“STAY HERE AND WAIT”
by Sharon Rondeau
Although not initially, Mason came to believe that racism was a component of the treatment he received, which included bizarre, solo deployments lacking adequate supports and the revelation that he was sent into a war zone without proper orders. Other grievances included non-receipt of earned combat awards; his command’s failure to complete an Officer Evaluation Report (OER) in 2011 necessary for consideration for promotion; verbal abuse; unwarranted dressings-down and threats as well as ostracization on the part of the 130th Engineer Brigade, to which he had been assigned; erroneous write-ups known as “counseling statements” placed in his permanent file but never, in fact, acted upon; and a false accusation that he was AWOL while awaiting his flight from Honolulu to Ft. Lee, VA under new command orders.
A previous verbal exchange with Maj. Acker had led Mason to report to the ER at Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) out of fear for his safety and that of his family. Admitted as an inpatient for several days, Mason described a conversation with an Army psychiatrist who advised him to inform his treatment team that he was considering suicide despite its falsity. Upon reflection, Mason said, he did not heed the doctor’s advice. He said he was not going to lie and say he was suicidal when in fact, he wasn’t.
During the confrontation at the Honolulu airport, Mason told us and a video taken by Mason’s son reveals, Acker, a subordinate to General Stephen R. Lyons in Hawaii, ordered Mason to return to base and report to Lyons the following Monday morning. However, Mason’s attorney advised him to continue to Ft. Lee to avoid a true “AWOL” accusation given his new orders. Since his flight was mysteriously canceled as he prepared to board the plane with his family that Saturday morning, Mason paid for the flight to the East Coast himself, traveling apart from his wife and children.
Having enlisted in the infantry in 2000, become a Public Affairs officer and obtained his military ordination as a Christian chaplain, Mason was eventually placed into the “Wounded Warrior” program at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, MD and offered the choice of a discharge with medical pension or nothing at all after 15 years of service. In 2015 he left the Army but has remained close to the military community, offering his services as a chaplain to victims of sexual assault and to a local police department.
In Part 44, Mason described the hold placed on his career due to an investigation surrounding an order that his Top-Secret security clearance be revoked. At the time, upon official orders, Mason was attending a Captain’s Career Course in preparation for a foreseeable promotion to Major. While graduating at the top of his class, Mason yet reached the depths of despair as he was forced to sleep in his car on cold winter nights for lack of on-base housing and what he saw as a growing desire on the part of the Army, fueled by input from his former command in Hawaii, to eventually sever him from service.
Now working on a doctorate degree, Mason desires to one day lend his expertise to the White House to formulate new policies which would foster greater openness as to racial differences in the military and not only offer substantially more assistance to victims of sexual assault, but also prevent such acts from occurring in the first place. His faith led him to forgiveness and now, he said, his focus is reconciliation.
Referring to the probe into the matter of his security clearance, Mason continued:
While that was going on, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division called back. There was a lady by the name of Anisa Kahn; she was the agent in charge of our case. We had sent a letter in March explaining what happened. The DOJ accepted it and said they would investigate it as a hate crime. At the same time, my wife wrote to President Obama twice and Mrs. Obama. Once we wrote the Obamas, they sent the standard form letter back and said they would look into it. So we thought, “OK, good; now we have some independent people looking into what’s going on.”
We had the Justice Department investigating a hate crime; we had President Obama, who sent us back a letter saying they were going to direct it to the proper personnel. We also began to talk to the FBI in Maryland. The Department of Justice normally assigns the FBI when they believe they have a hands-down, closed case to arrest somebody. So all those processes started, and it was a waiting game. It was an arduous time, because while I was going to school I was being tested and having to take final exams. Meanwhile, my wife and children were at a separate location because of my concern for their safety.
A week before I graduated, the leadership at Ft. Lee realized that the investigation came back from the National Clearance Investigation Center and found that everything my unit in Hawaii was trying to charge me with was totally baseless. In fact, the process by which a clearance is normally revoked was not followed at all. So they dropped it, threw out the case, and reinstated my clearance.
The first thing I did was write to Sen. Cardin and say I wanted to press charges against Maj. Acker and the 130th Engineer Brigade for falsifying information on federal-government documents (a federal offense). I wanted Senator Cardin’s office to conduct an investigation into what the 130th did. I had come to my last week before my big exam to finish up and graduate from the Army Logistics University (ALU) and my Captain’s Career Course. Because they suspended my clearance, they then tried to say, “Well, we think Capt. Mason has a mental problem, so we want him to show up at Behavioral Health and we want to give him a psychological evaluation.” There was to be a three-count vote to decide on my fate: Lt. Col. Holton, the battalion commander of the Army Logistics University; Col. Harney, the commandant of the university; and Cpt. Rosilyn Woodard, my company commander. These people were to vote on whether or not the GOMOR should go into my officer military personnel file permanently. If it stayed there, they could go ahead and dismiss me because I wouldn’t have been promotable. So rather than investigate my claims and expose the crimes committed by so many at this point, they chose to kill my career.
