“THEY NEED A CAPTAIN”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Feb. 6, 2019) — In the previous installment of this story, then-U.S. Army Lieutenant Gary Mason had written a letter to the general of his unit, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, expressing concern for the safety of a number of soldiers from his former unit, 3/4 Cav., who returned to Hawaii from Iraq as Mason was working as a public affairs officer.
To that point, Mason’s military experience included three years as an infantryman; near-completion of a Master of Divinity degree in his pursuit of a military chaplaincy while working as a diplomatic security officer for the U.S. State Department, where he was given a Top-Secret security clearance; continued combat training during the summers; deployment to Iraq’s Sunni Triangle in November 2008 with 3/4 Cav.; and transfer to the U.S. Army Pacific Command’s 8th TSC to work in public affairs.
Having earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Howard University before entering the service, Mason was enjoying using the skills he acquired there, and during self-employment in the field, prior to his enlistment in 2000.
Mason was separated from 3/4 Cav. after suffering an allergic reaction to a burn pit, although he is certain the underlying reason was that he filed a formal complaint against an enlisted man who assaulted him unprovoked. The commander of 3/4 Cav. at the time, Lt. Col. David Hodne, told Mason that his investigation of the matter concluded that as there were no witnesses to the incident, no discipline could be meted out against the perpetrator—even as he told Mason, “This is how Rangers communicate”—meaning chest-punching was to be expected.
Unbeknownst to Hodne, Mason was given a copy of an email which Hodne’s assistant had sent indicating that their plan for Mason was to see him ousted from the Army and the military altogether if possible.
In a face-to-face conversation held shortly before his departure from Iraq, Mason told Hodne that the lack of discipline within 3/4 Cav., evidenced not only the unpunished assault but also by racist and sexist slides displayed at a battalion meeting without repercussions, was a result of Hodne’s “leadership.”
Later, Mason discovered from soldiers returning with 3/4 Cav. from Iraq that Sgt. Major Manis had assaulted others as well without consequences. Mason said he realized then that he would be the voice for all those who had been assaulted.
Both 3/4 Cav. and the 8th Theater Sustainment Command were components of the USARPAC and 25th Infantry division, although with different chains of command. Shortly before sending his letter of concern, Mason had departed Hawaii for Ft. Meade to attend formal training for public-affairs officers, a position he assumed with anticipation on July 1, 2009 after his unpleasant experience in 3/4 Cav.
While he was away, Mason said, his wife and children met with 8th TSC commander General Terry, who assured them that neither they nor Mason himself need worry about his safety or retaliation for having spoken out about his former commander’s reported effects on a number of his soldiers.
While at Ft. Meade, Mason was promoted from first lieutenant to captain.
Before composing the letter, Mason decided to confide in the 8th TSC chaplain about not only his concern for the returning men who claimed they were intimidated by Hodne and told not to associate with Mason, but also his own personal experience with the unit which he felt left a “cloud” over his military service. Chaplain Lindsay, Mason said, assured him that he would not face retaliation for reporting the intimidation, which undoubtedly cast Hodne in a poor light.
Of the letter, Mason told us:
It caught a lot of people off-guard and got a lot of people mad. My hope was that no one was going to mess with these soldiers. I kind-of fell on my sword and said, “Well, I’m in school; I had better do well and graduate, go back and go to work and make a good name for myself.
At first I had wanted to wait to return to Hawaii for the promotion so that my wife and children could attend the ceremony. Well, guess what happened? I got to DINFOS school at Ft. Meade; I was promoted to Captain while I was there. My mom and dad and brothers came. While I was gone, my wife and children had gone to speak with Gen. Terry.
From there, Mason reported an unexpected panorama of events which he does not believe were coincidental.
Once I was promoted, the Public Affairs branch manager had the ability to assign me. Seventeen days before my graduation, I received orders directly in my Army Knowledge Online (AKO) account from the Pentagon to report to Kabul, Afghanistan. Even though I was assigned a billet at the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, I got orders directly from the Pentagon sending me on an “individual WIAS” tasking. In other words, someone needed me individually to fill a public affairs slot.
I don’t know if it was for convenience, but I hadn’t even graduated yet. It seemed as if, “You got promoted to Captain; we have a Captain’s billet for you right in the middle of Afghanistan.” I think they were trying to say, “You were on temporary duty assigned to Ft. Meade, so you weren’t assigned to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command; we released you and gave you orders to report for temporary duty at the DINFOS.” So technically, they could issue me orders.
