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thedrifter
12-19-08, 06:42 AM
From the Los Angeles Times
AWOL Marine faces court-martial
He faked his death rather than report to Camp Pendleton for a possible second tour in Iraq. After resurfacing nearly two years later in a reunion with his father, both were arrested.
By Tony Perry

December 19, 2008

Reporting from San Diego — When Marine Lance Cpl. Lance Hering returned home to his family in Boulder, Colo., in August 2006 after a combat tour in Iraq, he seemed unusually quiet.

His parents, Lloyd and Elynne Hering, were aware that he had been hospitalized briefly in Iraq and Germany in the final months of his deployment. They thought he was "emotionally flat," but they knew better than to pry.

Lloyd Hering served as an Army rifleman for 15 months in Vietnam and knows how hard it can be for combat veterans to talk about their experiences.

"We had no indication something dramatic was going to happen," he said.

But early on Aug. 30, their son's closest hometown buddy reported to police that Hering was badly injured in a fall during a hiking trip to Colorado's Eldorado Canyon State Park and wandered off. After a massive five-day search, the report was unmasked as a hoax intended to convince the Marine Corps that Hering was dead.

Hering was due to return to Camp Pendleton that September to begin training for a possible redeployment to Iraq in late 2007 with his fellow Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment -- the famed Dark Horse Battalion.

The 3/5 had just returned from a rough deployment: eight Marines killed and dozens wounded; seven Marines and a corpsman in Hering's company accused of war crimes; and a feeling among the "grunts" that they were "sitting ducks" for insurgents planting roadside bombs.

Hering's faked death started a two-year odyssey that would include an emotional reunion with his father at the Burning Man counterculture festival in Nevada; an informant's tip that led to the arrest of the father and son at an airport in Washington state; and scheduled today, a court-martial proceeding at Camp Pendleton.

More than 100 searchers, including retired and active-duty Marines, scoured the Eldorado Canyon park with the help of a police helicopter and tracking dogs. Then, police checking a security camera at the nearby bus station saw a glimpse of Hering boarding a bus bound for Iowa.

For 20 months, Hering's family -- mother, father and an older brother who is a military officer and has served in Iraq -- waited. They left messages on a website pleading with him to contact them. In 2007, Boulder police raided the family home looking for Hering.

The family understood it would not be easy for their son to explain why he had disappeared.

"We knew that whenever he surfaced, we had to go slowly," said Elynne Hering, 59.

Finally, on Mother's Day this year, Hering sent an e-mail message: "I love you." More messages followed. In one, he mentioned the Burning Man festival held every fall north of Reno.

His father e-mailed back that, if Lance wanted to meet him, he'd be there. With no assurances, Lloyd Hering, 60, a commercial pilot, flew to Nevada's Black Rock Desert a few days before Labor Day this year. He stayed for several days near a landing strip.

"I waited for my son to walk out of the crowd, and he did," he said, his voice breaking. "It was the highest moment I'd had in two years."

Lloyd Hering at first did not recognize the tall, lean, young man wearing a cowboy hat. Gone was the "high-and-tight" Marine haircut. He had a beard and his blond hair cascaded to his shoulders.

Lance Hering, now 23, had spent most of his time in the Pacific Northwest. He had worked at a Christmas tree farm. He had found a girlfriend, older and more mature.

"What he told me was that his mind had been so full of death that he knew he had to get away," his father said.

Lance Hering also was haunted by the fate of his close friend, Marine Cpl. Johnathan Benson, 21, of North Branch, Minn.

While Hering was in the hospital for evaluation, Benson had taken his spot on a patrol. A roadside bomb exploded under his Humvee, ripping off Benson's left leg and left arm, burning him and leaving him paralyzed. He died weeks later at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

"Lance felt responsible," his father said.

In their conversation, Lloyd Hering confessed his shortcomings as a father, which he traces to his own military experience, blaming his unresolved anger from Vietnam.

"I told him, 'Lance, I'm sorry for all those times I got into your face and screamed at you,' " he said. "I started to cry; he started to cry and said, 'Dad, I can still see you in my face.' "

The reunion was brief. Over the next few weeks, however, Hering's parents say they convinced him to meet with a psychiatrist -- a retired Navy captain who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder -- and then surrender to Camp Pendleton authorities.

Lloyd Hering flew to Port Angeles, Wash., to pick up his son. An anonymous tip led to their arrest Nov. 16 as the two boarded the father's Cessna 210. It had been more than 800 days since Lance's disappearance.

The elder Hering was charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive, a misdemeanor. The charges were dismissed Tuesday.

The son was sent under guard to Camp Pendleton, where he remains in the brig. He has been visited by his parents and girlfriend, but was not allowed to meet with a reporter.