After I won the case with my clearance, the paperwork went back to the Army command. Lt. Col. Holton and Cpt. Woodard voted that it should not be placed in my file. Well, Col. Harney, who was the commandant, voted that it should be. So even though it went in my favor, Maj. Gen. Wyche put it in anyway. He issued a memorandum saying, “I’m going to go ahead and place this in your permanent military file.”
This whole time, I was talking to Sen. Cardin, who asked me to send him a copy of the video from the airport. I did. They found out there was no AWOL; there was no dereliction of duty. They were mad because they said I disobeyed an order, but it was an unlawful order; they would have had to have paperwork to charge me with something. They never did that.
As that went on, it came down to the last week before my graduation. After I graduated the Captain’s Career Course, they were supposed to assign me my next command, which was a Public Affairs detachment and command at Ft. Hood, TX. But I got a strange call from my PAO branch manager; on that call, he said, “Deputy Commander, Col. Chuck Maskell (the person who worked for Gen. Terry) had called him and said, ”We don’t want any officer movement; do not cut orders for Capt. Mason to move and take command at Ft. Hood.”
Now what I realized was happening was that all these commanders, colonels and generals from Hawaii were on the phone telling their comrades to block any movements, evaluations or awards. While in ALU, I was getting ready for my final test and evaluation; the last week they forced me to come in and take a second psych evaluation. So every day for four days, I had to go into the medical treatment facility at Ft. Lee’s Kenner Army Health Clinic and sit in a room where they turned the lights off, flashed numbers on a computer…This went on for four or five hours a day. “We want you to draw pictures…we’re going to say these numbers and tell us what numbers we said,” I was told. “Put these blocks together; take them apart. Go back in there; sit and watch these numbers; hit the left button; hit the right button.” They did this all the way until the day I left. It was as if they were trying to break me and make me go off from the stress of all this.
I talked to my doctor, the same one from Tripler Army Medical Center, who said, “Just remain cool and calm and go through the test anyway, because it’s going to prove that you don’t have a psych disorder.”
My wife and children started going to Walter Reed; they asked if they could come in and talk with counselors because of the stress we were under as a family. It was traumatic. I began to feel undue pressure from hospital administrators and Ft. Lee commanders while going to Kenner. My wife and I requested multiple appointments to meet with our commanding General. MG Larry Wyche refused to allow my family and I to meet with him and utilize our right to ask for an ‘Open Door Policy’ appointment to discuss the retaliation and retribution we were facing from those at the ALU. Due to the lack of support and continued harassment, we transferred our medical care to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The doctors at Walter Reed began to see us there, although I was driving three hours to and from. The ALU command hired a civilian doctor, Dr. Michael Lynch, who was a psychiatrist working someplace in Bethesda, MD for Gen. Wyche. Lynch said he wanted to do a video-teleconference to ask me questions to determine the assessment of my psych evaluation. So he began to ask questions and talk and talk and talk. I remember on our second video-recorded conversation, he said he would get back with me and tell me what his diagnosis was from the past week of testing at Kenner.
During one of our last conferences, I said, “Dr. Lynch, can I explain to you what happened at Tripler? I had a doctor walk in and tell me, “Admit to being suicidal.” And he just fell back in his chair and said, “Why would you tell me that?” I said, “What do you mean?” and he said, “This conversation’s over. You’re trying to tell me that they told you that you should say you’re suicidal?” and I said, “Yes, they did.” And he said, “OK, but I don’t agree with that.” And I said, “Well, good, because this is all a false narrative. This is all fake and being trumped up as a way to remove me from the Army. This is not true.”
I explained that to him, and he said, “OK, I’m done for the day. I’ll call you back in about a week with your diagnosis.” Well, guess what? He never called back. He disappeared and no one would tell me where he went. It was crazy. They were trying to make me look bad any way they could.
So after I graduated — I ended up passing the exam with honors — the cadre who rated me for my OER did so with the top rating of “excellent.” Well, he got called in and the officers fussed at him for giving me a top-notch evaluation. They said, “You should never give anybody ‘excellent’ achievements, and you gave Captain Mason all these ‘excellent’ achievements.” And the cadre said, “Well, the guy came in here and did better than everybody else, and he’s an infantry officer. The guy did his job.” And he told me, “I don’t know what’s going on, Capt. Mason, but they’re actually mad at me because I rated you with ‘excellent.'” And I said, “Thank you for being honest.”
