This first appeared last summer as part of the Brain to Books tour.
Go ahead and introduce yourself. Tell the audience about yourself.
My name is Joanna C. Mason. Most of my friends and family call me Jo. Everyone else calls me Captain or sir, out of respect to my rank and position. Sometimes those I know have to too. It all depends on who we are around and how much formality they expect. Anyway, I’m the Commanding Officer of United States Mounted Band Los Angeles and the Mason Seven Command, Support, Auxiliary (CSA) Team.
I have six brothers, four stepbrothers, a son, and a nephew. I’m the eldest by two minutes. Parents, grandparents, and one uncle are dead. The other uncle lives down in San Diego with his wife Rose. Most of the losses happened during my pre-teen and teen-aged years.
There isn’t that much to tell about me. Part of my career is classified and the rest, well, is just ordinary, if you consider that I’m a woman in a command position. Even though the USMB strives for equality in everything, there is still areas where a person is judged for what they are and not who they are.
Tell us where and when were you born.
I was born in 1971 at the USMBLA hospital. At the time, USMBLA was located in the same spot It had been for 121 years, in the Antelope Valley at the current site of USMB Lancaster, somewhere near Edwards AFB. When I was five, they moved the base to the Los Angeles side of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The base, like the UMSB, has a rich history. In 1850, the government crated the Los Angeles Mounted Scouts, a unit that could act as a buffer between the native and settler population to protect the new state and municipality without causing too much of a fuss. My great-great-grandfather, Lt. Colonel Robert C. Mason, assumed command of the new unit. For eleven years, the LAMS went about its business without much of a footnote in history, though they handled several conflicts.
At the beginning of the Civil War, the unit split into two, the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles and the California Mounted Band. Colonel Mason, a Union officer, transferred his staff and himself to the CMB. The unit spent a majority of the war entertaining civilians and troops, but did see some front line action during the Battle of Picacho Peak in 1862. The LAMR mustered out by the end of 1861.
Toward the end of the war, CMB performances became neutral territory where there was no Union or Confederacy for a few hours. Witnessing the power and hope of these moments, Colonel Mason petitioned his superiors to create more units like the CMB across the country. The request ended up on some secretary’s desk and would have remained there for infinity had he not passed away in July of 1865. His superiors wanted to honor him for his service, so at his funeral they declared the CMB the first unit of the United States Mounted Band and renamed the CMB’s fort USMBLA. Since then, the organization has promoted peace through music around the world.
How would you describe yourself?
A simple, but complicated, person. Simple in the fact that I’m, for the most part, what you see or hear. I seek truth and peace for all and strive to protect those I care for, even if I only know them by their name and not much else. There’s too much hurt and sadness in the world. I know, even with the power I have at my command, I can’t fix it all and that just hits me the wrong way.
I’m complicated because of the shadow I carry in my head. I was trying to help my stepfather expose the wrong doings of a controversial unit with the USMB. Things didn’t go as planned, so I ended up serving as a mindless, emotionless, and soulless operative who thought about death like normal human beings think about breathing. Not very proud of that time in my life and very lucky and grateful that I’m back to being me.
Tell us about where you grew up.
Pretty much where I was born, except on a different side of the mountains. I don’t remember much before I was five except for it being hot and uncomfortable sometimes. What I like about USMBLA’s current location is that it still sometimes gets hot, but we have a large forested section of the base where we can cool off, if need be.
USMBLA has always been my home. Sure I’ve gone off and served at other bases, but I always manage to make it back here. Though, there was one point in my life where I didn’t think I was going to, but then I wasn’t myself at the time. Will I spend the rest of my career here? Yeah, most likely. Because of the shadow in my head, I have a cap on my promotions, so I’ll end up retiring as a Captain and the CO of USMBLA when the time comes. At least I was certain that was my fate until last year. Now, I’m not so sure.
Tell everyone what it is you do when you’re not on the base?
Hmmm, well there is no real distinction between when I’m on and off duty because I’m always surrounded by friends and family. Yes, I know that unusual for a military organization, but, despite the military hardware it has, the USMB doesn’t get involved in world conflicts unless it’s asked and even then, they only do to try and bring about a resolution with the least amount of bloodshed.
Anyway, getting back to me, the only way I know which side of the blurry line I’m on is how many people my choices will affect. If it’s only one or a few, then I know I’m off-duty. So that’s why I’m always careful with what I decide.
Are you seeing anyone?
Ha. I tried. Believe me I tried, but things with the opposite sex never work out. I have friends who are guys and I love my brothers, but the whole boyfriend / girlfriend thing has taken a backseat to my career. I’ve met and dated half a dozen guys, but it’s usually a one night stand.
There was Patch, though. Jo’s face softens as her lips take a subtle downward turn. He personified the Southern California surfer dude stereotype. Tall, suntanned to perfection with a sculpted body, shoulder-length blonde hair, and sparkling green-blue eyes, his passion for life was as intense as the way he lived it. Does that mean I fell for him the instant I saw him? Hell, no. In fact, I thought he was an arrogant jerk who couldn’t see two feet past his nose. When I told him that, he flashed a warm smile and said I’d get used to him.
The road of getting used to Patch was a long, uneven one. Sure, his charming good looks and warm smile made liking him easy. The way he anticipated me and completed my sentences reminded me of my twin, Jim. In fact, Patch almost reached the point where he could mirror and counterbalance me as much as Jim did. He had a wild and dark side that rubbed me the wrong way, though. Unexplainable fits of rage over the stupidest things transformed him into a nasty son of a bitch without warning. We had many arguments where our intense personality fed off with each other. Since I pretty much remained the rational one, I tried to control how far our explosions went. I even left him a couple times after the more serious ones, but love blinded me when his sweet side showed up, so I always ended up going back.
It was one of those fits that killed him. I don’t remember what started it, but it was the first time he took a swing at me. Instead of defending myself like my training suggested, I ducked and he punched a hole in a nearby wall. After he withdrew his bloodied fist, he glared at me and stormed out of the room. I followed him, trying to talk sense into him, but he didn’t hear anything, except his own demons. He drove away, and two hours later, I heard about a rollover accident on I-5. When I saw pictures of the car, I recognized it almost immediately.
At least his spirit lives on in his son RJ. Jo sighs, but that’s a story for another time.
Tell us about your greatest fear.
Other than horses or losing control to my shadow? It’s not doing enough to make sure the human race survives all the crazy stupidity of the times we live in. I wish people would just realize that despite our differences in beliefs and the color of skin, we all bleed red. We also need to take better care of ourselves and the planet we live on. Not sure what’s it’s going to take to get those messages through to people’s thick skulls before it’s too late.
The phone attached to Jo’s hip buzzes. She palms it, looks its face, and then looks up.
Some Admiral’s at the gate looking to earn a few brownie points by doing a surprise inspection of my base. Bureaucrats . . . I wonder what the world would be like without them. Anyway, before I go, my friend who wrote our story asked me to give a plug for the book. It’s called Spirit of the Lone Horse and while there are horses in it, there’s a lot more going on, trust me. It’s a pretty interesting read. To me, it’s a little too detailed in some parts, but I think that’s because John, my brother who is a walking encyclopedia, got his hands on the final copy before it went to print. He’s a stickler for details and making sure that things are said just right. Me, not so much. Thanks for taking the time to listen to my ramblings. I’ll catch you later.