U.S. Army Veteran Shares Painful Experiences of Military Racism, Part 33

“JUST IN CASE SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED”

by Sharon Rondeau

Gary Mason, German weapons training (Schützenschnur), Afghanistan, 2011

(Sep. 1, 2019) — The following is former Army Captain Gary Mason’s continued narrative from Part 32.


I went to Afghanistan again; I hooked up with task forces, all of the elite Special Forces units from NATO. I worked with Italy, France, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, Britain, Germany and approximately 20 other nations.  I was working for a German Special Forces general then.  The thing that I can discuss is that I started filming HALO – high-altitude assaults in helicopters in the mountains of Afghanistan.  I was filming videos in English, Dari and Pashtun on how all of our special forces were training their special forces in how to fight against the Taliban.

At first, I was a little bit nervous, thinking that things could go mysteriously wrong working in environments that were off the grid.  But I prayed about it, God said ‘Go,’ and I took control.  There were 3-4 enlisted folk working for me.  The Kiwis (New Zealanders) were an awesome task force special unit.  Whenever they had HALO, we were 15,000 or 18,000 feet in the air in helicopters, and these guys were jumping out.  I was there filming, and they said, “You can do what you want in Special Forces.  This is not Big Army; this is off the charts; we work directly for the president now.”

I had a full beard; I wore some of the garb they wear there, because I was inserted into the community.  We didn’t want to be walking around looking like U.S. soldiers.  They were doing what they call nighttime kill-capture missions, so we would get a deck of cards, go in, do what we had to do, and get out.  This was during the time that Osama bin Laden was killed.  I wasn’t involved in that, but I was there during that particular mission.

I went in, and Gen. Petraeus was personally checking my videos, and he said, “This is awesome; great job.”  I got the Defense Meritorious Service medal.  In other words, while I was in combat, I was getting all these awards leading to promotion to Major.  I did some awesome things for the Special Forces community, and my OER was excellent.  We were all in the back rows and crevices of those towns in Afghanistan and doing a lot of things.  I was able to go there with different cameras and make training videos of all the things they were doing.

I flew in so many helicopters over beautiful snow-capped mountains. In the midst of all that chaos, I saw beauty.  Even with all that killing and fighting going on, it was as if God was saying, “While this is happening, I’m going to take care of you, no matter what.”

So, my relationship in Christ grew stronger while the folk in Hawaii were trying their best to find a way to get rid of me.  I accepted this individual WIAS task and said, “Let me go serve in whatever capacity and do the things in the military that some would never experience.”

I took that mission and did all these things and got a great OER. After I returned to Hawaii, I remember that I found out that Capt. Johnson, the one who wrote that email about me, and his wife were able to get him assigned to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command because he knew I wasn’t there. I remember they were very nervous when I got back and immediately told me I was going to be assigned to the 130th Engineer Brigade as their public affairs officer. They didn’t even have a billet on assignment for that.

I remember I went down to the 130th Engineer Brigade, and they said, “Mason, guess what?  This is just up the street from where you live on post. It’s more convenient for you, so go back down to Brigade and work there.”  It was 2-3 blocks away from 3/4 Cav. and I’d be on the other side of the base.

I went to report to the 130th Engineer Brigade, and the guy who was in charge there was Col. Jeffrey Milhorn. He’s now a general.  When I got there, I walked into an office, and I remember all the faces — everybody stopped, and they looked at me like, “Oh, no.”

I don’t know what they were told; I don’t know what they were briefed on.  I walked in and met two Majors:  Maj. Staiano and a guy named Major Acker.  Now guess what this was again?  An S-3, the training operations department, and I said, “No, you didn’t put me right back in an S-3.”  And they said, “We don’t have a desk for you.”  A public affairs officer should have an office with a desk or something.  They said, “Well, you can share a desk with this sergeant; he’s going to be leaving soon.”  And I said, “That’s an open area.  I need a cubicle or personal desk so that I can store equipment and work on stories,” and they said, “Don’t worry about that; we’ll just get you caught up on things as we get started.”

They didn’t know I had medical appointments to go to. I gave them a complete list of all the things I needed to do medically for Tripler because they wanted to run more tests again.  I told them I had mandatory dates and asked them for their mandatory dates so that I could set what I could do for them as a Public Affairs officer until I met with Col. Milhorn, the commander, to in-process with the unit.

