Like many young men and women graduating from high school, Gregory Mason was uncertain which path he should pursue with his newfound freedom and budding adulthood. But oftentimes, a simple decision made in passing can lead to a career of service spanning the globe - and this soldier's experience is certainly no exception.
Raised in Kansas City, Kan., Mason graduated from high school in 1974. Seeking both direction and a potential career, he made the decision to join the Army.
"My father had been in the Army, and I really hadn't decided to attend college yet," stated Mason.
Enlisting in September 1974, the recent high school graduate was sent to Fort Polk, La., for nine weeks of basic training and then traveled to Fort Gordon, Ga., where he completed eight weeks of military police training.
Upon completion of his initial training, the young soldier was transferred to the 984th Military Police Co. at Fort Carson, Colo., and enjoyed less than a year of mundane military duties before his first overseas deployment.
"We were stationed on an old Air Force base that the Army had taken over at Wiesbaden, Germany," shared Mason. "It was during the Cold War, and they wanted to see how fast we could react in order to serve as a deterrent for the Russians."
As part of an event called Exercise Reforger, entire brigades from different U.S. military locations were rotated for one-year deployments to serve as a show of force and to strengthen the NATO presence in Europe in the event of a conflict.
Returning stateside in April 1977, Mason had six months remaining in his enlistment contract and was discharged from the Army in September 1977.
With a remaining reserve obligation as part of his initial enlistment contract, Mason was transferred to the 102nd MP Co. in Kansas City. Serving with the unit for four years, Mason chose to transfer to the Air Force Reserve in 1981 after learning that his Army Reserve unit was being disbanded and moved to a location out of state.
Serving as an air transportation specialist with his new unit at Richards Gerbauer (south of Kansas City), the young airman would soon return to service in the Army.
"In 1985, the 35th Infantry Division was reactivated at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.," Mason said. "I decided to join the Kansas Army Guard and enlisted for a few more years."
Staff Sgt. Mason reclassified his military occupational specialty as an intelligence analyst and served for one year with the Kansas Guard before embracing the personal challenge of becoming an officer. In 1986, he started the officer's candidate school program and graduated as a first lieutenant in June 1987.
The fresh officer went on to complete training as a military intelligence officer at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., before returning to the 35th Infantry Division where he would serve in several capacities, including the company commander and executive officer.
Between 1990-92, Mason served as an instructor at the OCS academy he had recently completed. He then returned to the 35th ID to serve as a counterintelligence analysis chief.
In 1995, Mason transferred to the Missouri National Guard and was assigned to the 635th Military Intelligence Battalion.
"I was working for the Missouri Highway Patrol at that time and thought that it would be kind of odd if I were activated in support of a natural disaster in Kansas while working for an employer in Missouri," joked Mason.
With the 635th, he served in various positions before receiving orders for the second deployment of his military career.
"In 2003, I deployed to Bosnia with the 635th as part of SFOR 13 (Stablization Force, rotation 13)," Mason said. "We were responsible for intelligence gathering and ensuring that the warring parties complied with the Dayton Accords."
According to Mason, the highlight of his deployment was working with members of the international coalition, such as those from Britain, Denmark and Italy.
"It was a neat experience to interact with them and to see how they did things," recalled Mason.
Returning from his second deployment in September 2003, Mason was assigned to the Joint Forces Headquarters with the Missouri National Guard. He served a brief period as the recruiting and retention manager and was then assigned to the counterdrug coordinator slot.
"Recruiting was fun, but counterdrug was more fun because I was able to work with law enforcement personnel from across the state," Mason stated.
But the experienced soldier's brief respite from overseas service would soon end when he deployed for a third time.
"I volunteered for deployment to Iraq with the 35th Engineer Brigade because I knew that there really weren't any other military intelligence (MI) officers with my rank that could go," stated the veteran. "Most of the other MI officers were deployed to Afghanistan."
In 2007, Mason deployed with the brigade served at a location known as Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq.
"The brigade had several missions, which included route clearance, locating IED's (improvised explosive devices) and the building and approval of base camps," Mason shared. "As part of the intelligence analysis group, we identified patterns of IED placements and coordinated their removal prior to military transports and convoys."
The soldier's multiple overseas experiences notwithstanding, it's the time spent in Iraq that holds the greatest level of personal significance for him.
"I served with a great group of people that were very professional from start to finish," said Mason. "We had some soldiers killed within the brigade," he paused, "which was not a good thing. But everyone did their job and we received a lot of accolades from the active Army."
Returning from Iraq in June 2008, Mason replaced the counterdrug coordinator who had been recently deployed overseas. In early 2009, Adjutant Gen. Stephen Danner appointed Mason to his staff, and he was promoted to the rank of colonel later that year.
Although the sequence of events comprising this soldier's extensive military career could fill the pages of a novel, it is of interest to note that his military experiences occurred as somewhat secondary to his civilian career.
"I joined the Missouri Highway Patrol in 1978 and worked there full-time until my retirement in 2008," stated Mason. "All of my supervisors were very supportive of my military service over the years, and I am just pleased that I am able to continue doing what I enjoy."
Jeremy Amick served in the military for 11 years, is a life member of the Disabled American Veterans, and public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.