written report detailing the assault by Sergeant Major Manis.

Hodne had already ordered Mason back to Hawaii, ostensibly for medical evaluation, as a result of his having suffered an allergic reaction to fumes from a burn pit located near his barracks.  Such fumes have sickened many soldiers who served in the war theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, Mason had been provided with an email exchanged between Hodne’s staff secretary indicating a plan to “see if we can kick him out under anything.”

Mason had been seeking an acknowledgement from the command that Manis’s action was improper and an apology from Manis. During a face-to-face meeting shortly before he departed Iraq, Hodne told Mason that because there were no eyewitnesses to the assault, no discipline would be imposed.  Mason responded to Hodne by maintaining that the general lack of discipline among 3/4 Cav’s ranks, which included evidence of overt racism, was “a reflection of your leadership.”

The physicians who examined Mason at Tripler Army Medical Center upon his return disagreed with the premise put forth by Hodne that Mason was medically unfit to serve in the Army.  At that point, Mason had served in the Army for nine years, during which time he had served as an Infantryman and in Iraq, acquired a Master’s degree and virtually completed the military chaplaincy program.

In Part 17, Mason stressed that success in the military is “based on your peers” and their perception of an individual rather than a person’s actual skills, ambition and sense of purpose.

Completing two interim overseas assignments to Japan and South Korea successfully after returning to Hawaii and being cleared medically, Mason learned of an open position in Public Affairs, a job he was enthusiastically awarded based on his pre-military experience in media.  Mason was obligated to obtain Hodne’s approval before making the transition, which occurred on July 1, 2009 despite any lingering negativity between the two.

Although now a public affairs officer with the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Mason and Hodne would cross paths again, Mason told The Post & Email in a recent interview.  “I would end up establishing myself, and all of a sudden I’d get a flash on my computer:  ‘Gary, we need you to plan the ceremony recording for the 25th Infantry Division returning down at the Wheeler Army Airfield.’  And I said, ‘Oh.’ That meant that they wanted me to go down and set up the cameras for the media so that they could see Col. Piatte and Lt. Col. Hodne coming back.  That was my job now,” Mason told us.

He continued his narrative:

While I was at Tripler, I began to meet the hospital chaplains.  I did a practicum at Walter Reed, where I was a hospital chaplain candidate.  My supervisor was a guy by the name of Chaplain Criner.  He was a Lt. Col. at the time, but he was promoted and became the senior chaplain for Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii as a full-bird colonel.  He met me when I was going for my medical appointments at Tripler after I returned from Iraq, and he said, “Why aren’t you a chaplain now?  Why are you in the Infantry?” and I said, “Well, Chaplain, I’m still waiting to finish my final three classes.”  And he said, “Get that done, because we could use you here at Tripler.”  I said, “I should get it done within the next year or two.”  So he said, “Do you know the commander?  I’d like to come down to do a quick prayer with him. I used to be in 3/4 Cav.” And I said to myself, “Wow, small world.”

He then said, “Could you do me a favor?  Could you send a note to the 3/4 commander and tell him that I’d like to come down and personally meet with him?”

I was stunned.  Here I was; this guy was trying to help me out with the Chaplain Corps, and he wanted me to get in touch with Col. Hodne!  So I thought, “Oh, my goodness.”   I sent a nice email to Lt. Col. Hodne and said, “Lt. Col. Hodne, I met with Col. Criner, and he’s asked if he can meet with you briefly and do a quick prayer as the troops are coming in.  I’m happy you’re coming home and hope you all are well.”

Hodne sent me back a note and said, “I’m glad you have moved on, but respectfully, when I come home, it’s about the troops; it’s not about me.  I don’t think I’m going to have time for all of that.  Thank you very much for reaching out to me.”

I cc’d Col. Criner on the email.  Hodne very professionally bowed out.  But I was still there to cover the homecoming; I had the whole thing set up and recorded.

It was hard for me to see the members of 3/4 Cav.  They were shocked to see me; they thought I had been discharged.  It was kind-of surreal, but as I was leaving, I learned that the same enlisted folk who had given testimonies in my support downrange had now become the center of attack. I didn’t know that as the investigation was going on, these were the people giving statements in my favor and were now being indirectly impacted with their promotions by not having given false statements.

When they saw me, they were shocked, and they said, “You don’t know what was going on when you left; you don’t know what happened.”  In my mind, I was thinking, “I don’t want to know,” but I almost felt I owed it to them, because these enlisted men stayed and protected me.  So here I was working for the general now, and I was going to turn my back on them?  I found myself in a very difficult situation where I didn’t want to open this Pandora’s box and bother with it.  It was already hard for me to go back down there and film them coming home and to face some of the men who accused me and assaulted me.  I didn’t want to do that, but God said, “Go do it anyway and honor their return.”

And I did. I did camera work for TV 2, a media house on Schofield Barracks which is run by the military.  I brought them home right.

That was when it all came back to me…when I learned that they were abused because they helped me.  One sergeant walked up to me and said, “Mason, that computer was our computer, and I was assaulted downrange by Sergeant Major Manis a couple weeks after you left.”

And they said, “Sir, can you help us?”  So now I didn’t know what to do.  I was stuck.  They knew they were entitled to 30 days of “R&R,” rest and relaxation, after coming home.  So I said, “Go take your 30 days, and if there’s time, we can meet up in a restaurant down in Waikiki somewhere and talk offline.”

That’s when the fireworks began.  That’s when the 8th Theater Sustainment Command found out what had been going on.  I made a decision to help some people who might have been suicidal because of what happened downrange.  The moment I helped them was when it all began to blow up again.

 

 

 

 

 

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