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“IT GOT NASTIER AND NASTIER”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 5, 2019) — In Part 33, former U.S. Army Captain Gary Mason recounted his composition of a memorandum for his records after he became the target of an unwarranted and shocking verbal dressing-down by then-Col. Jeffrey Milhorn of the 130th Engineer Brigade.
Mason was assigned to the Brigade by the 8th Theater Sustainment Command after returning from his second deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, with Milhorn confronting him about an absence which was medically-excused but of which Milhorn had not been informed by his underlings.
Milhorn is now a Major General and in July of last year assumed leadership of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division.
After the unpleasant encounter, upon Milhorn’s request, Mason provided the emails he had exchanged with Tripler Army Medical Center to schedule the post-deployment appointments, after which he said Milhorn showed “childlike” contriteness, apologized, and later warmly introduced him to the 130th Engineer Brigade.
Milhorn admitted to Mason later that he was informed Mason was “a troublemaker.”
Beginning in 2000, Mason’s military career was multi-faceted and constantly changing as a result of his initial three years in the Infantry, then pursuit of his Master’s Degree in Divinity as a military chaplain candidate. Concurrent with his return to active-duty status in 2008, Mason worked to complete the last courses he would need for his ordination, which occurred while he was deployed as a Public Affairs officer in Afghanistan.
While in Iraq and Afghanistan for the first time, Mason suffered an allergic reaction requiring immediate medical attention and resulting in his ultimate removal from the war zone.
As related earlier, Mason observed racism and sexism shortly after arriving in Iraq in the fall of 2008 with the 3/4 Cav. unit. Just before returning to Hawaii for further medical testing, he took the opportunity to raise the issue with then-Lt. Col. David Hodne, the unit commander, in a private meeting, attributing the apparent lack of discipline to Hodne’s “leadership” or lack thereof.
Hodne is now a Brigadier General, where he is Infantry School Commandant of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Ft. Benning, GA.
While deployed to Iraq, Mason, then a 1st Lieutenant, was assaulted by an enlisted soldier who Hodne failed to discipline. The penalty for an assault by an enlisted person against an officer can be severe, but Mason said he was seeking only acknowledgment of the incident by the command and an apology from the soldier himself. He discussed that issue, too, with Hodne during their face-to-face meeting at Camp Anaconda.
Returning to Hawaii in late 2008, Mason was soon thereafter deemed fit for military service while at the same time, the doctor who examined him obliquely acknowledged what appeared to be pressure from the command to end his career. Just prior to his departure for Hawaii, Mason had acquired an email from Hodne’s assistant demonstrating Hodne’s intent to expel him from the Army, if not the military altogether.
Mason chose to remain in service and was subsequently sent on several missions under bizarre circumstances.
Determined to make his way in the Army and eventually become a chaplain, Mason pursued an opportunity of which he learned in Japan to enter the Public Affairs division of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command in Hawaii. In June 2009 he was interviewed for the position and began the job on July 1 with a fresh outlook and new energy for what lay ahead.
Not long afterward, in the course of his duties, Mason was assigned to cover the official return of 3/4 Cav. from Iraq. Although Hodne declined to be interviewed, Mason recalled, he was cordial, and Mason was warmly greeted by his former fellow soldiers-in-arms. Unexpectedly, however, several related similar “downrange” experiences to his own involving assault by the same enlisted soldier with the same result. Upon questioning, one soldier refused to deny that he was feeling “suicidal,” Mason said.
Concerned for the soldiers’ well-being, Mason wrote a letter to the chain of command of the 25th Infantry Division, which contained both the 8th Theater and 3/4 Cav. While he did not receive a direct response, he believes the assignments he was subsequently given stemmed from unnamed senior leaders’ desire to retaliate.
During the interview for this section, Mason pointed out the connection between his military experience and that of a soldier whose story The Post & Email related between June 2017 and April of this year. Mason and the soldier met at Ft. Lee, VA in 2014, after the soldier was sent stateside from his deployment to South Korea. The soldier had reported alleged wrongdoing on the part of his chain of command, after which the Army began to mount a case for his medical discharge. The nexus will be brought into clearer focus in future installments.
“I want people to know the truth,” Mason said in regard to his experience, which ended precipitately after 15 years of service. Prior to contacting The Post & Email, Mason said he contacted CNN, The Washington Post, and TIME Magazine, none of which chose to run the story.
Mason is currently chaplain to a local police department and is working on his Ph.D. dissertation on the theme of “Unconditional Love is the Anecdote to Racism in the US Army.”
Mason’s story continues at the point where he and Milhorn made their peace.
It was Thanksgiving 2011, and I was asked to come and take pictures of the Brigade’s Thanksgiving dinner and festival at the dining facility. I first responded, “Well, I had planned on being home with my family,” because I was on leave. But they said, “We could really use your help,” so I went over and made an awesome video for them. I started doing things for them that they had never had done before. But at the same time, because I was still waiting to see if the soldier who assaulted me would be held accountable, I decided to file an EO complaint against the 25th Infantry Division because Sgt. XXXXXXX was feeling as if his life was being threatened because he was a witness to what happened to me downrange.
Because I filed that EO complaint at the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, they were burning hot and now were trying to use the 130th Engineer Brigade as a weapon to punish me. The 130th Brigade didn’t want to be in that relationship. They really didn’t want me there and didn’t even give me a desk. For everything I did in the field of Public Affairs, I had to work with no place to sit or a staff office. I went down to TV2, an independent media unit with all civilians. I went in and met the senior manager there, who said, “Hey, Gary, you have a place here because you helped us shoot some of our stuff. Why don’t you just make this your booth?”
So I sent an email to the Brigade and said that I needed to be at TV2 since they had an office for me. They were kind-of shocked; they were thinking they were going to babysit me and just keep their eyes on me. But they knew that in order for me to do my job, I had to go to TV2. I established an office there and started working.
While serving as a non-billeted PAO for the 130th Engineer Brigade, some still found ways to denigrate my time while at the unit. After I filed the EO complaint with the 8th TSC, all of my military awards that were sent up were denied and I began to receive threatening phone calls from supervisors. When it was time for me to request my Officer Evaluation Report, both the 8th TSC and the 130th refused to counsel me or prepare my final evaluation.
It got nastier and nastier until I had to file a Congressional.