“NO ONE WOULD FOLLOW UP”
by Sharon Rondeau
(May 8, 2020) — In Part 1 of this title, a subsection of the larger story of former Army Capt. Gary Mason, Mason related how separate face-to-face encounters in 2014 with then-President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden failed to change the Army’s trajectory of discharging Mason on the basis of a “medical retirement” after 15 years of service despite the Masons’ direct entreaties to Biden for intervention.
Mason is not disabled in the traditional sense, he told The Post & Email, and has since been unsuccessful in securing employment commensurate with his experience and education since his involuntary separation from the Army in 2015, a situation Mason suspects stems from retribution and blacklisting.
In previous sections of the story, Mason related a 2008 assault by an enlisted soldier in Iraq when Mason was a first lieutenant which went unaddressed and his subsequent inability to obtain a copy of his own report made to the Army on the incident. While not initially the foundation of the complaint he filed against the soldier to then-3/4 Cav. commander Lt. Col. David Hodne, the ongoing treatment Mason encountered, along with reports from other African-American soldiers, led him to believe that a racial component was present and tolerated within the unit.
Being a man who spoke his mind, Mason respectfully confronted Hodne in a face-to-face meeting just before returning to Hawaii upon Hodne’s order. Mason’s return to Schofield Barracks was premised on an allergic reaction he experienced just prior to the assault and Hodne’s request that he undergo additional medical testing.
Declared fit for duty, Mason later learned that Hodne had previously expressed his desire in an email to a staffer to end Mason’s military career. Nevertheless, Mason went on to become a Public Affairs officer with the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, a logistics command of the 25th Infantry Division, and was ordained a military chaplain during his first Afghanistan tour.
Mason believed he was singled out for individual, dangerous missions overseas as a result of a letter of concern he sent to the command at the 25th Infantry Division over reports from Hodne’s soldiers about unaddressed assaults from the same enlisted man. Ironically, Mason said, while he excelled in his assigned duties in Afghanistan during classified missions, his command in Hawaii cast him in the worst possible light through public dressings-down, a delayed Officer Evaluation Report (OER) affecting his eligibility for promotion, denial of his combat awards, and increasing hostility on the part of the 130th Engineer Brigade, to which he was assigned by the 8th TSC.
Recently Mason learned of a case in which a Public Affairs officer with whom he worked, Ricardo Branch, is being discharged from the Army for the second time “for doing his job,” according to an April 20, 2020 article at connectingvets.com.
Tensions and fear rose so high at the 130th, Mason said, that upon the advice of his physician, he requested an inpatient mental-health admission, during which an Army psychiatrist acknowledged he was not mentally ill but encouraged him to lie and say he was “suicidal.”
Yet to be told in Mason’s story is how the Army ultimately placed him in the Medical Board process even as he was fulfilling the necessary requirements for promotion to Major. “If you’re not liked, they would vote you out,” Mason told us early in the narrative of the Army experience.
Not long after Mason, his wife and children visited the White House and shook hands with Barack Obama as a “Wounded Warrior” family, they were invited, along with five other Wounded Warriors and their families, to partake in an early Christmas dinner with then-Vice President Joseph Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, at their home at the U.S. Naval Observatory. Incredulous at the two back-to-back invitations, Mason accepted the Bidens’ hospitality. Unexpectedly at the end of that evening, Mason said, his wife took the opportunity to speak with Joe Biden personally and privately about the Army’s casting him as “wounded” when, in fact, he was simply a whistleblower being silenced.
Mason’s description of the events is as follows:
We showed up at the Naval Observatory. It was very nice, just before dark. We were dressed up. As we went up the steps, we were greeted by strolling musicians. The house was lit up and decorated for Christmas, and I thought, “Wow, I’m going to get to tell Joe Biden…” Then I felt the spirit of God saying, “Gary, don’t say anything; just listen. If the opportunity presents itself, I will speak through you to get the message to him.”
We were escorted into a little room where they had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. It was very nice, crowded, then all of a sudden Joe Biden and his wife walked in and started shaking everyone’s hand. The Vice President is a really a nice guy; don’t get me wrong. He walked up and shook my hand and my wife’s hand and said, “How are you? Glad to have you here. Let’s take some pictures.” He took the time to go around and take personal pictures with everyone. There is one with him and me and one with him, his wife and me and my wife.
After a while, we were escorted across the way into the dining area. Guess where they sat me? Right next to Joe Biden. The dinner was about three hours, and for about 30-45 minutes, Joe sat on my side of the table and his wife on the other. I was sitting next to him, then my wife and my children. Then Joe introduced himself. I’m sure he knew who I was because they have to do a background check on everyone who comes in. So they know; you don’t just walk in there without their having checked on you. I noticed that Joe Biden immediately started telling me, “I’m one of the only Caucasian Black Caucus members.” And I was thinking, “Why are you telling me this?” Then he went into a story, and my wife tapped me on the leg under the table as if to say, “There he goes…”
I let him talk, and then he went into talking about his son and the accident.
