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“THEY’RE DOING SOMETHING ILLEGAL”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jul. 3, 2020) — This section of former U.S. Army Captain Gary Mason’s story continues at the point in early June 2012 when two 130th Engineer Brigade command officers attempted to stop Mason from leaving Hawaii for Ft. Lee, VA, where he had been reassigned from the 130th, a brigade of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Early in his Army career, Mason acquired a Top-Secret security clearance in order to serve as a diplomatic security officer for the U.S. State Department. He came to focus on Public Affairs and was deployed twice to Afghanistan in that capacity. Between 2003 and 2010, he studied for military ordination, a process completed during his first Afghanistan tour.
At his request, in 2012 Mason was reassigned from the 130th to Ft. Lee to take a “Captain’s Career Course” in preparation for a promotion to Major, which had been recommended by commanders under whom he served overseas. The prospect of the promotion followed many difficulties Mason encountered beginning in late 2008 with an assault while he was serving in Iraq which went unpunished. After reporting the incident to his chain of command, Mason became the subject of retaliation, humiliation, harassment, and denial of a timely Officer Evaluation Report (OER) and the combat awards he earned while deployed to Afghanistan.
A first lieutenant at the time, Mason has identified the individual who assaulted him as Sgt. Major Royce Manis, an enlisted soldier who was later promoted within the 25th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade to Command Sgt. Major. When then-Rep. Mazie Hirono, through a congressional investigation Mason requested, inquired of the command as to the circumstances surrounding Mason’s complaint, the 25th Infantry Division’s chief of staff responded that they were not able to “find” Manis to interview him despite his continued service, promotion and close proximity.
Hirono’s office received a tepid response from the 25th Infantry Division and told Mason it would be unable to assist him further, advising him to transfer the complaint, also known as a “congressional,” to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II hero who passed away approximately nine months later.
Having arrived at Honolulu International Airport on the morning of June 16, 2012 and discovered his flight mysteriously “canceled” while those of his wife and children remained on schedule, Mason was met by Majors Acker and Staiano. Both reported to 130th Engineer Brigade commander Col. Jeffrey Milhorn and played a major role in several confrontations involving Mason which cast him in an unfavorable light with Milhorn and others.
The two were dressed in casual clothing, arrived without military security, and claimed Mason had not completed the clearance process in order to properly depart the island, a video of the incident taken by Mason’s son shows. He was verbally accused of being absent without leave (AWOL), of dereliction of duty and of exhibiting conduct unbecoming an officer.
When Acker ordered him to report to the general commanding the 8th TSC the following Monday morning, Mason was stunned and immediately contacted his attorney, who advised him to proceed to Ft. Lee so that he would not be considered “AWOL” by his new command. A friend and military veteran who had lent assistance, Ricardo Finney, advised the same, Mason said.
He continued the story:
I remember thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening.” I called my attorney and Ricardo, and they both said, “Go ahead and get on that flight to Ft. Lee.” So I went and sat at my gate, and it was the longest three hours. I was waiting for that flight and I remember thinking, “I wonder if the MPs will come running down the breezeway and try to stop me with some false warrant for my arrest.”
Remember, for the last three months, they didn’t want me there; no one wanted to talk to me. They didn’t want me around and wouldn’t give me any paperwork. Then all of a sudden, at the last minute, they didn’t want me to leave. The senior chief of the garrison’s Soldier Support Center had cleared me with a stamp of approval showing that I had correctly and fully cleared my unit and all the installations prior to departing. So I was cleared on all fronts.
But do you know what happened? Col. Milhorn took a blank installation clearance form and falsely claimed that I didn’t fill it out. It showed up in an IG report. They went and did a rushed IG complaint and a false AWOL charge, then tried to cancel my Top-Secret clearance in order to stop me in movement. A whole week to two weeks later, they tried to trump up all kinds of accusations: that I was derelict of duty, AWOL, and “officer unbecoming.”
