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“AS IF NOTHING HAPPENED”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Feb. 24, 2020) — This section of former Army Capt. Gary Mason’s story continues at the point where on the advice of his doctor, he reported to the ER following a verbal exchange with a Major in his chain of command which left him feeling threatened. As The Post & Email has reported during its nearly-two-year relating of Mason’s story, in 2008 he was assaulted while serving in Iraq and encountered retaliation for having reported that, and other claimed assaults by fellow soldiers naming the same enlisted man as the perpetrator, to his chain of command at the 25th Infantry Division.
The commander of his unit in Iraq, Lt. Col. David Hodne, chose to take no action against the perpetrator and, according to Mason, exerted lax discipline over the 3/4 Cav. unit.
Then a first lieutenant, in July 2009 Mason obtained the position of Public Affairs officer within the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, successfully transferring out of 3/4 Cav. with the expectation that the negative experiences there would soon be but a distant memory. In spring 2010, while attending Public Affairs school at Ft. Meade, he was promoted to Captain.
At the conclusion of Part 39, we reported that Mason’s physicians had discovered that unknown individuals, apparently with the authority to do so, had been accessing Mason’s medical file and entering false derogatory information which would have affected his ability to promote, at that time from Captain to Major.
Although Mason had experienced an allergic reaction on two occasions while serving overseas, he was consistently cleared through medical tests at Tripler Army Medical Center to remain in the military. When the retaliation reached its peak, Mason said, he had been seeking a transfer out of Hawaii, where the 25th Infantry Division is based, as soon as his son completed his last year of high school in the spring.
While serving in Afghanistan, Mason was ordained as a military chaplain, and he hoped to use his abilities to serve fellow soldiers for the remainder of his Army career.
Upon his return in late 2010 from a deployment to Iraq, Mason was assigned from the 25th Infantry Division, to the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, and then to the 130th Engineer Brigade. An early verbal altercation instigated by the command in the person of Col. Jeffrey Milhorn gave way to purposeful obstacles to his ability to carry out his job duties as a Public Affairs officer, then open hostility. The situation was exacerbated by the command’s discovery that he had filed a request for a congressional investigation with the office of his then-congresswoman, Mazie Hirono, alleging civil-rights violations.
Ironically, Mason told us in an earlier section, his service overseas was valued and recognized with positive Officer Evaluation Reports (OERs) and promotions, while his stateside command in Hawaii sought to find a pretext for his ouster. An element of his congressional complaint, he said, centered on the 45th Sustainment Training Brigade’s failure to convey the medals he was awarded in Afghanistan in 2010.
Also included was the 25th Infantry Division’s refusal to produce a copy of the report he filed regarding the 2008 assault, the stonewalling of an expected OER for Mason’s anticipated promotion to Major, and the filling of his Army billet, or career path slot, with another officer while he was deployed to Afghanistan on an individual assignment.
Despite the increasing harassment and hostile environment Mason experienced, he was determined not to be forced into the “Med Board” process by which soldiers are often separated from military service. However, a tantrum-like outburst from Milhorn’s subordinate, Major Acker, along with Acker’s written allegations of insubordination on Mason’s part known as “counseling statements,” led Mason to perceive a physical threat.
After reporting the incident to his physician, the physician advised him to report to the emergency room to request admission to the psychiatric wing, where he could reportedly relate his Army history and seek a medical recommendation.
Mason’s story continues:
They have something called Med Pros, which documents your health, dental, eye care, your physicals and PT tests, your flu shots, your deployment readiness. Your Med Pros should always say, “green” because when your package goes up to the promotion board, they’re going to check those things. “Are his height and weight good? How does he look in his uniform? Has he met all of his billets? Has he had good OERs?” If so, you’re promoted to the next rank.
