Tupelo native pairs education career, rise in military

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

RAYMOND – James Mason didn’t consider the military life until he was nearing graduation from Tupelo High School.
“I applied for Army and Navy R.O.T.C. scholarships,” he said. “This was an opportunity for me to pay for my college education.”
Mason’s decision has been paying dividends for Mississippi and the nation as a whole since.
After serving a six-year hitch in the Army, he earned an education degree and started teaching in the Jackson area.
He also joined the U.S. Army Reserves, and he’s slowly worked his way up in rank and responsibility.
“When I started out, I never imagined I would still be serving in uniform 25 years later,” the 46-year-old Raymond resident said.
Now, he’s the state assessment director for the Mississippi Department of Education, where he overseas the administration of standardized tests to students throughout Mississippi.
And on Aug. 13, a ceremony was held at the Mississippi War Memorial in Jackson to commemorate his promotion to brigadier general.
“It was a wonderful day,” he said. “We probably had 100 people to come, and a lot of them were from Tupelo.”
Mason said both of his current jobs were made possible, in part, by the Army’s core mission of developing people for leadership.
“There are two types of people in the Army,” he said. “Those who are leaders and those who are preparing to take leadership.”
The Army doesn’t get all of the credit. Mason’s family moved to Tupelo for the start of first grade.
“I had a tremendous experience,” he said. “The opportunities I’ve had are directly tied to my upbringing in Tupelo.”
His parents, Tony and Allene Mason, live in Tupelo, and he keeps in touch with friends from his Northeast Mississippi days.
“Through the course of my career, I’ve earned five diplomas,” he said. “I put them on the wall in the order I most value them. Sitting on top is my Tupelo High School diploma because I rank that so high.”
He said the mentors and leaders he met in Tupelo helped prepare him for Army life, as well as for the steady increases in responsibility that have accompanied his two careers.
As assessment director, Mason understands he’s involved in the controversial and often emotional topic of testing. His goal is straight forward.
“We’re trying to make the system as fair and equitable as possible,” he said, “but also as rigorous as possible to prepare our children to be competitive in the world right now.”
During his “weekend job,” which usually requires daily work, he’s deputy commander of operations for the 807th Medical Command.
He overseas the readiness of medical units based in 26 states. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are drawing down, but there’s a lag time as far as Mason is concerned.
“Think about it,” he said. “Medical personnel are some of the first in and the last out.”
Whether working for Mississippi or the nation, Mason said he’s focused on “building the positive and preparing the next generation of leaders.
“That’s critical to all that we do in the military, as well as in education. It’s the most important work we do.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com