U.S. Army Veteran Shares Painful Experiences of Military Racism, Part 38

“PEOPLE ARE THREATENING YOU”

by Sharon Rondeau

Gary Mason and wife Shahnaaz with the Samoan Gospel Heirs in front of Schofield Barracks Main Post Chapel, late 2011

(Jan. 4, 2020) — In the following section, former U.S. Army Capt. Gary Mason further details the fallout he experienced after filing an Equal Opportunity (EO) complaint and request for a congressional inquiry into a 2008 assault against his person in Iraq on the part of an enlisted soldier; the Army’s failure to award Mason the combat-service medals he earned while he was later deployed to Afghanistan; the ostracizing, humiliation and verbal abuse he endured from fellow service members and superiors; and the failure on the part of his command to complete a timely Officer Evaluation Report (OER), required for Mason to be considered for what he hoped would be a promotion to Major.

Enlisting in 2000 as an infantryman, Mason trained and served in that capacity for three years, then sought to pursue a career as a military chaplain.  In summer 2008, pressed for more income with a growing family, Mason voluntarily returned to active duty, deploying with the 3/4 Cav. unit to Iraq’s Sunni Triangle that fall.

While serving as night-shift battle captain at FOB Poliwoda, the enlisted soldier assaulted Mason without any consequences, even though Mason formally reported the incident to military police on-base and then-3/4 Cav. commander, Lt. Col. David Hodne.

Instead, Hodne ordered Mason returned to Hawaii on the pretext of additional medical testing because of an allergic reaction Mason suffered just prior to the assault. In reality, Hodne wished to see Mason expelled from the Army, Mason later learned through the production of an email by an enlisted soldier.

Mason was eventually diagnosed with idiopathic angioedema urticaria. Nevertheless, doctors at Tripler Army Medical Center declared Mason fit to serve, and after several individual overseas deployments, he was accepted in July 2009 to the position of Public Affairs officer for the 8th Theater Sustainment Command in Hawaii.

Ironically, soon thereafter Mason covered the return of 3/4 Cav. stateside. Although Hodne declined to be interviewed, several returning soldiers told Mason that they, too, were assaulted by the same enlisted soldier, who apparently targeted African-Americans.

Believing it incumbent upon him, Mason wrote a letter to his chain of command expressing concern for the soldiers who said they, too, suffered physical assaults by the same perpetrator. Mason later perceived and received confirmation of the letter’s negative effect on his military career and the manner in which he was treated over time.

While serving in Afghanistan for the second time, Mason completed the last of his requirements and was ordained as a military chaplain.  He also experienced a second allergic reaction and was for that reason returned to the U.S. for medical treatment.

In a bizarre turn of events, upon arriving at Ft. Benning, GA, Mason was informed that he had been sent to Afghanistan without official orders, which caused a weeks-long delay in his eventual return to his base in Hawaii to reunite with his family.

In Part 37, Mason described his reassignment to the 130th Engineer Brigade, during which he was met with an out-of-the-blue blistering verbal assault from Col. Jeffrey Milhorn, whose two subordinate officers apparently withheld the fact that Mason was attending a documented medical appointment.  One of the officers, Major Acker, would later exhibit the same behavior and accusations while Mason was at another scheduled medical appointment, with the physician overhearing the abuse and deciding to intervene.

Mason administering a Baptismal Service on the North Shore in Hawaii for the Schofield Barracks Gospel Service, late 2011

Although Mason intended to request a transfer and eventually leave Hawaii with his family, he was determined to secure not only a place in the military Chaplain Corps, but also to see that his son, who was a high-school senior, was able to graduate prior to making the move.

During his tirade, Milhorn revealed that he had been told Mason was “a troublemaker” and that Mason’s reassignment to the 130th resulted from resentment on the part of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command stemming from his letter of concern. Mason said that despite Milhorn’s apology and attempt to present Mason in a positive light to those under his command, relationships were strained and caused Mason’s work as a Public Affairs officer to be more difficult.

Of his circumstances at the time, Mason told The Post & Email:

The point is that I was still an infantry officer on the books, so even though I was filling a functional area of public affairs, that means that Col. Hodne, if he wanted, and I think he did, picked up the phone and called the branch manager at the Human Resource Command (HRC), who would place us in our next positions whenever we moved.  Whenever we do a Permanent Change of Station (PCS), we call our branch manager and we get them to help place us in a job in an open billet.  I was in a billet, but the command decided to move me someplace else outside of my billet.  So when I began to talk to some of my mentors, they told me that if you’re not in your billet, it’s hard for them to rate you and it looks bad when you go before the board against peers who are holding billets. If you have 3-6 months of non-billeted time, it looks to the board members that you must not have been doing your job well and therefore, you probably shouldn’t get promoted.