It was the longest flight, and I found myself saying, “I can’t believe this; they’re trying to say I’m AWOL.” When I got to Richmond International Airport, it was really late. I went down the escalator by myself and I looked in the USO, and there were my wife and children sitting there playing games, eating snacks. They were happy to see me. I called my parents, and they drove up from Washington, DC to meet us at the airport. They were concerned about what happened. We rented a car, and we immediately drove straight to Ft. Lee so I could sign in and find out about this false AWOL complaint.
We drove to the Soldier Support Center, Garrison Command at Ft. Lee in Petersburg, which is about a 30-minute drive from Richmond. Once you sign in, you’re officially on the books. I walked in and officially signed in and dated it; it was June 16th at about 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. I kept a copy of it. I took it, and my parents and I tried to find a lodge on-post. They said they had no more room, so I had to go back to Richmond to find a hotel for my family. So we stayed in a hotel, talked with my parents, and my dad said, “Maybe what you should do is go to the Pentagon to the IG office there. because this is really getting out of hand.”
So the next morning, my wife and I got into our rental car and drove to the Pentagon. They wouldn’t let my wife come in, but I went in and sat with the inspector general’s office at the Pentagon and showed them the congressionals I had filed and what was going on. It was two civilian guys and one service member. They were shocked and said, “All of this happened where?”
They walked to an office and a whistleblower inspector came out. He and the IG asked me, “Do you mind writing a statement telling us what happened? Here’s the form so we can start the whistleblower protection policy.” They went online, pulled up my record, took my ID, and said, “Capt. Mason, you have orders to report to Ft. Lee; have you signed in yet?” and I said, “I’ve already signed in.” And they said, “Well, you’re not AWOL. go to your school, go to your class, and we will do an investigation to find out what’s going on.”
They both escorted my wife and I to the front and said, “We’ll open up a new IG case and a whistleblower investigation.” So I was thinking, “OK, this is good.” I’m sure Hawaii did not want that to get back to the Pentagon. Everything in Hawaii is kept in Hawaii. So now I had reported everything all the way up the flagpole.
I went over to begin the in-process, which is what you do whenever you’re reassigned to a new location. I went over to the Army Logistics University and started the in-process. When I got there, there was an ALU cadre member, a higher-ranking enlisted person, who said, “Hey, Captain Mason, can you come in for a minute? We see that you’ve signed in and everything, but we’re getting phone calls from this guy, Major Acker in Hawaii.” I said, “Well, yes, I left Hawaii and I have a congressional against some of them because I was stationed there and there was some racial discrimination and there’s an investigation going on, and I’m sure they’re trying to call and protect themselves to give you their version of what happened.” And the cadre said, “Capt. Mason, did you sign out before you left?” and I said, “Yes, I called in to the unit, which is standard procedure for officers, and the CQ signed me out.” And he said, “Major Acker is saying you didn’t properly sign out to clear the installation. Do you have your clearance papers?” and I said, “Yes,” and I gave him everything, and he looked and he saw everything; the commander’s signature was right there. He said, “Capt. Mason, I’m confused. They’re sending me emails saying you didn’t properly sign out and they’re trying to see if they can send you back to Hawaii.”
Normally what happens is you can’t sign another set of orders for at least another six months. You can’t redeploy a person like that. So I said, “No, I’m on full orders; the government is paying for this. I just went down to the Pentagon and opened up an IG case and a whistleblower protection case…” and he said, “Well, this is above my head. I’m just letting you know that Major Acker is sending information and calling me every day. I’m not trying to get in the middle of it; I just want you to know what’s going on. At this point, the class starts in about a week. Are you straight? Did you get housing, because you’re going to be here for about 4-6 months.” And he added, “Don’t get all worked up about this; over the next few weeks we’ll find out what’s going on and we’ll call you in and keep you updated.”
I still could not find housing for my family and I on-post; they told me it would take about a month. I was able to find a family in Maryland to house my wife and children. At this point, I was concerned about my health and safety, thinking that someone might try to harm me because of what they were doing. I didn’t trust them now, because they were lying. I was telling my attorney what was going on, and he sent a letter to the command. I also went to the Maryland NAACP and told them what was going on; they sent a letter to the command also. I wanted outside entities to look in and see that the military was going to cover up this stuff from the inside.