Flight information filed by Lloyd Hering substantiates his story that he planned to fly his son to Virginia to meet with the psychiatrist and then to Texas to meet with lawyer James Culp, a former infantry sergeant and combat veteran who represents Marines and soldiers in high-profile criminal cases.

In theory, Lance Hering might have been charged with desertion in the time of war, an offense that can carry the death penalty.

Instead, on Dec. 5, the Marine Corps slapped him with the military equivalent of a misdemeanor, carrying at most a year in the brig and a bad-conduct discharge. On Tuesday, in announcing today's court-martial session, the Marines reduced even further the possible punishment.

The session will be a "summary court-martial" in which an enlisted Marine can be sentenced to 30 days in the brig, 45 days of hard labor, 60 days' confinement, or a combination of the three. At today's hearing, Culp, Hering's attorney, is prepared to submit a psychiatric diagnosis and also documents that he says show that his client suffered a nervous breakdown in the weeks before the 3/5 left Iraq.

The young Marine, who had grown up in Saudi Arabia when his parents were teachers at an oil company school, and who had been praised by his drill instructors in 2005 as the most physically fit recruit in his boot camp class, had been overwhelmed by the reality of Iraq, Culp said.

"The harshness of Hering's combat experiences simply exceeded his personal ability to cope," he said.

After the Marine Corps finishes with Hering, he faces charges in Boulder County for the hoax and for a probation violation stemming from a 2004 conviction for attempted burglary. His friend pleaded guilty to the hoax charge and was given probation.

The Herings say they are grateful to the many Marines whose messages of support sustained them while they waited for their son to reappear. Now, they hope he can get therapy and start over.

"I just want him to go forward in life with joy and strength," Elynne Hering said, "and be able to wake up in the morning and say, 'Yes, it's going to be a great day.' "

tony.perry@latimes.com

Ellie

thedrifter
12-19-08, 11:58 AM
Hering's parents speak out
Father: Boulder Marine was hospitalized in Iraq, haunted by friend's death

By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
Originally published 08:35 a.m., December 19, 2008
Updated 08:35 a.m., December 19, 2008

SAN DIEGO -- When Marine Lance Cpl. Lance Hering returned home to his family in Boulder in August 2006 after a combat tour in Iraq, he seemed unusually quiet.

His parents, Lloyd and Elynne Hering, were aware he had been hospitalized briefly in Iraq and Germany in the final months of his deployment. They thought he was "emotionally flat," but they knew better than to pry.

Lloyd Hering served as an Army rifleman for 15 months in Vietnam and knows how hard it can be for combat veterans to talk about their experiences.

"We had no indication something dramatic was going to happen," he said.

But early on Aug. 30, their son's closest hometown buddy reported to police that Hering was badly injured in a fall during a hiking trip to Eldorado Canyon State Park and wandered off. After a massive five-day search, the report was unmasked as a hoax intended to convince the Marine Corps that Hering was dead.

Hering was due to return to Camp Pendleton in September to begin training for a possible redeployment to Iraq in late 2007 with his fellow Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment -- the famed Blackhorse Battalion.

The 3/5 had just returned from a rough deployment: eight Marines killed and dozens wounded; seven Marines and a corpsman in Hering's company accused of war crimes; and a feeling among the "grunts" that they were "sitting ducks" for insurgents planting roadside bombs.

Hering's faked death started a two-year odyssey that would include an emotional reunion with his father at the Burning Man counterculture fest in Nevada; an informant's tip that led to the arrest of father and son at an airport in Washington state; and Friday, a court martial proceeding to be held at Camp Pendleton, about 30 miles north of San Diego.

More than 100 searchers, including retired and active-duty Marines, scoured the Eldorado park, with the help of a police helicopter and tracking dogs. Then, police checking a security camera at the bus station saw a glimpse of Hering boarding a bus bound for Iowa.

For 20 months, Hering's family -- mother, father, and an older brother who is a military officer and has served in Iraq -- waited. They left messages on a Web site pleading with him to contact them. In 2007, Boulder police raided the family home looking for Hering.

The family understood it would not be easy for their son to explain why he had disappeared. "We knew that whenever he surfaced, we had to go slowly," said Elynne Hering, 59.

Finally, on Mother's Day, Hering sent an e-mail message: "I love you." More messages followed. In one, he mentioned the Burning Man festival held every fall north of Reno, Nev.

His father e-mailed back that, if Lance wanted to meet him, he'd be there. With no assurances, Lloyd Hering, 60, a commercial pilot, flew to Nevada's Black Rock Desert a few days before Labor Day. He stayed for several days near a landing strip.

"I waited for my son to walk out of the crowd, and he did," said Hering, his voice breaking. "It was the highest moment I'd had in two years."

Hering at first did not recognize the tall, lean young man wearing a cowboy hat. Gone was the "high-and-tight" Marine haircut. He had a beard, and his blond hair cascaded to his shoulders.

