U.S. Army Veteran Shares Painful Experiences of Military Racism, Part 30

“YOU WEREN’T ON ANYBODY’S RADAR”

by Sharon Rondeau

Gary Mason, firing range, Afghanistan, 2010

(Jul. 14, 2019) — In our last segment, Capt. Gary Mason told of how he was returned to the United States for the second time as a result of having suffered an allergic reaction from exposure to a burn pit, this time in Afghanistan. After his face swelled up severely, Mason said, the medic he saw in Kabul described his condition as “life-threatening,” with the need for an immediate medivac and emergency treatment.

Curiously, instead of being flown to the U.S. military medical facility at Landstuhl, Germany, which he was initially told was his destination, he was sent to Fort Benning, GA, then the Army’s CONUS Replacement Center (CRC).

After arriving, Mason was told that his orders were never officially approved, rendering him unable to complete the trip back to Hawaii and his family, from whom he had been separated for six months.  “If you want to go back to Hawaii, you’ll have to purchase your own flight,” Mason said he was informed.

Since writing a letter to the command of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command about concerns he had for others in his former unit, 3/4 Cav., Mason was sent on numerous individual assignments, each time into bizarre circumstances. In South Korea, he and an enlisted soldier were forced to sleep at a brothel rather than at standard Army barracks, and his deployment to Afghanistan on another solo assignment was arranged shortly after his return without the customary “R&R” period.

Mason said his individual assignments were generated from his inclusion in “WIAS,” which stands for “worldwide individual augmentation system.”  “That means, ‘Future assignment to be determined,'” Mason told The Post & Email.  “A lot of times they would send people on WIAS orders until they determined where to send them next. When you want to put someone in a state of limbo, your assignment manager just has you out there, floating around, with no real identifier, no key billet.  So, when you get hooked up in the WIAS system, it’s almost like being tossed into a washer.  That’s what happened to me.”

The unit in Afghanistan where he was deployed was unprepared for his arrival, Mason recalled.  With training in both civilian media and military Public Affairs, he nevertheless adjusted to constantly-changing duties, including purchasing supplies and interacting with native Afghans for press stories as conflicts continued to erupt in the war-torn country.

Mason ultimately found a niche in training enlisted soldiers in Public Affairs.  With mentoring from a “full-bird” colonel, Mason excelled and earned a superior Officer Evaluation Report (OER) with the anticipation of an eventual promotion to Major.  Concurrently, he completed his coursework for his long-term goal of ordination into the military chaplaincy, thereby returning stateside as a full U.S. Army chaplain.

While still at Fort Benning, Mason learned that his Public Affairs post had been filled by a Maj. Parker under what again appeared to be unusual circumstances.

It was Mason’s wife who was ultimately able to assist in the production of orders allowing him to return to Hawaii, Mason said. Having been employed at the Soldier Support Center, she approached the director in charge, who fortunately possessed authority to issue orders and quickly intervened.

After arriving home to what he thought would be a 30-day R&R, Mason was unexpectedly confronted with yet another unusual situation which he perceived as highly discrediting to his command, the Army and the Pentagon as a whole.

Explaining the extraordinary situation he immediately faced, Mason told us:

Now I was shocked. “This can’t be what’s going on,” I thought.  You can imagine the stress level.  I’ve never heard of this before.  I didn’t understand how people could do this.  So my wife said, “Gary, don’t worry; I got it.”  So she went and talked to the chief at the Soldier Support Center and explained to him what was going on; she was a very good employee.  The chief said, “Don’t worry about this; I got it.  Somebody messed up terribly, and I have the authority to cut orders.  I’m going to cut your husband a set of orders, and he’ll be home soon.”

The people at the CONUS Replacement Center were very nice — they told me I could have anything I wanted to eat at no charge — but I was stuck there on a big compound with four duffel bags, in uniform, and basically couldn’t go anywhere, in administrative limbo.  About a week later, someone called me and said, “Mason, come on down to the office; we got you a set of orders and a flight back to Hawaii.  If I had not had the Chief of Military Personnel develop a set of orders for me, who knows how long I would have been sitting there again?

