“HAVE A NICE DAY”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Apr. 28, 2020) — The following continues the narrative of former U.S. Army Capt. Gary Mason from our previous section, which brought the reader to the point of Mason’s having approached U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye‘s office for assistance concerning the treatment he experienced as a service member over several consecutive years.
Mason began his military career in 2000 as an infantryman. From there, he pursued the path of Army chaplain while achieving promotions to First Lieutenant and Captain. During the course of his ministry studies, Mason also acquired training in Public Affairs, a previous interest of his while a civilian, and was twice deployed to Afghanistan as a Public Affairs officer.
The difficulties he experienced, Mason firmly believes, stemmed from his having sent a letter of concern through his chain of command on behalf of former fellow soldiers in the 3/4 Cav. Unit with whom he was deployed in Iraq in the fall of 2008. The letter included details of several accounts of respective physical assaults similar to that which Mason himself experienced at the hands of an enlisted soldier. Though Mason filed a formal complaint on his own behalf shortly after the assault took place, the commanding officer, Lt. Col. David Hodne, chose not to discipline the perpetrator and instead targeted Mason for ejection from the Army, if not from the military altogether.
Oddly, Mason’s frequent individual overseas assignments in bizarre or dangerous situations and lacking the necessary tools and resources to perform his duties ultimately permitted him to excel. While in Afghanistan on his second deployment, Mason completed his ministry studies and was ordained an Army chaplain in less-than-ideal circumstances; he also earned a number of combat awards, praise from then-Gen. David Petraeus, and an outstanding Officer Evaluation Report (OER) urging his promotion to Major.
However, his Hawaii command at the 130th Engineer Brigade, where he was reassigned from the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, treated him quite differently. Whether or not racially-motivated, tensions between Col. Jeffrey Milhorn; his Training Officer, Major Acker, the unit’s members and Mason grew after his return from his second Afghanistan tour, spiraling to the point where Mason sought safety by signing himself in to the mental-health unit at the suggestion of his personal physician. In addition, he contacted the office of then-U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono to request a congressional investigation into the unpunished assault on his person while in Iraq in 2008; the withholding of his earned combat awards; the denial of a standard and timely Officer Evaluation Report (OER) by the 130th Engineer Brigade, and other instances of harassment and denigration.
Just over a month into the process, Hirono’s aide, a former combat veteran himself, inexplicably distanced Hirono’s office from Mason, instead referring him to Inouye’s office to pursue it. In an unexpected email in February 2012, Mason recalled, Hirono’s aide, David Levao, wrote, “Do not call me anymore. Just contact me through email.”
Levao concluded the email with, “The valley is darker than I thought,” a statement Mason and his wife found highly concerning.
“All I was saying that I desired from Sen. Inouye was that there was a violation of the UCMJ articles and I wanted those who violated them to be held accountable,” Mason told us. “I wanted to stop them from retaliating and treating me with retribution; I wanted an audit of my officer military personnel file to look into my combat awards and personal achievement awards while I was there.”
His story continues:
I remember when that happened, at that particular time we were about two months away from my actual date of leaving the island and moving on to my next duty location, which was determined to be Ft. Lee in Petersburg, VA. I was ready to go to a Captain’s Career course, which had to be completed to be eligible for promotion to Major. I decided since the command and the brigade were not going to give me my final OER or my awards, I would start my clearing procedure, which involved taking a form to every office, every command, turning in my equipment and getting a signature from every person in charge. That process would show that I was cleared by the whole installation to leave.
When that happens, they put you on Temporary Duty Leave so that you can go around the island and begin the clearing process. So they had to determine, “We’re not giving him his awards; we’re not giving him a going-away celebration; we’re not going to give him his OER.” So I took my form and went to the personnel office at the 130th Engineer Brigade where Col. Milhorn was the commander. I walked in and said, “This is my day to clear. I’m over at the Soldier Support Center and just had my briefing. I’ve been here for a week and I’m getting ready to go on leave. I’m moving everything off of the post.”
So the movers came, cleared out my post housing, and shipped everything to Ft. Lee in Petersburg. The reason I chose to go to Petersburg is that I had become a functional officer in a functional branch, and it did not matter where I went to take the Captain’s Career course. It was a matter of checking the box and making sure I was cleared on the things I needed to know as a Captain before I became promotable to Major.