What I hadn’t known was that someone kept going in to my MedPros and putting in red blocks with the apparent purpose of creating the impression to a superior officer of, “Well, he has a medical profile; he can’t deploy.” They were doing it at the Brigade level. I tried to find out who was responsible, but the doctors wouldn’t tell me. I was informed by Tripler Medical Center; it was coming from someone at the 130th Engineer Brigade, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command or the 45th Sustainment Training Brigade.
The brigade surgeon wasn’t even a doctor; it could have been a first lieutenant in that position. All he was doing was going around making sure everyone updated their medical files. They have access to everyone’s medical files, so they were using someone at that level to go in to my medical records and highlight red boxes. Whenever your full file is not up-to-date, they can pass you over for promotion.
There are inpatient records, outpatient records, and Behavioral Health records. A commander can go in and take a look at what’s going on in your medical file. What he cannot do is go into classified medical documents because you’re protected by HIPAA. The commander should not be discussing anything from anyone’s medical records, but for the purpose of whether it’s going to cause problems with his command, he needs to know, and that’s why he utilizes a brigade surgeon, normally a Major and one per brigade.
They were trying to go into my medical files to see what they could do, for example, “Captain Mason’s on medication; he can’t show up to do PT.” They were trying to find a way to “Medical-Board” me. They had not fathomed that I would still be around two years after I left 3/4 Cav.; they thought they would have gotten me out of there. I think what happened was they began to believe, “We should probably see if we can find something to discharge him from the Army before he makes it to his next command.” So I think Col. Timothy Ryan was saying to me, when he shared the results of the EO complaint I filed against the 25th ID, “You can put this behind you and drive on or you can keep fighting this thing and ruining your career.”
I didn’t think I needed to go in a Psych ward. I wasn’t crazy. I didn’t want a negative stigma attached to my name. The doctor said, “At this point, you can begin to go back and tell your story to the medical command about what your unit is doing to you without their trying to dabble and change your record to, “Now they have you on medication; they have you on prednisone; you’re gaining a little bit of weight, so if you don’t reach your height and weight goal, they can discharge you.” The doctor was advising me to go in and tell my story. “You can tell your whole story on the medical side,” he said, “plus you’ll get all the medical treatment you need. Just go through it.”
I didn’t want to go in, but after I reported, they went ahead and admitted me. During that time, my wife called Rep. Hirono’s office to let them know about the attack. She also did a radio interview with Wendy Wright of Radio One in Maryland. She started talking to the media. My wife was hoping to expose what was going on and get some help. It was an extremely stressful time for me and my family. We see now that it was an all-out attack, and the retribution was really getting bad.
My command was trying to find a way, now that I was in the hospital, to discharge me medically. However, in behavioral health, you can’t go into a person’s medical records unless you sign a document saying why you’re accessing the file. The medical side can lose their license, so they’re going to have to tell the truth whether they want to or not.
I was at a point where I just wanted to be left alone; I didn’t want to talk to anybody because I didn’t trust anyone. Mr. Finney was praying for me and he and his wife were trying to be supportive to my wife and children.
I stayed in that place for seven days, during which time a lot of things didn’t apply to me. Soon after I began to tell the doctors what happened at 3/4 Cav. with Hodne, the assault, the verbal attacks, the threats on my life, Maj. Acker was sent up by Col. Milhorn to try to talk to me.
According to HIPAA, the only person who can go into the psych ward is a commander or the command sergeant major; no one else is allowed to go up on that ward because it’s locked and secured. I don’t know what Maj. Acker’s purposes were, but I think the doctors were beginning to find out what happened and were asking, “Hey, how come no one told us this man was assaulted? His doctor wrote a letter recommending that he be moved from the unit.”
Col. Milhorn had exact control and authority to send me away, but guess what? He refused to move me from the command.
I refused to talk to them. I said, “The only person I’ll talk to is my chaplain, Rev. Lindsey, or I will see Col. Milhorn or Command Sgt. Major Ward.” Neither Command Sgt. Major Ward nor Milhorn wanted to see me. So Maj. Acker was still doing the dirty work, and I said, “No, I don’t want to see him. Get him off the ward. This is the same man who’s threatening me.”
