By Eric DurrMarch 2, 2017
CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, N.Y.-- When Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Mason heads for drill at Camp Smith Training Site he makes sure his car is in good shape.
Mason, a patient administrative team leader assigned to the New York Army National Guard's Medical Command, puts about 1,400 miles on his car each drill weekend.
He drives from Mooresville, North Carolina, where he's lived since 2014, to Camp Smith, or sometimes two hours further north to the Joint Force Headquarters in Latham.
He does it, Mason said, because he likes his unit and he promised Col. Richard Green, the MEDCOM commander, that he would stay with the unit after he was sent to school to reclassify as a patient administrative specialist, Military Occupational Specialty 68G. That school, Mason said, allowed him to get promoted.
"I know the people (in MEDCOM) and I am comfortable with them. I get along with everybody. I made a commitment to them," Mason explained.
Mason, who used to live in Grand Island, became one of the New York Army National Guard's long distance commuters and made the decision to stay with MEDCOM when his employer, a roofing company called Teamcraft, moved from Dunkirk, N.Y. to Salisbury, N.C.
Mason is the corporate safety director for environmental health and safety with 14 employees at the firm's 20 locations. He's been with the 2,000 employee firm for 19 years.
Mason is not the only New York Army National Guard member who doesn't live in New York.
A quick records check indicates that 444 Soldiers live outside the state, with 14 living in Texas, five in California, two in Washington, and one Soldier from Hawaii.
He's representative, though, of Soldiers who are so dedicated they don't mind long distance commutes.
"Mason is one of my "go to" NCOs and always has been, said Col. Richard Green, the MEDCOM commander. "He displays character for all that he has done."
"We appreciate his dedication," Green added.
Mason joined the Army in 1980 and served until 1990. He served in the 101st Air Assault Division, with the 3rd Armored Division in Frankfurt, Germany back when there was a Soviet Union, as a preventative medical specialist, and spent two years working at the Army Academy of Health Sciences.
When he got out, he got a job, got married, had kids, and got busy. But he said he always missed the Army.
In 2008, the kids were older and his life was more stable, so he joined the New York Army National Guard and was back in uniform again.
In 2009 and 2010 he deployed to Egypt's Sinai Desert as a member of the American component of the Multinational Force and Observers which monitors the peace between Egypt and Israel.
"It was 114 guys from the Puerto Rican National Guard and me," Mason recalled.
He's also proud of his service in responding to Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Mason praised his civilian boss, Robert Farrell, the owner of TeamCraft, for supporting him in his military career. Without that support it would be more difficult to serve, Mason said.
Now Mason is taking on a new challenge, he's the Joint Force Headquarters noncommissioned officer selectee for the 2017 Best Warrior competition being held at Camp Smith at the end of March. At age 55, he'll be going up against NCOs from the New York Army National Guard's major commands who are much younger than him.
"Mason is the oldest Best Warrior participant that I am aware of," said Master Sgt. Joseph Fisher, the operations NCO for the 106th Regional Training Institute who ran the JFHQ Best Warrior competition. "He's a real inspiration."
His two JFHQ competitors, Sgt. Ian Turner and Staff Sgt. Adama Ilboudo, are 33 and 40, respectively.
"I know I am not going to win the physical battles," Mason said. "But I think I can do rather well in the mental battles."
Mason said he credits his success in the first Best Warrior round to Capt. Lance Woodard, the MEDCOM operations officer, whose encouraged him and given him the time to prepare.
Despite Mason's age, Green says he's convinced the MEDCOM sergeant will do well in the competition.
"The man works hard at all that he does and we were therefore not surprised at his dedication to, preparation for and success in the Best Warrior, "Green said.