Mr. Bob Ross, who wrote the letter, appeared in the Maryland Press Conference and interview following my wife. He received no response to his letter.
They were trying to avoid my attorney and didn’t really want to provide a response to him, but they were starting the process of getting the Pentagon involved. The whistleblower protection director, Mr. Robert Nelson, asked me to submit a full report for him of everything that had happened, so I put together a 55-page report with all of the evidence, emails, documents, and the police report. He said it would not go to anyone other than him unless I gave my approval to send it to someone else, which I did not.
A week or two later, he called me and said he knew the chief of staff of the 25th Infantry Division. “He and I went to school together, so I’m just going to call him,” he said. He was the same guy who said in response to the congressional that they couldn’t find Sgt. Major Manis, so I thought, “Here we go again with the funny business.”
He apparently called there. I didn’t hear anything back from him, and guess what he did with my package? He sent my complete statement and evidence back to the 25th Infantry Division. He sent it there without my permission. So I started calling him, leaving him phone messages saying, “Hey… where are you? You haven’t responded back to me.” No one from the Pentagon would now reach back out to me. So then, the new general over the 130th Engineer Brigade, Steven Lyons, used a guy named Major Ewan, who said, “We’re going to do an IG investigation here on you and we want you to come back to Hawaii.” And I said, “No, I’m not going back to Hawaii. Right now I’m fearful for my safety; you tried to separate my family and I; we stay together at this point. While there’s a whistleblower protection order and a congressional that’s being investigated, I have nothing to say to anyone, because everyone is lying now. I don’t trust you.”
I went to the IG’s office and the JAG office at Ft. Lee. All of a sudden, an African-American JAG who was a captain said, “Capt. Mason, I don’t know what’s going on, but Hawaii’s on the phone with our command.” The top three commanders were all African-American at the ALU: two were full-bird colonels and one was a two-star general. The post installation commander was two-star general Gen. Larry Wyche; the commandant of the school was Col. Harney, and the garrison commander, Col. Edge. So I began to think, “Wow, I’m in good hands. I’m going to get a fair shake in this.” Maybe it was a bit premature for me to think that, but I thought I would to be able to talk to these guys to find out what was going on.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen; all of them were trying to avoid me. So I went over to the Finance office, because if you’re considered AWOL, the first thing they do is cut off your pay, and then they send out MPs to try to find you. But they knew I wasn’t hiding; I was on orders. So I went over there, and the personnel at the finance office said, “Let me look in the system and find out when we received you.” Whenever you sign out, you’re also received by the oncoming command. He said, “You left Hawaii on the 16th? You’re not AWOL; we actually received you on June 6. In other words, even before you left Hawaii, the orders you got from Human Resource Command already assigned you even before you left. Here are your next two pay cycles. So Capt. Mason, you’re not AWOL.”
I walked out, went back and started contacting my attorney. I sent letters to Inouye’s office, but all of a sudden, Sen. Inouye died. So I asked his office, “Who do I talk to?” and I was told, “Well, if you’re staying in Maryland, you can talk to Sen. Ben Cardin’s office.”
My wife’s mom wrote to her congressman and Sen. Casey of Pennsylvania, and my parents wrote to Rep. Steny Hoyer. Both of them came back and said, “Thank you for writing, but because both of your mothers are not the service member, we can’t get involved. You’re going to have to go to Sen. Cardin’s office.” We transferred everything over to Sen. Cardin’s office, and in the meanwhile, we also wrote the Department of Justice because Wendy Wright of WOL started talking to my wife and doing radio interviews. Then Elliott Francis of NPR did a story, and Maryland Public TV and NBC Channel 7. Everybody started doing stories about this in Maryland. Then, Sen. Cardin’s office started getting stonewalled.