Lance Hering, now 23, had spent most of his time in the Pacific Northwest. He had worked at a Christmas tree farm. He had found a girlfriend, older and more mature.

"What he told me was that his mind had been so full of death that he knew he had to get away," said his father.

Lance Hering was also haunted by the fate of his close friend, Cpl. Johnathan Benson, 21, of North Branch, Minn. While Hering was in the hospital for evaluation, Benson had taken his spot on a patrol. The Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb, ripping off Benson's left leg and left arm, burning him and leaving him paralyzed. He died weeks later at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

"Lance felt responsible," his father said.

In their conversation, Lloyd Hering confessed his shortcomings as a father, which he traces to his own military experience, blaming his unresolved anger from Vietnam.

"I told him, 'Lance, I'm sorry for all those times I got into your face and screamed at you,' " he said. "I started to cry; he started to cry and said, 'Dad, I can still see you in my face.' "

The reunion was brief. Over the next few weeks, however, Hering's parents say they convinced him to meet with a psychiatrist -- a retired Navy captain who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder -- and then surrender to Camp Pendleton authorities.

Lloyd Hering flew to Port Angeles, Wash., to pick up his son. An anonymous tip led to their arrest as the two boarded the father's Cessna 210 on Nov. 16. It had been more than 800 days since Lance's disappearance.

The elder Hering was charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive, a misdemeanor. The son was sent under guard to Camp Pendleton, where he remains in the brig. He has been visited by his parents and girlfriend but is not allowed to meet with a reporter.

Flight information filed by Lloyd Hering substantiates his story that he planned to fly his son to Virginia to meet with the psychiatrist and then to Texas to meet with lawyer James Culp, a former infantry sergeant and combat veteran who represents Marines and soldiers in high-profile criminal cases.

In theory, Hering might have been charged with desertion in the time of war, an offense that can carry the death penalty.

Instead, on Dec. 5, the Marine Corps slapped Hering with the military equivalent of a misdemeanor, carrying at most a year in the brig and a bad-conduct discharge. On Tuesday, in announcing a court martial session for Friday, the Marines reduced even further the possible punishment.

The session will be a "summary court martial" where an enlisted Marine can be sentenced to 30 days in the brig, 45 days hard labor, 60 days confinement, or a combination of the three.

At Friday's hearing, Culp is prepared to submit a psychiatric diagnosis and also documents that he says show that Hering suffered a nervous breakdown in the weeks before the 3/5 left Iraq.

The young Marine, who had grown up in Saudi Arabia when his parents were teachers at an oil company school, and who had been praised by his drill instructors in 2005 as the most physically fit recruit in his boot camp class, had been overwhelmed by the reality of Iraq, Culp said.

"The harshness of Hering's combat experiences simply exceeded his personal ability to cope," he said.

After the Marine Corps finishes with Hering, he faces charges in Boulder County for the hoax and for a probation violation stemming from a 2004 conviction for attempted burglary. His friend pleaded guilty to the hoax charge and was given probation.

The Herings say they are grateful to the many Marines whose messages of support sustained them while they waited for their son to reappear. Now, they hope he can get therapy and start over.

"I just want him to go forward in life with joy and strength," Elynne Hering said, "and be able to wake up in the morning and say, 'Yes, it's going to be a great day.' "

Ellie

thedrifter
12-20-08, 05:20 AM
Marine pleads guilty to unauthorized absence


CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Lance Cpl. Lance Hering’s short career ended Friday in a military courtroom when he pleaded guilty to a count of unauthorized absence. By day’s end, the Marine Corps had administratively separated him from service.

The summary court-martial officer, Capt. William J. Ryan, sentenced Hering to forfeiture of $1,166 and 60-days restriction without loss of rank. Because one day of confinement equals two days of restriction, Hering’s 33 days in jail will count as the full time served

Hering has been turned over to the Boulder, Colo., sheriff’s office “and is now in the hands of civilian authorities,” base spokeswoman Maj. Kristen Lasica said late Friday. Boulder authorities have two arrest warrants pending against the young Marine.

Hering was apprehended Nov. 16 by authorities in Port Angeles, Wash., as he boarded his father’s Cessna airplane, ending a 25-month disappearance. The infantryman had last been seen Aug. 30, 2006, at a state park near Boulder, Colo., where he and a friend had reportedly gone rock climbing.

Hering, then a member of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, at Camp Pendleton, Calif., had not been seen since.

The friend claimed the Marine was wounded in a fall and went missing. The report prompted a mass search by local volunteers, but ultimately proved to be a false alarm.

On Sept. 18, 2006, Hering failed to return to his battalion after a month of post-deployment leave from a recent tour in Iraq. He was halfway into his four-year enlistment.

His disappearance led to much speculation about his safety and why he deserted. In court, Hering tried to put that speculation to rest, saying he was safer from emotional problems stemming from his deployment and personal issues.

