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by Sharon Rondeau
(May 4, 2020) — For the last two years, The Post & Email has been relating the story of former U.S. Army Capt. Gary Mason, who was discharged in 2015 as “disabled,” a diagnosis Mason received after he attempted to expose what he saw as injustices, abuse of power, and possible racism within the command structure.
During his 15 years of service, Mason was trained as an infantryman and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He later trained and served as a Public Affairs officer and earned his ordination as a military chaplain, which he believed was his true calling.
Our story thus far has brought the reader to the time when Mason requested and was granted a congressional inquiry into the treatment he was receiving through his chain of command in the 130th Engineer Brigade, a unit of the 25th Infantry Division. A veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, Mason had been denied his combat medals and commendations, Officer Evaluation Report (OER), and a resolution to his report of a 2008 assault in Iraq by an enlisted soldier with the 3/4 Cav. unit under then-Lt. Col. David Hodne.
At the time of the assault, Mason was a 1st Lieutenant. According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), an assault by an enlisted soldier against an officer constitutes a violation of serious import. Hodne, now a brigadier general, chose to take no disciplinary action against the soldier. Instead, Hodne urged medical personnel at Tripler Army Medical Center to find Mason unfit for duty as evidenced by an email Mason acquired from a colleague.
Mason learned that he was not the only African-American member of 3/4 Cav. to suffer an assault by the same enlisted soldier.
While “racism” was not the foundation of Mason’s complaint to his superiors, his objection to overt racism and sexism communicated directly to Hodne amid what he saw as a general lack of discipline in the unit may have contributed to the command’s retribution which eventually reached the point of his seeking mental-health hospitalization and a transfer out of Hawaii.
Thereafter, Mason requested a congressional investigation into the treatment he was receiving which ultimately yielded no evidentiary findings due to the military’s tight-lipped and unlikely response.
“I thought that by doing the right thing, by reporting it, I would get justice,” Mason said. “I didn’t; I got put out.” Five years after his discharge, Mason is completing a D.Min. on the theme, “Unconditional Love is the Anecdote to Racism in the US Army.” Having made dozens of position applications, he remains unemployed, which he believes stems from the circumstances surrounding his Army discharge.
“I thought I was doing a service to our nation by saying, ‘Hey, look, we have a problem in our frontline fighting forces, and I’m just asking that you address it,'” Mason told us in an interview Thursday. “The only thing I really wanted from the congressional inquiry was to hold the ones responsible accountable. The soldier who assaulted me admitted it; he didn’t try to lie and say he didn’t do it, but Col. Hodne said, ‘You can’t prove it.’ It made me feel really distrustful and with people saying, ‘You better watch your back.’ I don’t know of any more uncomfortable feeling you can have being downrange knowing that you’re fighting the insurgents and Taliban but you also have to look over your shoulder because you might get shot by one of your own.”
Separate letters sent in late 2012 by Mason’s wife Shahnaaz, who is also an Army veteran, to both Barack and Michelle Obama requesting intervention received an administrative response but no further action, Mason told The Post & Email.
Not only were the Masons the guests of Barack Obama at the White House in 2014 while Mason was in the Wounded Warrior program, but they also were invited to attend an early Christmas dinner with then-Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, at their official residence, the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Joe Biden is now the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States. On Tuesday, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton endorsed Biden, terming him, among other accolades, “compassionate.”
Mason provided photos of his family meeting Barack Obama at the White House, as part of the larger group of Wounded-Warrior guests that day, and with the Bidens at their residence with Christmas decorations in the background. The photos bear a stamp on the back prohibiting their publication unless “written permission of the White House Photo Office” is obtained.
The photo of the Masons with the Bidens shows part of a Christmas wreath on the wall behind Mason, his wife and two children, with Joe and Jill Biden on either side of them and the handwritten caption, A beautiful family…-loved seeing you! Joe and Jill.
Recalling the dinner with the Bidens, Mason told us:
I never thought I would end up in front of Joe Biden. Before we left Hawaii, my wife wrote a letter to both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama; we also wrote to then-Attorney General Eric Holder and opened up a case. Our DOJ contact, Ms. Anisa Khan, informed my wife that our case would be investigated as a hate crime. After collecting our information for months, Ms. Khan stopped communicating with us. Once she disappeared, no one followed up with us and eight years later, we still await the findings of the Hate Crimes Division.
