Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14
War affects all of us. Not just those who lose limbs and lives. Not just those lucky enough to return with a nest of demons in their souls or their partners who wake up to violence. Not just parents who can’t reconcile the vacuum where their son or daughter had been or the children left to grow up without a father or mother. Not just the environment marred into scorched earth or the religions called into question by the actions of those that follow them. War affects us all. And what’s as humbling, what’s as devastating, is that war is intrinsic to our humanity; in equal measure to love, sympathy, and hope. It’s a heavy burden that we all share, and those that take responsibility, those that step up to do what’s right when there is an option of taking the wrong, easy choice, are true heroes. Let me tell you about Mastin Robeson.
Mastin was raised by devout Christian parents who inspired in him a spiritual nature that would follow him throughout his life. He began approaching everything from a standpoint that went beyond the material world, finding a security and solace in the transcendent ideologies of the church; God created the heavens and the earth. That everything stems from the idea that He has a plan, a divine sovereignty that connects us all and generates a capacity for shared burden. And even more, he understood that any human being that is struggling with the effects of sin in the world require a collective engagement, love, and challenge of a local spiritual community to embrace them through the basis of God’s grace. He saw the responsibility inherent to living in a society.
This hit home all the more given that his family was inundated with military history. His grandfather had served as an artillery SergeantMajor while in World War I, followed by his father who dropped off Marines and equipment into Iwo Jima and Okinawa during the World War II, and his older brother, who was a Marine in Vietnam. So it wasn’t any stretch that he would join in 1975 to follow suite, the original intention to spend his three and a half years in active duty, then to get out and continue on with his life. He had no interest in going further than that. But the world had other plans. The day after he graduated from Bryan College, a small Christian school with roughly seven hundred students nestled in Dayton, he was commissioned as an officer into the Marine Corps, marrying his wife the following week, three years to the day to when they had first met. He bid her farewell and reported to basic training, where he was shoulder to shoulder with young, motivated men watching the ebb of the war in Vietnam retreat back into history, the tide mark etched into the faces of the very men training him. Those men had learned the necessity of teamwork in the harshest ways, raising the bar of expectation in the individual, while reinforcing the idea that an effective team is more than the sum of its parts.
This wasn’t a new idea to Mastin, but rather a reinforcement of his core spiritual beliefs. Years later, as a Major, he found himself the Commander of the Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or FAST company, which provides security forces to guard highvalue naval installations, most notably those containing nuclear vessels and weapons, along with Recapture Tactics Teams. In the three years that he was with these warriors, he did eightyeight deployments in three countries, seeing first hand the incredible extent at which a group of people working in tandem can accomplish.
When he went through close-quarters training specifically, their cohesion was unquestionably evident, brought about by a maturity ingrained in them through passionate repetition.
While they, rather than an instructor, were debriefing themselves, there was a transparency, not simply for what they’d done, but what they’d thought. He would hear them say things like “When I buttonhooked through the entry point, I didn’t catch the corner. I swept too far.” Or “I broke my cone of fire. I know now that’s a mistake.” And he was struck with the idea that if you could get people to this level of honesty, working toward a common goal, then the sky was the limit. That you only fight and win as a team, not simply made of talented individuals, but people working off of one another in a synergistic, organic model, so that they can perform better because they can outthink and react more quickly than the enemy or circumstance. But this can’t happen unless the whole organization embraces that cause.
Through this, he took part in a war of attrition, where the enemy was whittled away, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but death was the focus. Go out on patrol, kill the bad guys, go back to the Forward Operating Base for debriefing. Rinse, repeat. However, the enemy just kept coming, kept evolving and growing, finding strength in every death of their comrades, every innocent that was trapped in the line of fire. Not because they cared for their people, given that they would use children and pregnant women as bulletshields, but rather that casualties of war are currency to terrorists, an avenue to the hearts of the uneducated populace through free propaganda advertising. But Mastin was a Marine, so he simply fought harder, carving his men into calloused, invincible, unstoppable killers that needed nothing other than someone to shoot.
This mentality led to promotion after promotion, leaving him a fullbird colonel by the time he decided to retire. Though he was up for selection to become a General, he had written a formal letter to not be in the running, as he didn’t want to fill a slot that could be taken by someone with a want to continue their service in the military. And then the planes crashed into the Twin Towers. But he had a family to look after. A wife, children, parents that needed their son. On top of that, he had two parents that he needed to look after, both slowly showing signs of their age. It took two weeks of soulsearching, but finally his wife said “Can you really get out if we’re now a nation in a war against terrorism with all the anti/counterterrorism training you’ve had?” They jointly decided that they would let the promotion board make the decision, and he was promptly given the rank of Brigadier General.