The time spent in Ft. Lee was a lesson learned. Initially, I believed that transferring to an Army Installation with a black commanding general, black garrison commander, black commandant, and a black company commander would be favorable. What I realized is that the very ones who looked like me were the ones used to end my career in order to further their own. I was lied to, rejected, and flat-out deceived by the entire chain of command at Ft. Lee. Even the JAG, IG, EO and Garrison Chaplain who I knew personally refused to assist or get involved with my request for support and guidance. After successful completion of the Captain’s Career Course, I was denied follow-on orders to take command as a Public Affairs Officer. I learned a life-changing lesson about my expectations from people. I could only count on God to help me.
In spite of every door shut in defense of my case, I continued to seek military assistance from other installations. I personally traveled to and requested help at Ft. Meade’s IG, EO and JAG. Walter Reed’s Army IG, JAG, EO and the Naval Criminal Investigation Service seemed to all know about the congressional matters surrounding my case. I received the same response: “We cannot get involved.”
There were two main players I encountered at Ft. Lee who believed in doing what was right: the security installation officer who investigated the clearance case and a battalion chaplain who provided open-door support to my family and I while fighting for our civil rights and security.
During this time, I decided to apply for a transfer into the US Army Chaplain Corps, now that I was completely eligible. The northeast chaplain station was located in Columbia, MD. I remembered the recruiter from my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. My packet was completed and ready to go before the board. All I needed was a release form signed by the ALU commander in order to submit my packet for transfer. A few weeks later, I found out that the ALU commandant and the garrison commander contacted the chaplain recruiter and put a stop on my packet to transfer and enter the US Army Chaplain Corps.
So I went and graduated, then all of a sudden I was told by the command, “You’re not going to get orders; you have to stay here and wait until the investigation is over.” I said, “What do you mean, ‘stay here and wait?'”
I decided to try and find off-post housing because I didn’t trust staying on post with all that was going on. My family wasn’t with me; because of fear, they were staying with a family in Maryland. The Garrison Commander called me into his office to ask me where we were staying. He didn’t ask how we were doing; he just insisted that I give him my address. I had gone into downtown Petersburg and found a bed-and-breakfast to stay in. An older lady had two homes right next to each other and she would often rent her place out to the officers going through the Captain’s Career Course. She and her husband were very nice.
I remember after other Captains received assignments and commands, they left after they graduated from ALU, while I was left behind as a new class of incoming officers began to in-process. Before I was able to move out, I asked the lady if I could stay beyond graduation. I remember that Christmas of 2012; I was going to go home to spend it in Maryland with my mom and dad and wife and children. Surprisingly, the man who owned the house called me over and said, “My wife and I are seriously considering shutting down these properties. You’re more than welcome to stay here, but would you be interested in purchasing this home?” And I said, “I really like the home but I’m looking to take command or move to another location.”
It was a historic home, the one in which Gen. Robert E. Lee was hiding at one time from the Union Army. They showed me where he had stood in the basement while the Civil War was going on. So I started thinking, “Man, Gen. Lee is not going to like the fact that I’m living in this place; it might be haunted” (laughs).
Then something mysteriously happened. The husband and wife who owned the place were maybe in their 60s or 70s. They seemed to be well-off, and the house was located on Washington Street, right across from the Governor’s School in Lynchburg, where a lot of well-to-do people sent their children. When I would go over, the wife would be on the porch in the evening with friends drinking wine by candlelight. They’d say, “Hi,” but the husband would always be working in the yard.
A day or two before Christmas, I went in and sat down. The husband, whose name was Dave, said, “Capt. Mason, you seem to be a bit bothered by something. Why aren’t you going to take command? What’s going on?”
And I said, “Dave, that’s really hard for me to discuss.” And he said, “Look, Gary, you’re a good guy. I know you, and you’re normally laughing, jovial…I can tell something is wrong.” Well, we sat there for two hours and discussed what had happened to me. With tears in his eyes, he dropped his head and said, “Capt. Mason, I’m so very sorry this has happened to you. I want you to know that you’re more than welcome to stay here as long as you want. You don’t go anyplace until you want to.” And I said, “Dave, thank you.”
I went home for Christmas and came back a week later. There was a new guy next-door to me, a mysterious professor at the logistics university I had graduated from. He was kind-of strange, but by this time I didn’t trust anybody. So I came in, unpacked my things, and got into bed. It was late, about 11:00 at night. I heard a knock on my door, and it was the roommate. I said, “Yes?” My door was locked, and I vaguely heard him say, “Capt. Mason, I just want you to know that they found David dead. They’re having funeral services tomorrow for the wife and I think you should know.”