Maj. Acker decided to write a letter to the command saying he was a God-fearing man with a wife and children who would “never attack Capt. Mason.” Someone gave me a copy of it. OK, so he was putting his defense together, but all I wanted was for him to leave me alone, and I didn’t talk to him.
Desperately seeking all the help she could, my wife reached out to our home church. It was very large, with thousands of members, and the pastor’s wife began calling the hospital trying to reach me. All of a sudden, Mazie Hirono’s office was trying to reach me, so the hospital was getting a lot of attention. When the doctors began to understand my story, they realized they were holding me in a Psych ward and I wasn’t meant to be there. It was a place for me to rest and recuperate; they didn’t have to give me meds or anything like that.
They had a “quiet room” where you could sit, and different speakers would come in and talk to some of the patients. There were people who had some serious problems: two guys trying to commit suicide; one was trying to cut her wrists. One person looked as if he was possessed, rolling on the floor. I was sitting in this room, and there were four patients around me — one was crying 24/7 — and I remember thinking, “How did I end up in here?”
I had a Bible; it was the only thing I had when I went in there. I opened it up and started reading it aloud. The guy sitting beside me was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and he was rolled up like an infant, yelling and screaming; another guy had his head in his hands; the one across from me was staring at walls. I started reading my Bible aloud, and do you know that each and every one of them sat up and started listening to me. I would read the Bible, and they would listen.
There was one who was highly withdrawn because he was addicted to oxycodone. They had him tied-up in a straitjacket because he had been banging the wall. The orderlies would hold him down because he wanted the meds.
Well, one particular time I was sitting in that room, and I remember all the patients with all these problems. I decided to go in and have a Bible study, and I told them that anybody who wanted to come could come. There were about nine patients, and I stood up in the middle of this crowd and began to teach the Word of God in this room, and do you know that all of them who were sitting there listening — I noticed the doctors were outside the window — started coming to me saying that the patients didn’t want to see their doctors anymore.
So sure enough, I did that for about two days, and all of a sudden, one day when I was in that room by myself, a black male soldier walked in. He was a Major and said he was a doctor. He came in and said, “Hey, Capt. Mason, can I talk to you?” I didn’t trust him, but I said, “Sure.” He sat down and said, “Look, I got a hold of your file; they’re getting ready to put you out of here.” And I said, “What do you mean?” and he said, “Whatever you’re doing up in here, they don’t like it.” And I said, “OK, how do I know you’re not some shrink trying to come in here and play mental games with me?” and he said, “No, I am a doctor and psychologist. I know there’s nothing wrong with you. This is the deal: you want to fight with your command; they’re trying to scr*** you. Now, I’m just going to tell you this. There’s one way out of this, and I might get in trouble for telling you this. If you want to get moved from your command, the only way to do it is to have a psychologist come in here to see you before they dismiss you. She’s going to ask you a series of questions; I want you to tell her that you’re suicidal.”
I said, “Doc, I’m not suicidal,” and he said, “I know you’re not suicidal. But the only way for you to get out of this situation that you’re in and to get away from your unit is to tell her you’re suicidal.” And he looked at me.
So now I was mad, but I didn’t want to let this man push my button. He said, “Whatever you do, she’s going to come in here tomorrow, she’s going to question you and then they’re going to release you, but you’re going to have to tell her you’re suicidal.” So I looked at him and said, “OK,” and then he got up, shook my hand, and walked out.
Of course, I was bothered by this. I couldn’t talk to my doctor, my wife or Mr. Finney. So I prayed about it, and God said, “Don’t you lie.” Sure enough, a little Asian woman in a uniform came in the next day — she was a captain also — and questioned me for three hours. It was a long personality assessment test. She must have asked me over 100 times, “Capt. Mason, do you or have you ever had thoughts of committing suicide?” I said “No” to every one of them. This is what I told her: “I’m concerned for my safety, and I’m concerned about my health. I have received threats; I was already assaulted once. I filed an EO complaint, and they told me nothing was going to be done about it. So I’m in here because I’m concerned that someone in my command might assault me. I’ve already been threatened on several occasions in front of several groups of people.”
