Steve Ralls

Kafka in the Old Guard

Filed By Steve Ralls | August 03, 2007 8:08 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Chris Mastromarino, Franz Kafka, justice, military, sldn, steve ralls

Reporter Julie Weisberg has a story up at PageOneQ about Chris Mastromarino, a member of the military's prestigious Old Guard, the unit which performs ceremonial duties for the president, guards the tomb of the unknowns and oversees military funerals for fallen troops. Mastromarino, an exemplary soldier recommended for the Guard by his previous command, is now the target of a fishing expedition by a command that wants to drum him out of the service because they believe Chris is gay.

Mastromarino's experience in the Old Guard reads like a Franz Kafka novel of abstract absurdity and bullshit bureaucracy.

As Weisberg reports, Mastromarino's command has conducted no fewer than three investigations. They have gone after him for unfounded assault charges - one stemming from a game of 'punch bug' in a car - despite the fact that "during the trial, two prosecution witnesses said that they did not consider the physical contact between themselves and Mastromarino to be an assault" and that the timeline of at least one alleged incident simply does not add up.

Nonetheless, Chris, a military police officer who is being represented by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was sent to trial and found guilty of simple assault. The conviction, if his command allows it to stand, would essentially mean the end of his military career. It would also likely mean that Chris, who has always wanted to be a civilian police officer, would also not be able to pursue that dream, either.

All of this because a few people seem to believe that Chris is gay.

In fact, the command at the Old Guard focused like a laser on hear-say about Mastromarino's sexuality but has never taken a look at the harassment Chris says he endured.

Mastromarino told Weisberg that, a short time after he joined the Guard, "soldiers in his unit began to spread rumors about his sexuality, after he moved in with his openly gay cousin and partner who lived in the Washington, D.C. area."

"People started calling me ‘fag' and ‘queer'. And I've had people write things on the bathroom wall about me like, ‘Mastro is a faggot,''" he says in the PageOneQ interview. In addition, Mastromarino tells Weisberg it eventually got to the point that often when he would walk into a room, other soldiers would say things such as, "Fags shall die," and "I wish all queers would disappear."

And then, when his command went fishing for accusations, incidents and questionable behavior, it was no surprise that the only information his fellow soldiers could provide was that they believed Mastromarino to be gay. Those rumors appear to be all the command needed; they began beating the drum to drive out the presumably gay Guard member.

The command had a problem, though. Mastromarino never violated 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and kept his end of the deal, as service members are expected to do. So, having zero evidence to actually discharge him under the ban, Mastromarino's command decided to go after him on trumped-up, and wholly questionable, criminal charges instead.

The resulting trial, which was Kafka'esque in its absurdity, found no service member who felt he had truly been assaulted by Mastromarino and plenty of evidence that, in fact, there was a pervasive anti-gay climate in the Old Guard. Nonetheless, Chris was found guilty. As a result, his military career is now very much in jeopardy and his civilian job opportunities could be drastically limited.

There is still one ray of hope for Chris, though. There is a new command at the Old Guard, and they have the option of refusing to sign off on his conviction. If they refuse to validate the conviction, Chris will continue serving - as he wants to do, in a different unit - and he can begin to put this whole thing behind him.

Now, Mastromarino's future is in another person's hands. His command can choose to turn a blind eye to the evidence, or they can step up and do the right thing. The tradition and honor of the prestigious Old Guard seems to demand nothing less.

And, as Kafka once said, "Not everyone can see the truth, but he can be it."

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This story pisses me off so much. Thanks for bringing attention to it, Steve.