“WHAT ARE THEY DOING HERE?”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Feb. 8, 2019) — In our last segment, former U.S. Army Captain Gary Mason described a surprise assignment to South Korea and again to Japan shortly after he completed Public Affairs school in May 2010. While he expected to be leaving for the Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Maryland, he traveled to Korea and Japan as the only public affairs officer assigned temporary duty marked by a strange chain of events.
Consequently, Mason came to believe that he was sent to Korea in retaliation for his having sent a letter of concern to his unit general about the well-being of a number of soldiers in his previous unit, 3/4 Cav. Both his current unit, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, and 3/4 Cav., were part of the same Pacific Army Command.
While Mason was away at Public Affairs school, his wife met with his commanding general, Gen. Terry, to discuss concerns about possible retaliation given Mason’s letter about the 3/4 Cav. soldiers and Hodne’s leadership sent to the top of his chain of command.
While serving in 3/4 Cav. as a first lieutenant in late 2008, Mason was assaulted by an enlisted man who was never disciplined. After Mason filed a formal complaint, the unit commander, then-Lt. Col. David Hodne, told Mason that as there were no witnesses, it was one man’s word against another’s and therefore impossible to mete out punishment.
Mason later learned that the perpetrator, Sgt. Major Manis, had assaulted other soldiers in the unit and that many of the men felt threatened and intimidated by Hodne, specifically in regard to what had happened to Mason.
While in Iraq, Mason had also witnessed racism and sexism which Hodne explained away as having been generated by a former deployed unit’s computer equipment, Mason told us earlier in his narrative. Mason did not mention those observations in the complaint he filed against Manis.
Upon Hodne’s order, Mason was returned to Hawaii alone after suffering an allergic reaction. Desirous of remaining in the military and passing physical exams in order to do so, he pursued a career in Public Affairs with the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, a career change he found to be a natural fit with his Bachelor’s degree in Communications completed years before.
In 2003, Mason enrolled in the curriculum to become a military chaplain, nearly completing it when he was deployed to Iraq. He saw his time in Public Affairs as a bridge between doing something he enjoyed and eventually following the “calling” he felt he had to minister to his fellow soldiers.
Having arrived in South Korea in the spring of 2009, Mason was immediately faced with challenges which should not have existed, he recently told The Post & Email. His narrative continues:
Normally, when you go to a foreign country, they’re supposed to give you a government-issued card with money on it for food and other expenses. All of that is supposed to be taken care of. My card hadn’t come. So I thought to myself, “When I get there, I’ll go to the dining facility and there will be lodging.
When I arrived in Korea, the first night we had to stay in the Yongsan Garrison, The Red Dragon Inn, in Seoul. There was a big military event happening, and I noticed that all the other soldiers traveling with me already had their room assignments. I didn’t have one. I was at the desk; everyone had a room and a key, but they told me, “Lieutenant Mason, there’s no room for you here. You’ll have to got out in the city and find a room.”
This was my first time in Korea, and I said, “No. You’re going to give me a room in this hotel.” Now I was mad. I knew the 8th Theater Sustainment Command did not just send me to Korea without a room or money or anything else. How was it possible I didn’t have a room?
I stood there in the lobby and said, “You’re going to find me a room in this hotel. You just deployed me for temporary duty from Hawaii to Korea; you’re going to find me a room.”
Finally, I called the senior commander of that unit, who was a full-bird colonel. He came down and started calling Hawaii, and I don’t know what was going on, but he couldn’t find me a room. He then said, “There’s a staff sergeant upstairs who has a room, and you can share it.” But the staff sergeant said, “I’m not sharing my room with some officer. Why is an officer staying in my room? It’s my room.” So the commander said, “Well, guess what? You and Lieutenant Mason are going to share the room. Tomorrow we will find him a room.”
But what they were trying to say to me was, “Why don’t you just pay for it?” meaning a hotel room outside the barracks, which would have cost me more than I had to spend at the time.