Through the following years, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan proved to be the quagmire that so many assumed it would be, the enemies integrating themselves into their society, making the ability to tell who was friend and foe practically impossible. The Taliban and Al Qaeda recruited their own citizens through violence, intimidation, religious coercion, and indoctrination of children, so that the middle east began to operate under the same rules as America’s wild west a century and a half before. Warlords and drug kingpins owned entire settlements, wielding Sharia Law like a hurricanes wield singlewide trailers. Whenever one enemy died, three more took their place, each new trigger finger pointing out that the war of attrition wasn’t working. However, by 2007, Mastin had brought his altruistic understanding to a higher plain, adapting his spiritual beliefs to the war effort after realizing that you can’t win a counterinsurgency by simply killing the enemy. You have to first and foremost protect the population that helps them stay clandestine, that helps them with IEDs, that supplies them with food and clever hiding spots for their weapons. And just as paramount, you have to address the recruiting grounds. Some officers, especially in the Marine Corps, already felt this way, but it wasn’t until the surge campaign that it was written into the orders. All this time, they had been overtraining to kill and undertraining to protect.
The new plan was to patrol, then drive a stake in the ground, holding that while the next patrol drove forward to put another stake in the ground. But each halting point was a base of operation where they then began working with the local population, invigorating their economy, their market, and attempting to change their hearts and minds about the people they would otherwise be fighting. They would hire the indigenous people to act as police officers, walking the streets to ward off crime and aggression from outside the perimeter. To Mastin this was reminiscent of the Federal Marshall Program used during the times of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, ensuring that the “sheriff” wasn’t in the pocket of the local land baron or outlaw group. They wanted to change the mentality of the locals to be better than that; to turn “what’s best for me” into “what’s right.” Later that year, after he hit the 34year mark of his time in the Marine Corps, and having set foot in almost sixty countries, he decided that it was time to get out. Switching up his benevolence toward more personal endeavors, he began caring for his parents who had both been struck with illness, his father with Parkinson’s, his mother with dementia, and were living by themselves in isolation in a house far too large for them and perched on top of a mountain. So he did one more tour in Iraq, then retired in 2008 to focus on his family and the next few chapters of his life.
But he found himself questioning where to go and what to do with the free time he had. However, retiring from the Marine Corps doesn’t mean retiring from life, so he began looking for the next challenge to conquer. Wanting to continue doing good works, he spoke with Mike Rearden, the president and CEO of the Greenville Health System, who had also been an officer in the Marine Corps. They had a common concern with veterans returning from war, the trials they were given once out of military service seeming to overwhelm many. Substance abuse, suicide, marriage troubles, dysfunctional children, crime, homelessness, and lack of health care were rampant. These were his men, his charges handed to him by divine providence, hurting on a thousand different levels with no hope in sight. He had to help them. But in the midst of that conversation, a harsh reality hit home. He was part of the problem.
One of Mastin’s greatest strengths was to teach and inspire those under him. Given the nature of his service, his goal was to turn men into demigods, able to run through brick walls without slowing down, quenching their thirst with the blood of their enemies, living off the land like aboriginals, offended at the idea of needing help from anyone. This is what wins wars. This, and unit cohesion. Overseas, in the deserts and mountains and mud cities, the rules of engagement are set in stone, written onto cards that fit into pockets for easy reference. If the veterans did their job and did it well, it was because they’d poured every bit of themselves into that small article of paper. Their hearts, their minds, and as often as not, their souls. And all too often, those things were left in the desert.
So as he was speaking to Mike about ways he could help remedy the issues facing these men and women, he was asked about consulting. This term seemed like a dirty word at the time, a half-measure with more benefits to himself than the world around him. But Mike pointed out the rarity and focus of Mastin’s common sense, convincing him to work in tandem on a trial basis. That trial turned into almost six years of networking with international companies and nonprofits. He is now president and CEO of Imperatis, a company in Arlington, Virginia, offering highquality programs in counterinsurgency and intelligence, cyber and advanced network infrastructure, and analysis and program management. This means that the transitioning of command in private organizations overseas are far smoother and safer for all involved, that highend cyber systems are in fully functional order, and that programs are being implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan to further the development of the local population. In other words, he brought his work home with him.
But as importantly, he has brought his spiritual ideals to the country he’d spent so much time protecting. He, along with Kevin McBride, Paul Howell, and Charlie Hall, spent two and half years building a nonprofit that would bring altruism to the forefront, and reinforce the necessity for the societal cohesion he had seen demonstrated so well in battle. The focus of this nonprofit is to inspire communities and families to support their local veterans and at the same time, to show veterans that it’s okay to need help. It’s okay to recognize that they aren’t the demigods they had been while in the military. And best case scenario, the veterans then begin helping one another, along with the community that had supported them, thus becoming greater than the sum of their parts.
The trials of our friends and relatives can and should be shouldered by the rest of us, the greater good shining through our actions so that we may all be noble in the eyes of God. Because war is, and will always be, a part of the human condition, brought to head by the laws of nature we inherently follow. Just as love and hope spur us onward, as does hate and fear. It’s in our bones, as close to us as the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, or friends we have lost. As close to us as the natural world, as religion, or politics. Just as war affects us all, it is in all of us. In this harsh reality, it is our duty to look to our fellow man, so that we may all know that
we are not alone.