Mr. Lechtenberg from the First Lady’s office wrote back and said they forwarded our concerns to ‘the appropriate party within the administration’. We never heard anything.
Michelle Obama came to Hawaii and my wife went to her rally down in Honolulu and personally walked up to her Secret Service and said, “I’m the spouse of a wounded warrior who’s in the hospital; could you please give this to the First Lady?” And they said, “OK, we will.” We also mailed her a copy, so we know she got it.
Through the Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade at Walter Reed, they had White House visits for all of the Wounded Warriors President Obama wanted to see. So we put in to get our visit to the White House. I thought, “This is going to be my opportunity to meet President Obama and I’m going to tell him everything that happened. I’ve finally got my chance; we’re going to see the president!”
So sure enough, we ended up getting the clearances to go. But then mysteriously, all of a sudden, the day the bus limo came to pick us up – there were 20 or 30 people – the chauffeur was walking down the line, making sure everybody was there, and my name wasn’t on the list. I said, “Wait a minute,” and a captain who knew me said, “Mason, wasn’t your name on the list?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Let me run upstairs.” So she ran upstairs, and there was some type of argument in which the commander said, “Captain Mason and his family will be on this trip, so put the paperwork in now.” Somebody at Walter Reed apparently tried to block me from coming. But she went over and said, “I’m the commander and the liaison on this trip; Capt. Mason and his family go with me.” Whatever she did, she forced it through.
When we got there, we went through the whole process and got the tour. We then were waiting for President Obama. First, the Obama’s two dogs ran out, and then President Obama came out and spoke to everybody. I was the last person. My heart was racing; my hands were sweating, and I thought I’d finally get to tell Obama what was going on. There was a white female Wounded Warrior speaking to him, and at the same time, President Obama looked me in my eyes with a seething, searing look as if he were saying, “Do not open your mouth about your problem.” I wondered why he was looking at me like that. The lady was talking to him and he was looking right past her at me; he was making me mad with his look. Something in my spirit said, “Just see what he has to say.”
Obama came up to me, shook my hand, put a presidential coin in my hand, and immediately turned his body away from me as if he didn’t want to talk. He immediately shook my wife’s hand. This guy is really clever; he put himself in a position where I couldn’t really address him, turned his body, shook my wife’s hand, and then said, “Who is this beautiful young lady?” and then he started talking to my little daughter. The photograph taken says it all. Then he started talking to my son. Of everyone else he spoke to in the line he asked, “What is your hometown? What do you want to do? What are your aspirations?”
He didn’t ask me anything. He just shook my hand and said, “Thank you for your service,” and moved straight to my wife, shook her hand and then moved straight to my children. I was waiting for a way into the conversation that he didn’t offer, and I said to myself, “Let me keep my mouth closed.”
As he walked away, I tried to catch him, but guess what? The Secret Service jumped in front of me and blocked me. So I walked out; it was the longest walk of my life. I went back to the limo bus and thought, “I waited all this time and went through all this hell with the military, and I just missed my opportunity.” And I sat there on the back of the bus looking out the window across the front lawn, and I said, “Lord, did I mess up?” and God said — it wasn’t a voice, but God was saying, “No. This is what I want you to know: you can’t trust any man. I’m the only One Who can take care of you and your family. President Obama can’t do anything for you.”
At that point, it was as if a weight came off my shoulders.
Do you know that two weeks later, I got a phone call from somebody who said, “Is this Capt. Mason?” I said, “Yes.” Someone who identified himself as being from the Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade said, “You’ve been invited to go to Christmas dinner at Vice President Biden’s house.” And I said, “Who is this?” and he said, “Are you interested in accepting an invitation to Vice President Biden’s house — you and your family — for Christmas dinner?” So I said, “Is this a joke?” and he said, “No. We’re calling because you’ve been asked if you would want to come to his house for Christmas dinner.” So I thought, “What’s going on here?” and said to him, “Yes, we’ll take it.” And he said, “Who will be coming?” and I said, “Me, my wife, my son and my daughter.” I gave him their ages, they put us on a list, and guess what? We got picked up in a very small limo; there were only six families invited.
The details of the intimate dinner and relating of Capt. Mason’s situation with then-Vice President Biden will be presented in a continuation of this story. Following the dinner, Shahnaaz wrote a letter thanking the Second Couple for their hospitality, also summarizing the “abuse of power” she said was wielded against her husband. In the letter, Mrs. Mason requested executive-level intervention which was ultimately not rendered.