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“WE WERE RECEIVING DEATH THREATS”

by Sharon Rondeau

Capt. Gary Mason and family, Veterans’ Day celebration, 2013

(Oct. 2, 2020) — In the previous section of this story, former U.S. Army Capt. Gary Mason described how the relationship with his command at Fort Lee, VA became increasingly strained even as he continued to excel in the Captain’s Career Course in preparation for promotion to Major and a new assignment.

Despite his multiple abilities, exceptional test scores and desire to continue serving in the Army as a chaplain for which he was ordained in Afghanistan in 2011, Mason was held back administratively as Fort Lee command investigated allegations lodged against him by his former command at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

A three-tour combat veteran, Mason had hoped for a new beginning after arriving at Fort Lee in June 2012 following his filing of several complaints against the 25th Infantry Division.  However, he experienced retaliation on not one, but both fronts. Unbeknownst to him when he went to the IG on-post at Fort Lee, Mason later discovered a close bond between commanders there and at Schofield dating back many years. Despite an assurance of confidentiality, the report he filed with the IG made its way to the command at Schofield, placing his time at Ft. Lee under a cloud of uncertainty, homelessness and threats against his person and family.

Evidence of retaliation appeared in many forms and included an effort to strip Mason of his Top-Secret security clearance while at Fort Lee, an action which an experienced administrator and veteran called “illegal.” Ultimately cleared of the wrongdoing prompting the move and with his clearance not only reinstated, but enhanced, Mason was nevertheless held in limbo while Ft. Lee command decided his fate.

At issue was whether or not a reprimand would be placed in his permanent file following an administrative review not rising to the level of an “Article 15” non-judicial review or court-martial.  While two out of three commanders voted against the inclusion of the reprimand, the third dissenting vote resulted in an overruling of the majority, Mason said, which he is certain contributed to his eventual severance from the service after 15 years.

Denied on-post housing at Ft. Lee and forced to secure his family members elsewhere, Mason recalled sleeping in his car over the winter of 2012-2013 as he completed the Captain’s Career Course at the Army Logistics University (ALU), continuing to believe that despite the harsh treatment he received, promotion and relocation were still within reach.  He continued his narrative:

I was at Ft. Lee for a year and some months. The Captain’s Career Course was supposed to be only six months long and then I was supposed to take on a new assignment, but they purposely held me over, and this is why:  Whenever you’re in a TRADOC (“training doctrine” or “training command”), that’s in between having a billet.  If the military had paid for me to go to Ft. Lee for four years, that would have been a paying billet.  There’s a billing code attached to any orders.  So when I was assigned to Ft. Lee, they attached the billing code for me to be there for six months.  In other words, the budget was paying for Captain Mason to be there on orders with his family – housing, food rations, and everything.

One of the things they did to try to harm me was refusing to give me housing.  They would have given it to me if I had fought for it, but if my wife and children had moved into base housing and then I was accused of being AWOL, they could have taken all of my property, confiscated it and kicked my family out. Under the circumstances I wasn’t going to risk putting my family there, because if I had and they said I was AWOL, they would have apprehended me and given my wife three months to get out.  I was not going to allow my family to be harmed in that fashion, plus we were receiving death threats.  So it was best for me to send my wife and children to a place of safety with a family I knew to protect them from harm where they would not be at risk of being homeless, which in some ways, we were.

I was trying to get officer quarters, which I was supposed to get as an officer on active duty; they refused. The garrison commander refused — and he was African-American.  Every time I told him I was trying to get quarters, he said, “No.”  They even built a hotel for ALU officers right across from the campus; they had brand-new places.  So I asked and said, “Can I get a place so I can go back and forth?” and they basically said, “No.” So I was sleeping in a truck, a Ford Expedition.  It was pretty cold in the winter, even with five blankets, and I’d turn the engine on every so often to get warm.

That is what I went through for weeks until someone said, “You’re a U.S. Army captain; you shouldn’t be going through this,” and they allowed me to go to an “undisclosed location.”  That was humiliating.  We also wrote the Human Resource Command and asked for all of the money we were supposed to get, a stipend, a return of funds because they refused to give us the housing we needed.  Sen. Cardin, with whom I had filed a complaint requesting an inquiry, had said, “He’s not eligible for this particular transitional housing,” and I said, “What do you mean? You’re keeping us here for six months, not allowing me a new set of orders.  That’s not my fault. You’re supposed to give me transitional housing,” and they were refusing to give us the money to get housing. And they said, “Well, if Capt. Mason is refusing and hiding his family, then we’re not going to give him anything.”

It was almost as if they were doing whatever they could do to make our stay at Ft. Lee terrible.  I found out that they had about a half-dozen officers sitting there and not doing their jobs while they were trying to find a way to kick them out.  They were all African-American male captains. Six or seven of them I knew, including Casey, who I didn’t meet until later.  They would force them to do administrative work around the office until they were able to stack up enough negative things about them to discharge them.  It was basically a holding station to try to have people discharged, and if they didn’t have anything on you, they would put you through a long process with a Show-Cause Board in which you would appear before the commanding general.  It’s not an Article 15; it’s not a “Chapter”; it’s a hearing where all they have to prove is a preponderance of evidence. So the commanding general, who was a two-star at the time, would hire 3-5 colonels to work with him.  You could hire your own attorney or get a JAG to come in and represent you.  The standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” doesn’t apply to the Show-Cause inquiries; the only thing it’s used for, for example, is an allegation of domestic violence, drunk driving, speeding on post, etc., and the general is going to give you a general-officer reprimand which pretty-much ruins your career so they can go ahead and discharge you.

So what they were trying to do to me was almost like a kangaroo court.  it was set up for me to fail. When they gave me the form saying I had to sign it for the reasons they listed — officer unbecoming, AWOL — the general was going to give me a GOMOR.  I drew a long line through that and said, “This doesn’t apply to me because these are allegations; i never committed a crime.  This GOMOR doesn’t apply to me and there’s no need for a show-cause board or board of inquiry. If you’re accusing me of something, you can “chapter” me or give me an Article 15 and let me have a trial by court-martial.”  That way, I would have been able to bring in someone from the outside.

However, with a show-cause board or a board of inquiry, nobody from the media or the outside is allowed in.  So they were trying to have it secretly done.  Gen. Wyche had already been in contact with Gen. Lyons back in Hawaii. They were in the same logistical command. Gen. Lyons came and took the job from Gen. Wyche when he left.  When I heard he would be replacing Wyche, I wondered if Gen. Lyons was coming because I was still in the command.  But it was almost like, “Well, Gen. Lyons, this is your problem. If you had all these problems with Captain Mason, why did you send him to the Captain’s Career Course? Why didn’t you straighten him out while he was still in Hawaii?”

They couldn’t really prove why they were coming up with all of these accusations, so Ft. Lee was stuck in a tangled web.  They couldn’t justify anything, so they began to trump up, “He has psychological problems.”

 

 

 

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  1. Through no fault of our own, we as Americans were born into a society structured to keep some in power and some oppressed. What I learned from the ordeal laid out so courageously in this series is that although we did not build this system, we must take the responsibility to fix it. Exposing the ugly cancer of systemic racism is the first step in rooting it out. Reverend Mason and I are grateful to Christ for the assignment and to the many people of ALL backgrounds who have stood with us and for us long enough for us to do the same for others.