I said, “No, I cannot afford it and I’m not paying for it.” So they gave us a room with one large bed and a large couch. We went up there — and the staff sergeant, who was in his 20s, was angry — but we shared the room. He said, “Sir, I’m not sleeping in the bed; I’m sleeping on the couch.” And I said, “No, wait –” and he said, “I’m sleeping on the couch; thank you.” So he had an attitude, but we slept there.
The next morning, we got up early, caught a shuttle and drove 40 miles north of Seoul to Camp Casey, a U.S. military base in Dongducheon. When we arrived on base, there was no lodging there for a few of us. Everybody else got lodging on post. We were met by a few assigned soldiers in a van and driven off-post. Then they went and found a room for the staff sergeant and me in a Korean whorehouse.
Of course I didn’t realize what it was when we got there. I thought it was just lodging, but it was two miles from Camp Casey. We went in, and there were some long rubber curtains like a car wash. When you pulled your vehicle in, some flaps came up to cover your license plates, and all the windows were blacked out. I said, “OK, this is Korea; I’ve never been here, what is this?…”
When we walked up to the window, it was black, and there was a slot where you give them some money and they give you some keys. When you walked toward the elevator, there was a vending machine containing nothing but sexual devices. I had to stay there the whole time I was in Korea.
It was an elaborate room, but I didn’t want to sleep in the bed. I had to strip the bed down, spray it with all kinds of disinfectant, and put four or five comforters on top of it that I had to buy myself. I went to the PX on post, came back with a cab, and fixed up the room. I knew I had to be very careful and not say anything to anybody about it.
The staff sergeant didn’t say anything about the arrangements. In the morning, I found out that there were some civilians and three or four others in the building, too. Apparently, the commanders got barracks on post, but we had to live in these brothels.
After a couple of nights there, I noticed some Korean women, dressed up like prostitutes, knocking on my door and asking me if I wanted to be involved with them. I said, “OK, who’s trying to sell me?” and I told them, “No, don’t knock on my door.” I had to shoo them away and tell them, “Don’t come here.”
I was thinking that I was getting set up. There were some mornings that the shuttle didn’t show up, and I had to walk two miles through a town in Korea I didn’t know. I put on civilian clothes, a hat, and these folk saw a black man walking down the street. If anything had happened to me there, no one would have known. I got a satellite map and figured out how to get back to post. I went back and forth. It got to the point where I learned a little of the language and started speaking to people. On TV there was nothing but Korean s** and other things. I anticipated getting home and having someone say, “Mason was over there drinking and having s**.”
There was a Major who was Korean and black. His mom was Korean; his father was black. He and I got to talking between exercises, at the lodge where soldiers could hang out and have meals. By the time the colonel got word that Lt. Mason didn’t have money, the Army started putting money in my account. But it was late; it was already more than a week since I arrived. At that point I was taking money from my wife and children. So I started complaining, and all of a sudden, they started hopping and popping.
I was sitting at the table with the Major and something told me, “Don’t say too much while you’re here because you don’t know him.” He said, “So, Mason, why are you on this exercise?” and I said, “Because I was tasked.” He said, “You shouldn’t be here.” And I said, “Why not?” and he said, “Mason, you got scr***ed. Man, whatever you did, you stepped on somebody’s toes. I might get in trouble for telling you this…”
I said, “Who are you?” “I work for the commander at the 8th TSC, for Gen. Terry,” he replied. “I got this crazy assignment last week. General Terry called me and said he wanted all the locks changed at the 8th Theater Sustainment Command.”
“Was this last week?” I asked.
He said, “Yes, it was last week. I got called out of the blue, knowing I was to be assigned here, and I had to come and put new locks in all of his offices.”
I found myself thinking, “So they sent me away and then changed all the locks.” Then I got an email from the 8th TSC’s Public Affairs Office asking me, “Mason, do you have a key to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command?” and I said, “Yes, everybody in the PA office has a key. Why?” and he said, “We have to get those keys back.” And I said, “Well, I don’t have the key. When I get back, I’ll bring them to you.”