[Editor’s Note: On December 18, 1972, Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and youngest child, Naomi, were killed in a car accident involving a tractor-trailer. Both of Biden’s young sons, Beau and Hunter, were seriously injured but eventually recovered. In May 2015, Beau passed away at the age of 46 from brain cancer. In January 2019, Politico reported that Biden apologized to Pamela Hamill, the daughter of the truck driver, Curtis Dunn, who Biden had publicly claimed on at least two occasions was drunk at the time of the fatal crash. Dunn passed away in 1999 and was cleared of any wrongdoing following the accident.]
He told the whole story and talked about Delaware. He wouldn’t take a breath of air for me to say anything. The lady across from me had PTSD and was saying all kinds of inappropriate things such as, “I hate the Army.” So I just sat there patiently and listened to him. He never gave me an opportunity to get a word in because he talked so much, which was fine. Biden was just trying to be real. Then his wife came over and they changed seats. She was nice, although I didn’t have an opportunity to talk about anything with her. She asked, “Would you like to see the house?” So we went into a more personal study room where they had pictures of their son who was serving in the Navy. She was a really, really nice lady. I remember asking her, “How are you, as the first lady of this house, handling everything that’s going on from a first lady’s perspective?” She was surprised that I asked her that. She replied that she spends a lot of time focusing on the family and trying to maintain support for her husband. I said, “I want you to know that I really appreciate your inviting my family and me to have Christmas dinner with you.” I kept it very cordial.
As we were going out the door, Vice President Biden was standing on the steps of his doorway. He shook my hand; I looked at him, and I said, “Vice President Biden, I want to thank you for inviting me to Christmas dinner. We had a very nice time.” He said, “You’re welcome” and shook my hand. We walked down the steps and into a small limo coach-bus.
I always try to feel if there is something on the inside of me that needs to be said. If I don’t feel it, I don’t say it. And I thought, “Maybe it’s not meant for me to say anything.” So my son, daughter and I got on the bus. As I was sitting there, I noticed my wife wasn’t behind me and my son walked up on the bus and was shaking his head as if to say, “Mom is at it, again.” So I looked outside the bus, and on the front lawn, there were Joe Biden and my wife, and she was in his face, really intent, pointing, and she was telling him the whole story.
The Vice President was shaking her hand as she was telling him how I was a wounded warrior because I had been attacked by toxic leaders. And I thought, “Praise the Lord. Maybe it’s meant for my wife to tell it and not me. It’s better coming from a spouse.” And he waved away the Secret Service; it was just my wife and Joe standing there on the lawn; my wife was the last one. They were there for five or ten minutes. I know my wife; she was pouring herself out. She does not say a lot, but when she speaks, she is saying something you need to pay attention to. Finally, Joe let go of her hand, reached over and hugged her and walked her to the bus. He got up on the bus; I was sitting in the front. He walked up to me, looked at me, put his hand on my shoulder, gave me a little shake, and said, “Thank you for coming.” And I looked at him and said, “You’re welcome; I appreciate being here.” He just stared at me for a minute and kept his hand on my shoulder while he looked to the back of the bus, and he gave this speech about how grateful he was to have everyone there. And I kept thinking, “Why does he have his hand on my shoulder?” It was like an assurance, and I thought, “Maybe he’s going to do something.”
Then he said to my wife, “I need you to talk to my military liaison and we’ll be in contact.” So the Lt. Col. got up on the bus and handed my wife her card. She said, “Call me; the Vice President said you have something for me. Send it to me and I’ll make sure I get it to him.”
So that was how things happened. A day or two later, my wife put the packet together with a cover letter and the Military Accountability and Justice Bill she had drafted. We didn’t hear anything for about two months, then my wife received an email from the Lt. Col. saying she had had a family emergency. She asked for information, and my wife responded to her email, but after that, nothing occurred.
I remember going into the Warrior Brigade office and sitting down talking about my retirement ceremony which I didn’t want to do at Walter Reed. A sergeant walked in and said, “Capt. Mason, the lady” (who was a civilian) “who plans the events was trying to figure out how you got a special invitation to the White House.” I said, “Hold up, Sgt. What do you mean?” and he said, “Capt. Mason, don’t worry about it.” And I said, “No, you said something. Does somebody have a problem with me going to the White House?” and he said, “All I’m saying is that we got chewed out by a commander about you at the last minute going to the White House.” And I said, “Hold on. My paperwork was put in, like everybody else, for six months to a year before it happened. Everybody goes to the White House, right?” And he said, “Yeah, but I guess…” The civilian must have heard us in there talking, and she walked in and said, “Capt. Mason, don’t worry about it.” And I said, “Is something wrong? Did somebody not want me at the White House?” and she said, “Capt. Mason, just forget about it; don’t worry about it.” She turned around and walked out.
This conversation took place after my family and I had met Obama. I think something happened that I don’t know about and they weren’t being honest with me.
We never heard from Joe Biden. We kept trying, but no one from the White House or Biden’s office would follow up.
Editor’s Note: The absence of a response to the Masons’ communications with the White House and Biden’s office are not the end of the story. A follow-on article will detail how the Obama White House invited, then disinvited, Mason’s wife Shahnaaz to accompany then-First Lady Michelle Obama to the Invictus Games overseas.