I think she got to the point where she couldn’t ask me another question. She asked me if I was having homicidal ideations, and I said, “No, I’m just concerned about someone trying to harm me or ruin my career.”
A couple of chaplains visited me trying to find out what was going on. They were shocked, and I told them the same story, and they said, “Look, we’re praying for you.” That’s the most they could do.
The next day, about five Tripler doctors came up to release me and sat in the room with me. They said, “We hear that you are telling the doctors what happened to you, but we don’t feel we can do anything else for you. We’re going to release you back to your unit.” And I said, “Can you transfer me out of my command?” and they said, “No; if your commander doesn’t want to release you, you’ll have to follow up with them.”
They gave me a report and sent me out of there. Then they had someone from my unit, a captain or lieutenant, come to pick me up. He said to me, “Before you come home, we have to bring you back to the unit to sign you in, and then you can go home.” So I was thinking, “OK.”
Before I left, a young doctor who wore the rank of Captain said, “We have you diagnosed as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).” I said, “Well, I don’t have NPD; it’s a negative connotation. Can we scratch that off my record? What I’ve been is assaulted.” And he said, “NPD is not a bad thing; that just means that you’re kind-of like a leader in the infantry; it’s almost like being an athlete or a football player and just very strong-willed…” and I said, “No. I’m a Christian,” and he said, “Well, you know, ‘Christian’ is kind-of like trying to hide behind a cross and not wanting to assume the responsibility of what someone else says about you…”
And I said, “OK, look; I’ve been released, right? If I’ve been released, I’m not going to answer any more questions for you. I’m going to note that you-all have tried to remove me but my command refused to, so if anything happens to me, I’m going to blame the medical command.”
So he was upset and kept trying to throw the “NPD” at me. And I said, “You write what you want, OK? I don’t have a personality disorder. I just believe in what’s right, and I know what’s wrong. You can call it what you want.” So I left. A lieutenant was out there waiting for me, and when I left, he drove me back and took me right back to Major Acker’s office. It was 8:30 at night, and Major Acker was sitting in his office. So I walked in to his office and I said, “So, Major Acker, why am I here in your office?” and he said in a pleasant tone, “I just want you to know that I understand about the congressional” and this and that. Acker continued, “Col. Milhorn wanted me to come here. Before you go, I just need you to sign these documents.” And I said, “What documents?” and he pulled out the same four counseling statements that he wrote up before I went in. I looked at him and said, “Maj. Acker, you can give me those counseling statements, and I’ll have a statement for you.”
So I took the counseling statements and went home and wrote a report, a one-narrative summary dismissing all the counseling statements as fictitious; that this was just an attempt to scare me and discredit who I am. I wrote about his cursing me out on the phone and using this as a cover-up for what he did. I sent that back to the chain of command. I scratched a big line all the way through them and signed my name and said, “Please refer to the report that’s written as a rebuttal to these false negative counseling statements.” I knew that was just meant to be mean and nasty. Also, they were still trying to cover their butts with the fake counseling statements.
The next day, they were conducting field exercises and had me come in and brief everybody at Schofield Barracks, all the senior commanders and Public Affairs involved, as if nothing happened. They brought me right back, and then they said, “Oh, great job, Captain.” Everybody talked about the “great job” I had done. I deployed three times and fought the last three months in Hawaii, again requesting my OERs, combat awards and the next follow-on assignment. That’s when I realized that after I filed the congressional, the U.S. Army Pacific Command and the senior Public Affairs officer sent an email back to me; they got the congressional also. He let me know, “Capt. Mason, in response to your billet, the 8th TSC’s billet is yours. You were always in that billet.” He wanted to go back and correct what he said, because they told me the billet was not mine. Everybody was trying to clean their stuff up, but they just refused to give me my OER and my awards.