So I said, “I can’t come because I don’t graduate until May 7, 2010. According to the UCMJ, you have to give a person a year before redeploying them, and it hadn’t been that long since I had been in Iraq. So I said, “I will deploy, but I’m requesting to go back and spend at least 30 days with my family.” Guess what? They agreed, so they changed the orders. After I graduated, I went back to Hawaii.
I had been gone for two months. When I got back to the 8th Sustainment Command, I was able to see Command Sergeant Major Anderson retire. They had a new sergeant major and new people on staff in the Public Affairs office. The female civilian was still there, and Matthew Garner was still the senior public affairs officer. When I got back, there was talk that Col. Garner had decided to put a major in my billet; his name was Maj. Parker. In other words, when I was away, they put someone in my place. I knew him; he was the public affairs officer at the 8th Military Police Battalion on Schofield Barracks. When I was away, they filled my billet behind my back. I was given official orders through the Pentagon to have that billet for the next three years.
When you send someone away, a person can temporarily fill your position, but when you return, you’re supposed to get your old job back. Apparently, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command never intended for me to get my old job back, and I found this out afterward. I came home for 30 days, and my whole office was switched out. There were only two people I knew; the other four or five people working with me and for me had left except for a supervisor. It was strange. I came back a captain and an official public affairs officer, but I was told, “Gary, you don’t have to come in, because you’re getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. And by the way, Major Parker is going to come up and he might help us out up here.”
At the time I asked, “Isn’t Major Parker the public affairs officer for the 8th MPs?” And they said, “Yeah, but we’re going to need somebody to fill in for you.” I could tell that something strange was going on. I remember thinking, “When I return, I’ll be back.” But then I found myself thinking, “Maybe they don’t expect me to return.” All of a sudden, a light bulb went on in my mind…”Why are they sending me individually to Afghanistan without a unit or a mission?”
Before the deployment, they sent me for a two-week assignment to Korea. We would conduct military exercises with Korea and Japan every year, which is what makes North Korea and everybody else mad. I would have to work the night shift. I would come in at nighttime; I was always the guy who was put on the night shift. I didn’t mind; I was doing my job as a PAO, and I was a captain. I had a key to the front building and to the Public Affairs office. I also had a Top-Secret clearance that a lot of people did not have, so I could get into classified departments. That was because I had already had the clearance from working for the State Department as a diplomatic security officer. The military didn’t have to pay for it; it just transferred over.
Before I was sent away, I noticed I was getting placed on a lot of busy tasks away from the office. I didn’t mind, because I was excited. I was trying to prove a point that I was doing my job and doing it well. One evening I had worked and had to turn around and come back to the office very early in the morning. Gen. Terry had already talked to my wife about her concerns for our family and other soldiers, but he and I never talked about it. We just kept on business as usual.
However, I did get a response from Col. Perkuchin saying that the service members I was concerned about fell under another chain of command and if I was worried about them, I could advise them “myself.” “You’re a captain now; you can go and help them. Otherwise, they need to go to their IG, EO or chaplain to seek assistance,” he told me. I think he meant, “We’re not getting involved.”
Once that happened, I thought maybe they were rubbed the wrong way. I had a feeling of what was going on, but at the same time, I was speaking to the chaplain who said, “We’ve got you covered. We’re not going to let anything bad happen to you.” But then he said, “Gary, if you want to do the ‘chaplain’ thing, why don’t you transfer and get into the Chaplain Corps so you can do what you want to do?” and I said, “Well, Chaplain, I need at least another year to finish my coursework to be eligible to transfer over. I’ve just got to hold this job until I make the transfer.”
So he said, “OK, whatever you need, I’m going to support you.” Apparently, the chief of staff, Col. Perkuchin, was feeling like, “You need to transfer. Why don’t you just hurry up and just become a chaplain and get out of here?” In other words, he realized there was some other business going on that I didn’t know about. I think he knew that I had gotten some people mad and wanted me to transfer out.
