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U.S. Transportation Command historian has engineered an almost two-decade civil service career documenting operations, strategy, and training that’s made history

  • Published
  • By Michael P. Kleiman
  • U.S Transportation Command

While attending Iowa State University in the early 1990s, Dr. Joseph Mason, U.S. Transportation Command historian, had clarity of purpose in wanting to pursue a career in history, but he initially took a different path, completing a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering, while also earning an Air Force commission.

Deferring his history profession aspirations to serve our nation, Mason put his college degree to use, working as an air combat simulation engineer at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, for four years.

During that timeframe, his zest and zeal for studying the past could not be contained, and he subsequently received a Master of Arts in history from Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, in 1998, shortly after leaving active-duty military service.  Since then, the vocation of history has been present full time in Mason’s professional experience. 

In 2003, he entered the federal civil service, becoming a staff historian at the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.  That same year, Mason, as an Air Force Reserve historian, also supported the U.S. Air Forces Central Command’s History Office, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.  While participating in this part-time, two-year tour of duty, he researched and documented combat operations proceeding the kickoff of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. 

At the midway point of his five-year AETC civilian assignment, Mason chronicled the Air Force’s response to another landmark event, Hurricane Katrina, in late summer 2005.  The resultant monograph he authored, focusing on the storm’s $950 million impact to the AETC installation, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, earned him an Air Force Excellence in Historical Publications award in 2006. 

“Printed before the 2007 hurricane season, the monograph, made available to military emergency USTRANSCOM historian planners, provided valuable lessons learned to reduce the devastating impacts of future storms.  They don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Mason. “We owed it to the military members making sacrifices during Hurricane Katrina to document their incredible efforts. We know what they did because there’s a record of it.  It’s a driving motivation for me.”

Another milestone Mason achieved during his initial civilian historian assignment included earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree in history from the University of Iowa in 2004.  In addition, while assigned to JBSA-Randolph, he transferred from AETC to the Air Force Personnel Center to reestablish that unit’s history program.  During the two-year AFPC tour, Mason also participated as a civilian historian in a 120-day deployment supporting USAFCENT at the Combined Air Operations Center, Al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar. While deployed, he documented the 2009 surge of troops into Afghanistan. 

By 2010, Mason had become a staff historian with U.S. Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, whose area of responsibility included his deployed location. Stationed at USCENTCOM for two years, he primarily focused on writing about American military assistance to Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks.  As one of six history professionals, Mason also chronicled the combatant command’s ongoing strategy decisions and operations.  With his next duty, beginning in 2012 at Edwards Air Force Base, California, he was finally in the driver’s seat as the Air Force Test Center’s chief historian. 

While leading the AFTC’s history office to 2014, Mason gained supervisory experience and was actively engaged in the unit’s heritage.  For example, he digitalized thousands of reels of film, several on Bob Hoover, a post-World War II civilian test pilot. Mason subsequently provided the restored footage to the producers of the documentary, “Flying the Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project,” which was released in August 2014. 

“Joe and I went to technical training together when we were first commissioned in the Air Force in 1993.  Following training, we both ended up at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, became friends and eventually classmates in the Wright State University history program,” stated William Butler, historian, U.S. European Command, Stuttgart, Germany. “I credit Joe for talking me into pursuing a master’s degree in history, and for recommending I take an assignment at the Air Force’s archives at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, that basically launched my career as an Air Force historian … We’ve sort of run parallel careers as historians, with our paths often crossing the same jobs, but at different points in time.”

Following his almost three years in the Golden State, Mason also relocated to Stuttgart as the second U.S. Africa Command historian. Mason arrived as USAFRICOM was responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Over the next five years, he visited 15 African nations, fulfilled his passion on writing about joint operations, and enjoyed the level of access to some of the DOD’s senior leadership.  Having to return from overseas, Mason wanted to remain in the joint history   program, and fortunately for him, the right opportunity – the USTRANSCOM historian position – opened up at the right time. 

Since joining USTRANSCOM in November 2019, he is gaining increased clarity of purpose on the command’s History Office.

“I want our office to conduct more educational outreach and bring the history of the command to the team,” Mason said. “While assigned at USAFRICOM, I saw the pivotal role USTRANSCOM plays in force projection and sustainment.  It’s truly a global combatant command. I’m excited about documenting USTRANSCOM’s history-making operations in the past and present.”

USTRANSCOM exists as a warfighting combatant command to project and sustain military power at a time and place of the nation’s choosing. Powered by dedicated men and women, we underwrite the lethality of the Joint Force, we advance American interests around the globe, and we provide our nation's leaders with strategic flexibility to select from multiple options, while creating multiple dilemmas for our adversaries.