And I said, “What did you say?” and he said, “They found David dead.” The way he said it just bothered me. I said, “What are you talking about?” and he said, “They found David in his car a couple exits up. He committed suicide.” And I said, “Now wait a minute; are you talking about the owner of this house?” and he said, “Yes.”
So the next morning I got up early and went next-door and saw his wife, Nancy, and we talked. I said, “Nancy, what is going on?” and she said, “David committed suicide; they found him in his car. He must have pulled over on the exit and stuffed something in the exhaust pipe and they said he died of carbon monoxide poisoning.” I said, “Nancy, that does not sound like David.” And she said, “I know; we’re just all in shock.” And I looked at her and something didn’t seem right. I said, “Nancy, my prayers and condolences — if there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
Then she said, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the property, but how much longer do you think you need to stay here?”
Nancy had come to my graduation at the ALU’s Captain’s Career Course as was her practice with all the captains who rented from her. A few months later, her husband was deceased. So that started causing some panic in my heart with all the things going on. The Pentagon was slow-rolling this; the Congress was stonewalling; the military was trying to put me out; I was really going through some difficult times. Then they said they weren’t going to release me. They were going to keep me there working odd jobs. The investigation had been conducted and I was cleared, so they couldn’t use that. The general said, “I can’t remove him now.”
I remember one day coming downstairs at the unit and there was a young guy, a captain, sitting at the desk who stopped me. “Excuse me, Capt. Mason, are you a pastor?” he asked. And I looked at him and said, “Why would you ask me that?” I looked at his name tag, and it said, “Capt. Harrell.” That was my first time meeting Casey. And he said, “You’re different from everybody else here in this school, and I noticed you’re in here early and leaving late. Could I ask you some questions?” and I answered his question with, “I decided to be a chaplain and was ordained as a reverend.”
Every day that I walked by he would ask me difficult questions, but he never told me what was going on. Casey was being held over also. I began to find out that there were at least a dozen black officers I had met who they were holding over for administrative action. A lot of times, when you get assigned orders to a billet, it’s like an employment contract. But when you’re in transition and going to a military school or training, that’s where they can find reasons — medical, health, profile, and they can hold you over until you just get tired of being there or until they find a way to force you out. I don’t doubt they were holding Casey there while they were trying to investigate what was going on with him and his wife. They were holding another officer from another command who they alleged sexually harassed a white sergeant in the motor pool, which he said he never did. They had them lined up for what they call a “show-cause board.”
That particular officer told me, “I got an attorney and went in there; they wouldn’t listen to a thing I said…Mason, don’t go there. That thing is stacked up against you.” So I said, “If they’re going to do anything to me, they need to charge me with an Article 15 and give me a trial by court-martial. They can’t send me to a show-cause board because my case doesn’t apply.”
They knew I had the media now; I had congressional inquiries; I was waiting for information back from the Department of Justice. Mrs. Obama’s White House wrote my wife a letter and said they were looking into it. Everybody was holding out, waiting. It went from 100 days, 200 days, and I got to the point where I was approaching a year of living in Petersburg. My entire class had graduated and gotten their assignments except me. I learned that the military has so little outside scrutiny that they can cover up things pretty easily. It got scary because no one from the outside world was doing anything.
After David died, I had to move out. I was traveling six hours a day, driving to Maryland at night. I would get up at 3:00 a.m. and come all the way back to report in at Ft. Lee at 6:00 a.m. They assigned me to work for the Ft. Lee newspaper, so I started writing articles. One day I came in after my articles had started showing up in the Ft. Lee paper, and guess what: they called me and said, “Hey, the general said you can no longer work here.” I said, “What? What am I supposed to do when I’m here waiting for the results of an investigation?” and the editor said, “We can’t address it. We can no longer use your services.” No reason was given.
It got so bad that they refused to allow me to live on-post, so I started sleeping in my car during the winter months. I was freezing, hiding; I didn’t want anybody to know I was in the car. They were treating me terribly as a captain. I had graduated at the top of the class; I even received the senior top logistical award for the school, only one of two who got it, and Col. Harney wasn’t even going to come to the graduation because they had to honor me with that. While I was getting awards there, they were trying to find a way to put me out.
Finally, Mrs. Hubbard had a friend who said I could stay with her in a small house in Petersburg to help me get out of the cold. That was just the beginning of the mess that was going on at Ft. Lee before I ended up at Walter Reed.