I noticed immediately that these guys didn’t like me.  They were kind-of snarling, like, “Who are you? Why are you here?”  They didn’t want to give me all the details of what they were doing.  This was an engineering brigade; I was an infantry guy.  There’s an ongoing thing where a lot of combat engineers really want to be infantry, but they’re not, and they have a “complex” about it.  That was the last thing on my mind; I was trying to hold on to transfer; I didn’t care about their engineer-and-combat stuff at this point.  I was grateful to be home and ready to transition into the Chaplain Corps.  I had been to combat, come home and was thankful to be back.

I wanted to do my time and transfer out of Hawaii. I wanted to bring my gifts and talents to make them look good so I could get another great OER to secure my promotion to Major.  I wasn’t thinking about them now.

One day I was at a doctor’s appointment, and all of a sudden, I heard the Major say, “Mason, you need to come back to the brigade immediately.”  I was in my PT (physical training) shorts, PT shirt and tennis shoes, and I had my folders in my hand.  I walked into the front of the lobby area of the 130th Brigade, and they were getting ready to have a commander’s update briefing.

The Majors did not tell the Brigade Commander, Col. Milhorn, that I had a calendar event where I was going to be at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.  I walked in, and he walked up to me and said, and pardon my expression, “Where the f*** have you been?” in front of everybody.  There had to be 20-30 people standing there.

I’m the new guy to the unit; he’s never personally met me.  He’s the commander, a full-bird colonel. I looked at him, and I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Stand at parade rest; get your hands behind your back now!” and I said, “Hold up; is there a problem?” He said, “You better stand at parade rest when I’m talking to you right now!”  Now he was yelling at me to the point where he was in my face, almost to the point where I could feel the spit from his mouth.

I backed up and placed one foot behind the other. I placed my left hand behind my back, and he said, “I said parade rest.” And I said, “Sir, first of all, you’re making threatening gestures toward me, and you’re jumping in my face and you don’t know me.”  And he yelled back, “I know who you are — you’re not going to come down here with this s***!”

I said, “You know what?  There must be a mistake. I don’t belong here.  I’ll go right back to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command.”  And he said, “No, you won’t.  You will follow me now.”  So the two majors, Acker and Staiano, were standing there.  They obviously intentionally didn’t tell Col. Milhorn where I had to be.

So guess what he did? He walked over to the chaplain sitting in his office and said, “Hey, Chaplain, I need to use your office; get out of here.”  So he kicked the chaplain out of his office, made me walk in, came behind me with Staiano and Acker.  He shut the door behind me and commenced to give me a military butt-chewing.

My stress level started going up.  I had just gotten back from a tough deployment.  He closed the door. Immediately I started feeling claustrophobic.  I said, “Hey, sir, you need to open the door now because you’re concerning me; you’re making me claustrophobic.”  And he said, “You need to shut the h*** up when I’m talking to you.  When I’m talking, you will listen!”

I threw my folders down on the floor and said, “I need to get out of this room because I’m feeling uncomfortable.  You’re screaming and hollering at me, but both Major Acker and Maj. Staiano knew I had a medical appointment because of my post-deployment health risk assessment.”

Immediately he shut his mouth, and he turned and looked at them, and he said, “What?” I said, “I was called by the surgeon and the doctors to come to the hospital, and both Staiano and Acker know that.” And he said, “They didn’t tell me that.”  I said, “Well, sir, this is what I’ve been doing.”  And he said, “Do you have an email?” and I said, “Yes, sir, I do.” He said, “Can you get those emails for me?”

At this point, he was pointing at my shirt.  I had the 130th Brigade shirt on.  He said, “That’s my unit; that’s my brigade!”  I pulled the shirt out of my pants as if I was getting ready to take it off.  I was getting ready to give him back the shirt and say, “Hey, look, keep your brigade; I’ll walk out of here bare-chested.”  And I was feeling as if, “I don’t want any part of this unit.”

He saw me pulling my shirt out.  So of course the two Majors were sitting there thinking, “Hey, this guy’s really disrespectful; he’s challenging the colonel.”

My heart rate went up; my blood pressure rose.  I left the office, went in and pulled up all the emails I forwarded to the Majors with the dates. I emailed them to him and also got copies of them.  I probably still have them.  Then somebody came down and said, “Major Staiano says the colonel wants to see you up in his office.”  He was stuttering and obviously very nervous.

So, I walked up there to Col. Milhorn’s office.  I was thinking, “I’m resigning this post; I’m going back to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command because this isn’t going to work.”

