Throughout life, many things may get passed down from generation to generation. For some people, it's land or property; for others, it may be in the form of valuable belongings, but for Sgt. 1st Class Steven Mason, a senior instructor at the 25th Infantry Division’s Lightning Academy at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, it was a connection to nature. Growing up in Georgia's deep woods, Mason looked up to his father, who taught him how to hunt and fish, which Mason's father, Con Mason, had learned from his father.
"I grew up with my dad hunting and fishing in the woods, so Steven was right there with me when he was little," said Con.
Hunting, fishing, camping, and spending days in nature are often hobbies, but for Mason it turned into something much more than that. It became his lifestyle. Despite Mason's enjoyment in playing sports, hanging out with friends, and skating, nothing compared to what he felt from his connection to nature. Among his two other siblings, Mason was the only one who compared nature and everything about it to a beautiful Picasso-like masterpiece.
"As a kid whose brain was always moving fast due to ADHD, nature was always something I knew I could look forward to as a relaxing mechanism," said Mason. “Every time I went out into the woods, it was beautiful – inescapable – like a piece of art that I couldn’t pull my eyes away from.”
As Mason grew older, he realized he wanted to do something different but not just anything; he wanted to do something that would impact people. So, at the age of 17, Mason enlisted in the United States Army as an 11C, an Indirect Fire Infantryman, where he would later attend One-Station Unit Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Throughout his career, he has attended multiple professional development schools, deployed to several areas of Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and served as a drill sergeant. It wasn’t until Mason was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division that his outdoorsman lifestyle and the Army would intersect.
Shortly after arriving at the 25th Infantry Division, Mason was determined to continue challenging himself. When the Lightning Academy started looking for Soldiers to volunteer to be instructors for the Jungle Operators Training Course (JOTC), he immediately acted on this “once in a lifetime” opportunity. When the time came, Mason exultantly volunteered to become a jungle instructor.
"This was a chance for me to reconnect with nature while teaching Soldiers survival tactics at the same time,” explained Mason. “It was like the perfect recipe.”
Immediately after accepting the role of a senior jungle instructor, he began leading Soldiers through twelve days of rigorous training required to obtain the jungle tab upon completion of JOTC. Mason also committed countless hours to rebuilding the JOTC course curriculum and made an unparalleled commitment to delivering the best training possible to Soldiers. Despite his commitment to the Army, Mason is also committed to helping his local community. In his spare time, he's known for mentoring young boy scouts as well as assisting them in earning their boy scout badges.
"He's more than just an instructor, he helps influences the local community by assisting Boy Scouts earn their badges," stated Staff Sgt. Robert Ashton, a JOTC instructor. "Not only that, but he recognizes where his skills can be used to help others like the one time we went out and searched for a guy who went missing in the Jungle." Earlier this year a 74-year-old U.S. Army Veteran went missing on a hiking trail. During the rescue mission, there were multiple steep areas the rescue teams had trouble accessing. Immediately after hearing the news, Mason knew he could help.
"After hearing the news, I could not find it in my heart to sit there and do nothing. Who could've possibly been more fit for the job than a group of jungle instructors?" explained Mason.
He gathered up as many JOTC instructors as possible to form a team and they immediately assisted in the rescue efforts. Mason’s team began putting what would end up being over 80 miles on their feet. Rappelling into deep ravines and climbing steep rock faces, the team searched through difficult jungle terrain for a period of several days. Eventually, the man was found, and sadly the authorities announced him deceased. Despite the tragic outcome of the search, the assistance provided by Mason and his team was invaluable and is a testament to his character.
Despite a heavy workload and busy training schedule, Mason does everything he can to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
"Family means everything to me,” said Mason. “I know I have a job to do in the military, but the second I get off work and can be with my family, that's all I want to do."
As a husband and father of four, Mason takes every opportunity that he can to spend time with his children and makes it count. He spends time with his family kayaking, hiking, swimming, and many other recreational activities. The legacy of a deep love and connection with nature that his father passed down to him continues with not just his own children, but also the children of his neighborhood.
"One great thing about Steven is he is an amazing dad, and husband too," said Bristy Mason. "Whenever he comes home from a hard day of work, he's never too tired to throw the ball with our son, ride bikes or scooters with his kids, or make zip-lines in between trees in front of our home. He's the neighborhood fun dad."