What I remember during a USARPAC military exercise is that I had a doctor’s appointment, and while I was waiting in the TOC, there was a young lady who walked up, an African-American female, and sat beside me. I looked at the patch on her sleeve, and she had an 8th Theater Sustainment Command patch. I said, “Hello,” and she said, “How are you doing?” and she said that she had just returned from an appointment at Tripler, seeing the allergist, as I had to.  She said she had a reaction to grass and was there to see an internal-medicine specialist. I asked, “What kind of reaction did you have?” and when she told me about it, it sounded similar to what happened to me.  She said it was called “urticaria,” when you get large tissue swelling on your body in different areas.  She said, “My command did not believe I had this condition and they thought it was a joke.  I was at PT in my uniform, shorts and a T-shirt, and they thought I was just making this up.  They told me to go roll around in the grass, and I told them that I couldn’t.”

Well, they forced her to do it anyway, and she went and did it, and sure enough, she broke out all over in these terrible hives.  She said the brigade surgeon who worked at the 8th TSC didn’t believe her, so she had to come down and find a doctor who would give her the proper tests and went to Tripler.  She said she was having a lot of problems with the people at the 8th TSC who were treating her in this fashion.  So I said, “What doctor are you going to see?” and she introduced me to her doctor.  She said, “There’s only one African-American doctor in Internal Medicine back there; go back there; make a right, and you’ll see his office.  He’s a very good dermatologist and internal-medicine doctor.”

Sure enough, I took her advice and went to see this guy, and he ended up becoming my doctor.  He actually began to help me with my condition, work with some of the medications, and then, as I got to know him, he began to ask me if I ever thought about any of my conditions being stress-induced.  I said, “Well, we had all of the allergy tests done, and all of them came up negative.  How do you test for stress?”

He said, “Well, when you’re in a stressful situation, sometimes it can cause swelling.  Stress could be causing your symptoms, but there’s nothing stopping you from serving on active duty. You can stay in the military with this condition.”  This doctor would soon become a close friend and confidant.

Doctors at Tripler had determined that my swelling was idiopathic urticaria angioedema with mild anaphylaxis; they said “idiopathic” because they don’t have a cause for it.  The new doctor and confidant began to monitor my meds.  As we began to talk, I began to share with him my story, and he said, “I have a retired Air Force friend who was a wing commander at one point; he worked up at Camp Smith.”  That would have been Pacific Command, which was the top tier command above U.S. Army Pacific Command (USAPAC). He said, “He’s a great guy; if you ever want to talk to him, he might be able to help you.”  He gave me invaluable advice based on his own experiences with racism a generation earlier.

I remember I got in touch with him.  The doctor didn’t tell me at first that he had a lawsuit against Tripler Army Medical Center.  I didn’t know at that point.  Apparently the man to whom he referred me was helping him with congressional matters; the doctor had already filed a congressional.

I came home and remember praying with my wife about filing a request for a congressional inquiry.  I was being denied my combat awards by the 45th Sustainment Training Brigade. Also, I was being told that the 130th Engineer Brigade was not going to give me an OER; they were saying the 8th Theater Sustainment Command should do it; the 8th Theater Sustainment Command said, “We’re not going to do it.”  So as my year was coming to an end, I started to realize that no one wanted to give me an OER.

I was going to command staff meetings, where I would look up on the board for “do-outs.” My name would be on the board with the notation, “Capt. Mason needs an OER.”  It was in red, meaning “It’s not done.”  So I began to ask the personnel officer if someone was doing it.  He said, “Oh, yeah, we’ll get to it; we’ll get to it.”  But then when I asked in emails who would do it, they said, “Well, we’re not going to do it; talk to the 130th about it.”  Then the 130th said, “Talk to the 8th TSC about it.” In other words, no one was taking ownership of my OER, and the clock was ticking. It seemed it was, “Here we go again.” Just as when I was promoted to Captain, no one wanted to update my file.  No one wanted to write an evaluation for me, and I was coming up to the time of possibly being in my first look for Major. Now I was thinking, “If I don’t get promoted to Major and get overlooked, this is their way of saying, ‘Well, he has to leave.  He can’t stay in the Army.'”