Two weeks later, I received a memorandum from Gen. Wyche’s office saying that they were looking at putting a general officer reprimand in my file, and I said, “For what?” And the command said, “Well, Hawaii is saying they’re doing an investigation claiming you were AWOL, derelict of duty, and officer unbecoming.” I said, “How can they charge me when I haven’t had a case?” and they said, “Well, here at Ft. Lee, we can set up what they call a show-cause board where the general will preside and make a determination on his own.” I said, “No, a general officer reprimand based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice stipulates that I must have committed an offense.”
I tried to talk to the JAG there, but they refused to talk to me because they were all working for Gen. Wyche. The JAG said he wouldn’t talk to me about my case, and the Inspector General’s office said it couldn’t do anything because Gen. Wyche was refusing to push forward any administrative actions I wanted in my own defense. He was only going to adhere to what the general in Hawaii wanted. So the generals were on the phone talking to each other. Come to find out that Gen. Wyche used to work with the same generals in Hawaii at the 8th Theater Sustainment Command because it’s a logistical command. So they all knew each other, they were all in the same occupation, and they were going to stick together. I ended up at a a Captain’s Career Course which was a logistical university, so it was the same thing there.
I slowly started understanding the relationships. Everybody at Ft. Lee began to shut down. The IG said, “We can’t investigate; we know there’s a congressional.” I went to JAG; who said, “We can’t defend you; we know there’s a congressional. They’re trying to get you orders to go back to Hawaii.” I said, “I’m not going back to Hawaii. Right now I’m concerned about my safety and I need to report what’s going on.”
The command was trying to determine whether or not to allow me to start school with the rest of the Captain’s Career Course. The cadre said, “He has orders; he signed in; there’s an investigation going on but we can’t stop him from going to school.” So to me, they said, “You’re going to go ahead and start class. Just go to class and move forward.”
In class, I got high accolades and ended up graduating at the top of my class.
About a month in, the Installation Security officer at the ALU called me out of class one day and said, “Hey, I just wanted you to know that your name is on a list for your Top-Secret security clearance to be suspended.” And I said, “Why is it being suspended?” He said, “Well, they’re saying that you’re AWOL and this and that…” and I asked, “Am I AWOL?” and he said, “No. Look, I don’t know what this is about; it’s strange, because I’ve never seen this happen.” So I said, “Who’s the senior security officer on this post?”
He sent me to an African-American lady named Benessa Hubbard. I went across to the security installation office and introduced myself. I told her what was happening, and she was shocked. She said, “What? Let me just stop you right there. If there’s a problem — I’m asking you this before I get involved — do you have everything in black and white?” and I said, “Yes, I do.” She said, “Could you please bring it to me?” So I brought her everything I was sending to the Pentagon. She looked at me and said, “They’re doing something illegal.” I said, “What?” She went into her system and said, “It looks as if they had someone at the 130th Engineer Brigade go in and illegally suspend your clearance.” “What do you mean ‘illegally?'” And she said, “You can’t suspend a clearance unless you’re a threat to National Security or committed a crime. And by the way, it looks as if you got this clearance from the Department of State, so the Army never gave it to you anyway and can’t suspend it. They’re trying to say you don’t need it and to prohibit you from having it.”
Well, that started an investigation, so now the National Clearance Facility at Ft. Meade opened up an investigation while I was going to school. They were looking at why my clearance was designated for suspension as well as the three accusations against me: AWOL, derelict of duty, and officer unbecoming.
[Editor’s Note: The attorney Mason retained for his own case, Anthony Bothwell, represents the plaintiffs in a 2008 lawsuit filed against the Secretary of the Army and Secretary of Defense for alleged discrimination occurring at Tripler Army Medical Center, the litigation for which is ongoing. Mason’s Hawaii physician is among the plaintiffs. Banks et al v Army CV11 00798 LEK KSC 2011dec30
On August 28, 2012, Bothwell sent the following to Maj. Acker and two others at the 130th Engineer Brigade, copied to Mason’s commander at Ft. Lee, to inquire about the “AWOL” allegation to which he received no response, Mason said.