U.S. Army Veteran Shares Painful Experiences of Military Racism, Part 29


by Sharon Rondeau

Main Chapel, Bagram Air Force Base, Afghanistan

(Jul. 5, 2019) — Our previous installment in this series detailed former U.S. Army Capt. Gary Mason’s successful ordination as a military chaplain, obtained after more than seven years of combined full- and part-time study amidst overseas deployments, Public Affairs school, and full-time service in Public Affairs in Hawaii and Afghanistan.

Close on the heels of that achievement, however, were two recurrences in Afghanistan of an allergic reaction he first experienced while deployed to Iraq caused by fumes from a burn pit, now known to have sickened many service members who served in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2010, following several other overseas deployments, each without his unit, Mason was sent to Kabul Province, Afghanistan, where he came to train enlisted soldiers in public affairs with a focus on daily life in the war-torn nation, once the home and plotting-ground to the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden.

As a result of the return of his severe allergic reaction, Mason told The Post & Email, the medic who examined him determined he must be medivaced out of Afghanistan to the U.S. military hospital complex in Landstuhl, Germany for examination.  However, in another strange twist in his story, Mason was instead sent to Ft. Benning, GA, where yet another bizarre set of circumstances awaited him.

His story continues:

They didn’t send me to Landstuhl.  The medic did something strange; he put me on a manifest, and he used the term “life-threatening disease” in the paperwork. Then he had me redeployed back to Hawaii.  So he put me on orders, but they didn’t medivac me.  Instead, they put me on a flight with a big bag of medicine and they sent me right back through CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) in Ft. Benning, GA.

So, when I got to Ft. Benning, they said, “They medivaced you back, but why did they medivac you here? We’re going to send you to the hospital so you can get approved to go back, because you look fine now.”

It’s true; I had healed, and the reaction had gone away again.  And they told me, “We’re going to send you up to Ft. Benning’s hospital to have you get seen by an allergist.” So I went to Ft. Benning and the doctor saw me and said, “First of all, with you having this condition, I don’t know why they would redeploy you downrange to an austere environment.  To me, it doesn’t make sense.  I don’t know if you want to stay in the military or get out, but you’ll have to go through some allergy testing to determine if you can stay in.”

And I said, “Well, I’ve already been through that and been given medications and appropriate environments.  I was told I was already approved to stay in because other people have my condition.” He replied, “You’re right.  I’m going to get in contact with the doctors in Hawaii.”

He got on the phone to Tripler Army Medical Center and talked to the allergist there, who said, “Captain Mason is back downrange again?  He was just downrange.” Normally you can’t send someone to redeploy within a year; you have to give them a break.

The Ft. Benning physician said, “My recommendation is that he come back to you and go through further testing. He’s fine now; he’s stabilized, but we would not recommend him going back to Afghanistan until he returns to his home base command and hospital and gets cleared from there.”

So I went back to CONUS Replacement at Ft. Benning, where they made the flight and the manifest to send me from Atlanta to either Texas or California and then straight back to Honolulu International Airport.  But when they looked at my orders, they said, “Sir, we cannot pay for a flight for you to go home.”  And I said, “What are you talking about?  I’m on deployment orders.”  And he said, “No, you’re not.”  I said, “What do you mean I’m not?” and he said,  “These orders were not approved. You don’t have an official stamp with a billet code.  Someone typed up these orders, but your command in Hawaii never approved them.”

He then showed me the orders and said, “This is what orders should look like.  On the back page, there’s supposed to be an official stamp.  Your orders don’t have a stamp on them.”

I said, “Well, how did they send me from Hawaii all the way to Afghanistan?” and he said, “Because when you come here, we’re not checking for that.  They sent you, but they weren’t intending for you to return.”

I had no clue how orders are put together.  All I knew is that on the front page, it told me who I’m being assigned to:  US Forces Afghanistan, and for how long, my date of arrival and date of return, and which command I fall under when I get there. That was it.

And he said, “Capt. Mason, you are not on any official government orders; the military is not going to pay for you to fly back to Hawaii. If you want to go back to Hawaii, you’ll have to purchase your own flight.”

I said, “No way!” and they started laughing.  Then they said, “Well, because you’re in the military, you can stay here.”

So I said, “What do you mean, ‘stay here?'” and they said, “You’re more than welcome to stay in those barracks with your full bags and weapons until they figure this out.”

I got on the phone and called back to my Public Affairs office in Hawaii. There was a civilian employee there, a young lady, and I asked her, “What is going on?  How am I being deployed here?” and she said, “Capt. Mason, I don’t know what they’re doing or what’s going on, but there are a lot of fishy things happening.”

I said, “I was individually tasked, and I don’t understand how I’m here and I wasn’t given an official set of orders.  I want to talk to Lt. Col. Garner,” who was my supervisor.  “He should know what’s going on.” And she said, “Lt. Col. Garner is getting ready to retire.”  And I said, “What do you mean he’s getting ready to retire?” and she said, “By the way, we have a new major up here from the 8th military police department who basically just took your job.” And I said, “What are you talking about?”  She said, “They have pretty-much officially put Major Parker in your billet.” I said, “They can’t do that.  When I come back, that’s my billet.”  And she said, “Gary, right now, you’re individually tasked to be someplace else…” and I said, “That’s temporarily.  When I come back, they’re supposed to give it back to me.”

Gary Mason, Public Affairs office photo, Afghanistan, 2010

She said, “It’s really a mess around here; you wouldn’t recognize the place.  It’s disorganized; there’s a lot of stuff going on.”  And I said, “Can you tell him I need official orders to come home?” and she said, “Well, he’s out. He’s put in for terminal leave.”  So I said, “Well, who is supposed to handle this?”  Then I said, “Never mind; I’ll find out.”

So I got off the phone and called my wife and told her what was going on.  At that time, she had a job working at the Soldiers’ Support Center and knew the chief, who was in charge of all the deployments, papers, and orders.  I remember she was shocked when I told her what happened, and she was thinking, “Maybe someone didn’t intend for you to return home.”  And I was thinking, “How did I get mixed up in this administrative mess?”  How could you send a service member with an SSN who’s a captain — and I’m not saying it’s right to put a private through this — downrange on combat orders and you don’t know where I am, what I’m doing, or who I’m assigned to?”

So I began to become a bit bothered by all of this.


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