I said a prayer and walked into his office.  Do you know what he did?  He walked up to me like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and he shook my hand and said, “Captain Mason, I want to apologize to you.”  And I thought, “Is this man crazy? You just cursed me out in front of your whole brigade.”

He said, “Have a seat,” and I said, “No, I can’t sit down.” I kept my mouth shut. He said, “Captain Mason, I need you to forgive me. I made a mistake.” I was slowly trying to come down from my adrenaline rush, and I said, “Col. Milhorn, you don’t know what I’ve been through. You just jumped all over me, in my face, and cursed me out, up and down, in front of everybody.”  Guess what he said?  He said, “Captain Mason, I owe you an apology.  I don’t know what’s going on; I don’t know why you’re here, but I need you to explain to me what is going on with you.”

And I looked at him and said, “Hold up, Col. Milhorn; why don’t you tell me what’s going on with me? Obviously, you know something.”  And he said, “Mason, can we just start over again?  Can you forget about everything that happened?” I said, “Sir, I’m trying to get beyond that,” and he said, “Mason, I’m sorry.”  He was then the most gentle person; you would think he was like a child.  “I was misinformed,” he said.  I said, “Col. Milhorn, you cannot jump on people like that. Why didn’t you just ask me?”

So now he was sitting down behind his desk, and I felt comfortable enough to sit down.  I said, “Col. Milhorn, obviously you have been told something.  I need you to tell me the truth.  Please don’t play me in this fashion.  You need to tell me what you know.”

He said, “Capt. Mason, look around my office.  See all these flags, all these certificates and awards?  I worked hard for that. I don’t know why the 8th Theater Sustainment Command and the commanders’ group sent you down here, but I’m just going to tell you:  I was told that you were a troublemaker.

“We don’t even need a public affairs officer, but we were told we were getting one.  Bottom line is you have all this baggage and they decided to send you here.

“So, look, I don’t know how long you have; I understand you have only one year left.  I’m not trying to get caught up in all that stuff that went on…”

He must have been briefed on what happened with Hodne, but then he wanted to be nosy.  I said, “Well, Col. Milhorn, none of this stuff that you’re hearing is the truth.  Wouldn’t you want to hear the whole story before judging me like that?”

And he said, “Well, Capt. Mason, 8th Theater Sustainment called down here and told me that you are disrespectful, that you do what you want to do, that you don’t listen…” and I said, “Well, Col. Milhorn, do you know that I just came back from downrange?  Do you want to see my last two officer evaluations? Why don’t you look at my evaluations and look what I’ve done?  I was on Special Forces missions and worked for Gen. Petraeus and Gen. McChrystal.  They evaluated me at the top of my class, so what are you talking about?”

And he said, “Capt. Mason, I want to know if we can start over again; can we start with a clean slate?” and I said, “Col. Milhorn, my billet belongs to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command; I shouldn’t even be down here.  If you will allow me to do my public affairs tasks and help this unit, I will, but I’m not going to be in a position where people are going around talking about me saying things that aren’t true.  I’ve been called ‘n*****; I’ve been assaulted; people are refusing to give me due process.  All these things are wrong and illegal; that’s what’s happened to me.  Now they’re trying to cover it up, so I’m being sent down here to you.”

He said, “Well, look, Capt. Mason, you have a clean slate with me.  Can we start over?  Wherever you can help me, help me.”

What he failed to realize was that when we were in Korea, I went and briefed him and interviewed him as a public affairs officer.  And he remembered that and said, “Well, you did do a good job in Korea.”  I said, “Sir, you don’t have to remind me about what happened in Korea. I’m here to serve God, to serve my country, and I’m here to do a job as a public affairs officer, and I need an office to do my job. That’s all I ask. Let me do my job.”

And he said, “Agreed.  I’m sorry, but we don’t have anything to do with all that stuff that went on.  Can we just move forward?”  So, he stood up and shook my hand and said, “The brigade is waiting for me.  I want you to sit in so I can introduce you.”

So, we went downstairs, we walked in, and there were approximately 300 personnel sitting in a large conference room. He walked to the front; I was standing at the door.  I didn’t even go all the way in.  They were all in uniform; I was in my PTs.  And he said, “130th, I want to introduce to you Captain Mason.  This guy is an awesome guy; he’s a great public affairs officer. He’s going to be here; whatever he needs from you, I want you to take care of him.”  So after he cursed me out in front of them, he was praising me!

After that, I went home and wrote it up as a memorandum of record just in case something else happened.

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