Col. Perkuchin was trying to explain that to me in the hope that he wouldn’t make me feel uneasy, because I think he knew my antennas were up. They weren’t making me privy to whatever was going on behind closed doors. They were just talking and talking about it, and whoever got embarrassed got embarrassed, and they were probably hoping I wouldn’t get promoted to Captain. The email which Col. Perkuchin and Gen. Terry sent back to me said it was out of their hands, that the 25th Infantry Division has to handle it; “we will follow up and look out for these folk here; you can’t be speaking on their behalf.” But the men who confided in me were afraid to come forward because they didn’t trust the 25th Infantry Division; they were trying to get me to help them.
In response to my letter on their behalf, I think Gen. Terry and Col. Perkuchin were saying, “We’re going to keep you really busy so you don’t have time to be worrying about what happened in the 25th Infantry or 3/4 Cav.” and to themselves, “So best we send him to Afghanistan for a year.”
Before I packed up to go, I asked for a copy of the investigation that went on downrange — the assault against me — and the JAG office didn’t want to give it to me. The JAG officer was having problems getting it, but he knew that asking for it was going to cause problems, so I sent out a FOIA. I guess they got mad. They said, “Gary got orders; we have to get him out of here. He’s asking for this; he’s asking for that.”
So I went over to the 8th MP office right up the street from 3/4 Cav. for a copy of the police report. They said, “We can’t find it; we’ll get it to you when you get back.” And I said, “What do you mean you can’t find it?” When I returned from DINFOS, I went back to 8th MPs and gave them the number of the report and asked, “Do you have a copy of it?” and a civilian working there pulled it up and gave me a copy. I asked if anything had been done about Sgt. Major Manis assaulting me and others downrange because I wanted to find out what happened. A police report was filed.
Apparently Col. Piatt, who was Hodne’s supervisor, chose to come down and take this police report off the record to handle it personally. I was told he used his command authority and took it. They were bombarding me with deployments so I couldn’t spend time in Hawaii with my family. The goal was to keep my wife and me separate, keep me off the island so I couldn’t bring up this stuff anymore, and prevent me from getting hold of all of the materials I filed downrange while all the time, they were putting in counter, false claims against me.
There were things going on that I didn’t know about, and they kept sending me away. I didn’t know this was going on. When I informed Gen. Terry and Col. Perkuchin in order to protect myself, Hodne and others were still coming after me. I didn’t know it.
I was working a night-shift exercise with U.S. Armed Forces in Japan, and I was briefing Gen. Terry, which was part of my job. One evening I got off and had to come back in very early in the morning. I remember it was about 6:00 a.m.; daylight was just breaking, Gen. Terry came in, and we were alone, and I thought this would be an opportunity to talk to him about how things were going and thank him for talking to my wife. You don’t just roll up and talk to him; that’s just how the protocol is.
As he walked up to the building, he saw me pull up. He didn’t have a key to get in. I was about 20 meters behind him and was going to say, “Good morning.” He walked up, couldn’t get in, did a direct turn, didn’t look up at me, and walked around the building to the back. He didn’t speak. He didn’t know that I had a key to the front door. I opened the front door to his office, walked in, and when I walked in, who do I see coming through the back hallway door? It was him, and he looked like, “How in the world did this guy just come in the front door of my building?” It was my key to the front door; our office was right next to his general office. Public affairs officers are staff; we were his staff. When he was walking toward me, he had a look like, “Da**; how did he get in here?”
I said, “Good morning, General Terry,” and he looked at me and said, “Good morning, Captain Mason.” Then he turned and went into his command office. He looked at me like, “Why does this guy have a key and I don’t?”
In my heart, I thought it was comical. Obviously, Gen. Terry didn’t want to talk to me, so I didn’t force it.
I got a phone call after that exercise ended saying, “Gary, you’re going to Korea. And I said, “How am I gong to Korea if I have orders to go to DINFOS?” and he said, “It’s only a two-week assignment; we’re going to send you there and you’ll like it.”
My wife said, “This was supposed to be our time,” and I said, “Well, it’s only for two weeks.” So I packed my bags and went to Korea. I arrived in Camp Casey and was on the bus with about 15-20 people. I was representing Public Affairs; no one else from Public Affairs went. I had asked, “Why won’t Major Parker go, because I’m getting ready to go to Afghanistan?” but they said, “They need a captain.”
Our next installment will detail the increasingly bizarre circumstances in which Mason found himself, not only in Korea and Ft. Meade, but also being assigned individually to Afghanistan.