I didn’t know if it had to do with the ransacking of the office at 3/4 Cav. or if they thought I was some kind of maniac, but why did they send me here and send Major Parker to fill my billet? They were purposely kicking me off the island. You don’t send somebody on a temporary duty when they’re getting ready to deploy overseas in combat. Plus they never send you on orders tasked individually unless they give you a government card in situations like this.
I just scratched my head and said to the Major, “Really?” “You either got somebody mad or stepped on somebody’s toes,” the major said.
That prompted my first thought of “What are they doing here?” I was getting ready to leave for military training and didn’t know that they were plotting or planning…
I wondered if someone was going to do something to harm me to set me up for discharge from the military. The only person I had to talk to was Chaplain Lindsay, who I spoke with once I returned from Korea. He said, “God has you. We’re praying. You’re going to be fine.” He prayed for my family and me and said, “We have to get you out of this and into the Chaplain Corps. This stuff is getting bad.”
I didn’t know if he was telling the general, although I hoped so. I believed in his sincerity.
I ended up deploying to Afghanistan right after I graduated from PA training in June 2010. Before I deployed, Col. Perkuchin called me alone into a private conference room. I didn’t know I had indirectly met his younger brother, who was a major in the U.S. Army and a chaplain.
Col. Perkuchin sat down in front of me and said, “Capt. Mason, are you looking to pursue a career in the chaplaincy?” and I said, “Yes, I am.” And he said, “Why did you decide to go with Public Affairs?” and I told him, “Because it’s my background. That’s what I did in college.” He said, “Do you have a calling?” and I said, “Yes, but the only way I can do it is if I work and finish my last class or two so that I have the qualifications to be transferred into the Chaplain Corps.”
As we were talking, he said, “You should consider putting in your package to the Chaplain Corps.” I said, “Well, I keep getting deployed.” He was looking at me in a cool, even-handed manner. Finally, he said, “Your wife came down, talked to the general, and I understand some things happened…” and I said, “Well, Col., I had to do the right thing…” and he said, “Well, you probably should be a chaplain if you’re concerned about matters like this. That’s the work of a chaplain. I can’t say that what happened was true. Was there racism going on? Unfortunately things happen in the military that are very unsettling, and we have to do what we can to keep moving the force forward. If you feel that you had to do what you did to protect these guys, then you did what you had to do.”
Then he said, “I have one more question for you: Did you go down to the police department and file charges against Sgt. Maj. Manis?”
I didn’t think he knew about it, and I said, “I went down and asked for a copy of the police report I filed in Iraq.” He was trying to ask me if I was still trying to bring charges against Sgt. Maj. Manis. I didn’t answer that question. I said, “I’m trying to get the report to protect myself because I believe that Hodne and Manis are trying to damage my career and reputation. All I asked for was an apology and acknowledgement that they did what they did vs. hurting my career.”
I noticed the back of his neck and around his ears started getting red. If he were black, I wouldn’t have known that. He was being really cool, and I don’t know if what I said made him angry, but I said, “Col. Perkuchin, I had to get everything in writing because they’re trying to lie and destroy my career.”
He responded, “I supported you to help you get your OER; you got your rank…” In other words, he was trying to say, “Gary, are you going to move on or are you going to keep pursuing it?” and I said, “Col. Perkuchin, I’m already past it. The problem I’m having is that there are other people who I believe are suicidal or fearing for their safety. As a U.S. Army officer, I can’t turn my back on things like this that are happening within our ranks.”
He looked at me, and he said, “Gary, you’re going to have to drive on.” And I said, “Well, Col. Perkuchin, I’m going to drive on, but I’m still going to tell the truth.”
He stood up from the table, looked as if he was angry, did an about-face, and said, “OK.” Then he walked out. The bottom line was he wanted to know if I was down there trying to bring up charges against Sgt. Maj. Manis again. I wasn’t. I just wanted the report. I had told the military police that this man had assaulted me and no one had done anything about it. And unbeknownst to me at the time, my wife had even gone to the local police department to get restraining orders against the sergeant major who had assaulted me.