I had a gut feeling that if I went down to Ft. Benning, GA, being an infantry officer, that the infantry had already been informed by Col. Hodne about my progression with the congressional, and I didn’t think it would fare well for me to go into that infantry environment. So I chose to go to the Logistical Officer Captain’s Career course, which was the Army Logistics University at Ft. Lee. A lot of the officers who were there were either supply, transportation or ordinance officers, but it didn’t prevent me from going because I just needed to go to a Captain’s Career course. Plus it was closer to my hometown. I wanted to be near my parents; it was only two hours away from Washington, DC, and if there were problems, I could go to the Pentagon. I could go and see my congressional members. So I chose to go there for that reason.
I remember during the last two weeks, Major Acker, who was supposed to be the rater for my last OER, called me in. They apparently realized that I had cleared the unit on that same day. All of a sudden I got a frantic call from Maj. Acker saying, “Capt. Mason, do not clear the unit.” So I said, “What do you mean? I’m already here and cleared the Schofield Barracks Installation. I’m assigned to be here as my place of duty; your office and your command have already signed me out.” And he responded, “Well, no, you haven’t gotten your OER; I need you to come over so we can talk about it.”
So I said, “Well, Maj. Acker, I went in there last week and I went to the personnel office and asked if I had an OER from you, and I asked if you had put me in for any awards, and your personnel officer said, “No.”
The brigade had told me “No,” they didn’t have an OER, so I went back and told the Soldier Support Center, “They decided not to give me an OER or my awards.” They recommended that I file an IG complaint even though I probably wasn’t going to get the awards. My flight date was June 8, and they said, “You don’t have time; you’ve already cleared the unit.”
So when Maj. Acker told me to come see him, I said, “Maj. Acker, what do you need me to come see you for? You didn’t want to see me,” and he said, “I was hoping you would come and do a class for the next temporary Public Affairs person.” I responded, “Well, Maj. Acker, I’ve already signed out of the unit.”
So, he said, “Well, could you come back and help us out?” Initially, I was a bit leery. Despite the egregious treatment, I agreed to go over there and talk to two sergeants who wanted to come in and talk about the job of Public Affairs person even though they didn’t have a Public Affairs billet there.
When I got there, I went to the assigned room to meet for training; no one showed up. So, they had set me up just to get me back to the unit. I went upstairs to Maj. Acker’s office and said, “Maj. Acker, why did you have me show up here to hold PA training and there was a no-show?” and he said, “Well, I really just wanted you to come over so we could talk about your award and your OER.”
I looked at him and said, “Maj. Acker, it doesn’t matter, because I’ve already cleared.” He said, “I didn’t want you to clear.” And I said, “Well, I’m not here to argue with you about anything; I’m the only captain in this unit who didn’t receive an OER or PCS award.”
This is what he said to me: “First of all, the way you’ve treated us and how you’ve acted around here, you don’t deserve any award so I’m not putting you in for an award. Plus, your career and your evaluation are like a soup sandwich.” In other words, “You’re all over the place; you want to be a chaplain; you’re in the infantry, you’re in Public Affairs…”
So I said, “OK, Maj. Acker, I’m not here for you to try to irritate me or instigate something. So look, have a nice day; thank you for allowing me to work for the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, but I’m done here.” And he said, “Ill send you an OER.” I replied, “You already told me that you’re not, so don’t even worry about it.” And I turned around and said, “Maj. Acker, have a nice day.” He just kind-of laughed at me, and I turned around and walked out.
I went back to the Soldier Support Center and told them what was going on. The advice they gave me was, “Don’t worry about it; they’re going to get in trouble because administratively, Col. Milhorn is supposed to make sure you get your OER, even if they don’t want to give you an award.”
I didn’t know where Col. Milhorn was; I think he might have been deployed and Maj. Acker was left in charge of the unit. The Soldier Support Center also told me, “You can also file an IG complaint just so you have it as a paper trail that they refused to give you an OER or your PCS award, because it could be for discrimination reasons, if you feel that way.” I said, “OK, I’m going to do that.” I also decided to contact Sen. Inouye and inform him about what was going on.
[Editor’s Note: The PDF and screenshot below represent correspondence from Sen. Inouye’s office to Mason’s wife, Shahnaaz, who had expressed her own concerns about her husband’s treatment, and from the 25th Infantry Division to Inouye in response to his inquiry on Mason’s behalf. In response to Col. Bjarne M. Iverson’s letter of May 22, 2012 contending that he could not “locate any Soldiers with knowledge of the alleged events from 2008-2009,” Mason told us that the perpetrator of his assault, Command Sergeant Major Manis, “was promoted and moved next door to become the Command Sergeant Major for 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. Colonel Iverson, who is the Chief of Staff for the 25th Infantry Division, claims he didn’t know where CSM Manis was.”
This response didn’t come back to me until I cleared the installation and started my move to Ft. Lee.