“OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Nov. 12, 2019) — In Part 34 of this series, former U.S. Army Captain Gary Mason described the circumstances which led him to request a congressional investigation into treatment he experienced while serving as a Public Affairs officer for the 130th Engineer Brigade in Hawaii in late 2011.
He made the request of Sen. Mazie Hirono’s office, which was responsive to his complaint, he said. Hirono is the junior U.S. Senator representing the State of Hawaii, where Mason was based at the time within the 8th Theater Sustainment Command of the 25th Infantry Division.
Mason’s military career began in 2000 as an infantryman. While in Iraq in 2008 as a 1st Lieutenant, he was surprised to witness overt racism and sexism within his assigned unit, 3/4 Cav., under then-Lt. Col. David Hodne.
After several weeks of serving as night-shift Battle Captain in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, Mason was assaulted by an enlisted soldier without any consequences for the perpetrator. He would later meet with Hodne about the matter, and, according to an email sent by Hodne’s assistant, Hodne sought to retaliate by not only ordering Mason’s return to Hawaii, but also his prospective dismissal from the service premised on an allergic reaction he suffered, a reason Army Tripler Medical Center physicians found did not necessitate discharge.
When the entire 3/4 Cav. unit returned from Iraq the following year, Mason was told of similar incidents naming the same perpetrator with the same reported lack of response by Hodne. One soldier who Mason feared could be “suicidal” prompted him to write a letter of concern to his chain of command, a decision he believes resulted in further retaliation which worsened over time.
Redirecting his career path in the field of Public Affairs for the 8th TSC, Mason nevertheless continued to be deployed on individual assignments in non-conforming situations, including to Japan in 2009; South Korea in 2010 and a deployment later that year to Afghanistan without official orders, a fact he did not discover until returning stateside.
Mason found that while his performance was valued and rewarded overseas, the command structure in Hawaii was attempting to marginalize him to eventually end his career.
In Part 34, Mason explained that he filed “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.” At the time, the 8th TSC had temporarily assigned him to the 130th Engineer Brigade, which added to Mason’s growing feelings of unease.
“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,” Mason told us. “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.”
To that point, Mason said he did not attribute the treatment he experienced specifically to “racism.” “I was still in denial and thought I had just come across some bad folk,” he told us in a recent interview. “I did not know the culture, and the culture is, once they identify a threat to the command which could hurt a key leader, they then begin an administrative process and a behind-closed-door assessment of how they can remove this “problem.” Whatever they can do, they’d much rather eliminate the problem than correct the toxic leadership.”
His story continues:
Eventually I had to accept what was hard for me to believe, and now looking back at it, I can say that this was a major factor in what happened to me. I saw another soldier’s situation, a Latino man who had just been raped, and what really struck me is when I met the soldier whose case you covered a couple of years ago and saw what was happening with him. At that point, I started seeing Dr. Gilbert, my psychologist at Walter Reed, and began to realize I was in denial.
I was a bit naïve about the system of the chain of command and thought that when I came to the military, everything they said was all above-board; you could just get on board, “Be all you can be,” “Army of One.” You bought into the advertisement. In any organization, clinic, company, job, career, school, these things happen. In my heart, I think when you enter into the uniformed armed services, there is a camaraderie that’s built; you go through a lot of hardships, strenuous training; you go to combat together; you lose people. You love people; you hurt, you cry; there’s this bond that grows, and you don’t want to be the one to expose something nasty that’s going on in an organization in which you’ve spent so much time, and then you feel guilty for being the one. Just to have the term “whistleblower” attached to your name in any way can be dangerous, depressing. Initially you feel free because you’re getting things off your chest, but all of a sudden, you start getting attacked. You’re verbally threatened, your life is threatened. All of a sudden, no one wants to talk to you, and they isolate you. Some people become suicidal or homicidal. You get beaten up on for being a whistleblower, and that can be the worst feeling in a person’s life when you’re going through it.
I was moved down a whole echelon from a one-star general command down to a full-bird colonel command to the “brigade” level at the 130th.
The S-1 is the personnel officer; S-2 is the intelligence officer; S-3 is the training officer; S-4 is supplies. At the general’s level, it was the G-1. The G-1 was the personnel officer who tracked all of the billets. There are assigned billets that you’re supposed to receive when you come into a particular organization in the military wherever you get placed, on the company level, battalion level, brigade or command level. I was on the command level, and the G-1 was supposed to be tracking my career. Whenever I was supposed to get moved or get a job, I would have to reach out to the Human Resources Command (HRC), a component of the Pentagon. HRC used to be in Alexandria, VA, which was not too far from the Pentagon; it’s now located in St. Louis.
HRC deals with placing everyone in the military in a billeted position. In order to get promoted, you must have fulfilled all the elements of your billeted position.
When I was downrange in Afghanistan, there was a full-bird colonel working in the Public Affairs office under Adm. Smith. He was the one-star general who was responsible for Gen. McChrystal before Gen. McChrystal stepped down as the four-star general for the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Kabul. A particular colonel, an African-American, began to understand what was going on with me back home, and he said, “You’re kind-of flapping in the wind, and I want to bring you in and get you on your career path.”
At the time, I was doing an overseas NATO assignment, which is good to have in your officer personnel file. One of your packets goes up to Human Resources Command or the Pentagon, and when they’re getting ready to choose the next promotions, you will already have checked the box and worked in all of these key-and-development positions.
At the time he started to talk to me, I had already received two great “promote-to-Major-now” Officer Evaluation Reports. Col. Hodne didn’t give me a good one; the OER he gave me was kind-of “center mass,” meaning, “He did his job.”
Despite those top-notch OERs from downrange, when I left Afghanistan and returned to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, the first thing I saw in my file was an “AWOL.” And I thought, “Why is there an AWOL in my file?” I was already somewhat concerned about what was going on administratively. Now, someone was trying to sabotage my career and get me locked up. When I went to the records personnel on post, they apologized and said it was a “mistake.”
One day not long after my return my first tour in Afghanistan, I was working in an office, and an African-American major working for Gen. Terry shared with me that I wasn’t being tracked when I was downrange, and he asked if he could talk to me privately. In other words, he didn’t want to be the one telling me that what they were doing wasn’t right.
There had already been a Major when I was in Korea telling me that I shouldn’t have been there. He said they were doing things administratively to me that they shouldn’t have been doing. Majors were the next rank above me; they both were African-American and didn’t like what they were seeing. However, they weren’t willing to put their name to what they were saying. I felt as if I was on the Underground Railroad; they wanted to help me, but they didn’t want other people to know they were helping me.
What they were telling me was that they were going to command-and-staff meetings where my complaints were being sent up the chain of command. So the complaints were being heard, but they just happened to be privy in the meetings, because they were command staff. The one thing they did not want to do was to allow the information from those meetings to get out to me. They knew that I was the type of person, if I found out about it, who would go up the chain of command and say, “This is exactly what I mean. ” They already had discounted what was going on down a level at the 25th Infantry Division. They were upset. They didn’t like what was going on, what I was exposing about Col. Hodne and the assault; they removed the police report; they didn’t want to charge Sgt. Major Manis. They were really upset that they had moved me to command-and-staff. They never knew this was coming. Obviously they wanted me out of the unit because of what happened downrange, but I believe what they were hoping was they could move me out of Hawaii so that I would be out of sight, out of mind and go on with my career somewhere else.
Editor’s Note: Mason gave the following “Salute US Veterans” address on November 11, 2019, Veterans’ Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NamIGlB17c&feature=youtu.be