I was under the impression that they were trying to stall and delay to keep me off the island, out of sight, out of mind.  “By the time he gets his bearings, it’s going to be time for him to deploy out of here anyway.  We don’t have to give him a good OER; he’s been promoted to Captain, so let’s send him somewhere else with his baggage and set of problems.”  So when I flew back in, guess what I was told?  The 8th Theater Sustainment Command told me, “You need to report; we’re in the middle of a Pacific operation. We’re not going to send you to Japan or Korea this time, but you’re going to show up and work the night shift and brief Gen. Terry on what’s happening in the operation.”

Now I didn’t know what they’d been doing because I’d been gone for six months. The general was down in a war room in a classified operations area.  They had a big jumbo-tron where everybody in the U.S., Japan, and Korea were tuning in.  There could have been hundreds.  There was a podium where anyone who had to address the generals would speak.  I printed out the operation orders on my own; a couple of hours before, I read up on what was going on in the Pacific and came up with media command information about the last 40 hours and what we projected for the next 24 hours. I was able to put something together, and it didn’t have to be more than a 30-second-to-one-minute brief.  But I had to have situational awareness of what was going on in this operation that I wasn’t a part of; I’d just come back from being medivaced from downrange.

I remember there were about 200 people sitting at computerized desks looking at the big jumbo-tron, and Gen. Terry was sitting right there in the middle at his desk.  When I walked in, a lot of people were looking at me like, “Is that Capt. Mason?”  I entered the room, and sure enough, the slide popped up on the jumbo-tron, “PAO.”  Now, why wasn’t Major Parker down there doing it?  Because he didn’t want to work the night shift; so guess who works the night shift?  Captain Mason.

Normally when you return, you’re supposed to get 30 days of R&R.  Not for me.  I had to get back, and I had to report. When I walked in there, I stepped up to the podium and said, “Captain Mason, Public Affairs, Reports.”  All of a sudden, you could hear a pin drop.  I will always remember this.  In the middle of the operation, Gen. Terry turned around and said, “Capt. Mason, when did you get here?”

This is in the middle of an operation; that’s not what I came to brief. We were live, all across the Pacific.  So everybody had confused looks on their faces.  I looked at him and said, “Gen. Terry, I flew in two nights ago. I’ve been gone for six months.”  And you know what he did?  He just looked at me, dropped his head and turned around.  Then he said, “Continue.”

These were generals, colonels, military commanders in Korea, throughout the whole Pacific, and maybe someone out of the Pentagon.  There were hundreds of people joining this session because it was an operation we were conducting in Japan or Korea; I can’t recall now which one.

When he turned around and looked at me, he was shocked, as if to say, “Where have you been?”  When I stood there, I briefed, and I said, “That concludes my report.”  I sat down, and immediately he had an aide-de-camp, an African-American major, who slowly walked up, knelt down on one side of me, and said, “Capt. Mason, when we get a chance, we’re going to have to talk.”  And I said, “I’m sure.”  And he said, “Capt. Mason, you weren’t on anybody’s radar; nobody knew where you were.”

Grenade training, Afghanistan, 2010

In other words, they knew I was in Afghanistan, but nobody knew what I was doing because these “assignments” were not legit.  They knew this was highly irregular and someone was playing games with my career.  This became very problematic.

And even though I was on a WIAS task, my wife was still a member of that command, and the family readiness group would have been expected to reach out to my wife, provide her with updates, and invite her to gatherings.  My wife received one call on Christmas night to invite her to a party that evening.  No one gave her updates on where I was or what I was doing.  They’re supposed to do it; it’s standard military operating procedure.

The good thing is that every now and then I was able to get a phone call through to her, send a letter or an email to her, so she knew I was OK. But my unit and that entire command did nothing to support my family while I was away.  They’re always supposed to keep the family informed.  That was like a slap in our face.

The aide-de-camp said, “No one even knew you were here.”  When you come with your whole command, there’s a redeployment ceremony. But of course, I’m an individual.  No one was there to greet me; no one was there to say, ‘Welcome back.’ No one said a thing. In other words, business as usual:  he’s back.  No one said anything; no one did anything.  Here I had received a great OER; ‘Promote immediately,’ and I’m medivaced back for ‘life-threatening’ conditions.  No one had a clue, asked me about my concerns, nothing.  All I was asked by Gen. Terry was, “When did you get here?”

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