So I saw what was coming down the pike and how they were going to do it.  First of all, I wasn’t leaving Hawaii without my awards.  They normally have a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) award, and you should have an OER.  Generally 90-120 days out, you have a window of opportunity to get those awards drafted and looked at and make sure everything is correct.  Sometimes they even have a ceremony for you.  As you may guess, no one provided that for me; they didn’t want to do any of that.  It was, “Just get him orders to get him out of here.”

When I finally began to accept the fact that there was a problem, based on the evidence that I provided to the 8th TSC; Col. Timothy Ryan’s having told me nothing was going to be done, and I was also not going to get my combat and PCS awards, I decided to file a congressional complaint.  I wrote to then-U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and explained that I had been assaulted, that I had been treated with retribution and that I was seeking restitution.  I explained that I was not getting my awards and evaluations and that I needed some assistance from her office.  For the first time, I said that it could be a form of racial discrimination.

Within two weeks, her office responded and said they would take my case. I first got a call and then a form authorizing them to investigate.  I sent it out and I remember their coming back saying, “Someone will get in contact with you.  While you’re going through this, do not discuss it with anyone in your chain of command because once it becomes an inquiry, the only person you should be talking to is your liaison from our office.”

I remember that once I filed, no one at the 130th Engineer Brigade, including Maj. Acker, who I was supposed to be working for, would not talk to me. I would come in and it was as if I was a ghost.  No one said anything; I would say, “Good morning,” and they would just kind-of look up and nod. I was ostracized and didn’t get any emails.

On one particular occasion, I remember being in an appointment with my doctor.  Any time I had an appointment, the 130th got an email as to where I would be.  I was sitting there with the doctor when I received a phone call from Maj. Acker, who blurted out, “Where the f*** are you?” and I said, “Who is this?” and he said, “Major Acker.  You need to get your a** back over here to the command now because you’re supposed to be doing something for the commander.” And I said, “Hold up, Maj. Acker; I’m in an appointment with my doctor. You got my appointments in an email.”  And he proceeded to curse me out: “I’m tired of you f-in doing what you want to do, going where you want to go…” and I said, “Maj. Acker, I’m sitting here with my doctor; now if you’d like to, you can talk to him.  The emails you received…”

And Maj. Acker said, “When you got something to do for the commander, you’re always someplace and not here when we need you…” And I said, “Major Acker, I’m not going to have this conversation right now because I’m in the doctor’s office, but when I return…”

And then he said, “You f-in leave now and get back to my office right f-in now.”

I let the doctor hear what was going on, and he said, “Go ahead and disconnect,” and I did.  I hung up on him,  and the doctor said, “I’m concerned about this.  I’m going to write a letter for you that you don’t go back into work for a few days. I’m looking at the notification that you got from Tripler saying this could be causing stress and stressors.  You’ve already been attacked by Col. Milhorn, who cursed you out and shut you in an office, and all these things are happening where people are threatening you. I’m not saying it is causing your medical issues, but based on what’s going on, there’s a problem.  Have you considered transferring or moving out of your command?”

I said, “I was moved from one command down here.”  He was a civilian doctor; a psychologist also.  He said, “I think this is something that goes on in the Army, and a lot of people end up medically discharged through a Medical Board.” And I said, “I’m not going to let this force me out; I’m committed to my career and finishing up as a chaplain where I can serve the service members.”

Eerily, three years later in 2015, Mason was discharged through a Medical Board as “disabled,” a label he disputes to this day and which he believes has prevented him from obtaining employment.

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Editor’s Note:  An article dated December 31, 2019 in Yahoo! News features four interviews with former U.S. servicemen who described sexual assaults while on active duty.  After his discharge in 2015, Mason served as spiritual adviser and power of attorney to a soldier who reported both sexual and physical assaults resulting in a permanent brain injury and concomitant difficulties.  Of the Yahoo! article, Mason told The Post & Email Wednesday, “It actually hurts me to read this. I know of so many people who suffer with this and still to this day the Army ignores it.  I actually lost my career for helping those who were abused.”

 

 

2 Responses to "U.S. Army Veteran Shares Painful Experiences of Military Racism, Part 38"

  1. professorsunshine   Sunday, January 5, 2020 at 5:45 PM

    Thank you for speaking up. Lift your voice and be heard!

  2. D.C. Duling   Saturday, January 4, 2020 at 2:58 PM

    I wish you resolve and peace in this matter. God will allow you to persevere and right this wrong for you and others suffering mistreatment in our military. God has chosen the right man to fight this fight. Just like our Lord chose David to slay the giant, he has chosen you to slay racist and racism among our military leaders. Stay strong and faithful my brother in Christ…. DeCarlo

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