“The challenging thing actually was returning to Colorado,” he told the hearing officer. “For two years, actually, I didn’t tell anybody I was leaving. I just left.”

At the time of his disappearance, Hering was facing charges in Boulder in connection with a burglary. His family said the Marine faced trouble from members of his battalion, although no one has specified what those alleged threats were.

At the time, several members of another Kilo platoon — not Hering’s — were being prosecuted for the murder of an Iraqi in the village of Hamdania.

The hearing officer asked Hering about those alleged threats. “The threats weren’t specifically directed at me,” Hering said.

“I was aware that it was really wrong not to return,” he added. “I was going through a lot of emotional turmoil at the time.”

Hering said he was planning to turn himself into the military, but not until he had seen a post-traumatic stress specialist in Virginia. The Marine said he was heading there when he was arrested in Washington along with his father.

“I was on my way to come back,” Hering said. “It was part of my return process.”

An emotional Lloyd Hering, Lance’s father, also testified Friday, telling the court his son “seemed distant” after his return from Iraq, where he had been medically evacuated to Germany after suffering an acute stress disorder. An Army veteran who served in Vietnam, the elder Hering was charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive after their arrests, but the charges were later dropped.

Before he was sentenced, Lance Hering apologized for his actions, calling them “irrational and careless.”

“It was very dark days for me,” he said. “I do regret the way I left.”

Hering still faces charges in Colorado.

Ellie

thedrifter
12-20-08, 05:56 AM
Hering apologizes at sentencing, says he has PTSD
posted by: Sara Gandy written by: Jace Larson and Jeffrey Wolf updated by: Shawn Patrick Date last updated: 12/20/2008 12:17:32 AM

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Lance Cpl. Lance Hering has been turned over to the Boulder County Sheriff's Office after he was sentenced by the Marines on Friday.



Hering will have to forfeit one month of pay and restriction for 60 days. He was given credit for 33 days time served and will not face time in a military prison, following the sentence recommendation from a military hearing officer.

Hering pleaded guilty at his summary court-martial to unauthorized absence. At the summary court-martial, held at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Hering said his actions were "irrational and careless."

In court, Hering looked very different from when he was arrested in early November. His long hair had been cut off and his head was nearly shaved.

He was accused of not returning to the Marines after taking leave.

One month worth of pay for Hering is $1,166.

In court, Hering apologized to his famly and the city of Boulder, but he also said he did not regret his decision to leave. He claims he is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"He's not proud of what happened to him, or what his response to it was," said Hering's attorney James Culp.

"It was very gradual. It was very cautious during the time he was gone. I immersed myself in learning everything I could about PTSD," said Elynne Hering, the Marine's mother.

"We knew that he would have to get accustomed to resuming his own identity. It was a huge change. And he was mentally wounded," said Lloyd Hering, his father.

Under the summary court-martial, Hering will not be punitively discharged and will not have a federal conviction.

The Marines released a statement saying it was recommended Hering "be administratively separated from the Marine Corps for commission of a serious offense and is recommending that Hering receive an other than honorable character of service."

Though his attorney won't say what Hering went through in Iraq, he says the court acknowledged the military made mistakes.

"The summary court martial shook Lance's hand and said the leinency was directly purportional to the error made when Lance was med evaced from a combat zone for a mental crisis and then sent back to combat three three weeks later and then sent home on leave," said Culp.

The maximum sentence for summary court-martial was a 30-day confinement, hard labor without confinement for no more than 45 days, restriction to specific limits for no more than two months, two-thirds forfeiture of pay and allowances for one month and military rank reduction to Private E-1.

Hering was not demoted in rank.

A summary court-martial is the lowest level court-martial. The sentence recommendation must still be approved by the Commanding Officer, Headquarters Support Nattalion, Camp Pendleton.

Information leaked to 9Wants to Know earlier this month said Hering would be sentenced to 30 days in a military prison and would receive a less than honorable discharge. Those reports proved to be inaccurate Friday.

Hering is also facing charges in Boulder County after reportedly faking a climbing accident more than two years ago that prompted a 7,000 hour search. He originally went missing in the early hours of Aug. 30, 2006 when his friend reported he was injured in Eldorado Canyon State Park.

Hering still faces charges of false reporting and failing to comply on a burglary charge in Boulder County.

Culp predicts the civilian court in Boulder will take the same lenient approach.

"We have every anticipation that Lance will be home with his brother, at home for Christmas," said Culp.

On Friday morning, Hering's father, Lloyd, who also faces charges, gave emotional testimony and said he wished he would have noticed his son's PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, when he got back from Iraq in 2006.

Hering was arrested in a rented airplane on the runway of an airport in Port Angeles, Wash., on Nov. 16.

Lloyd Hering was piloting the plane and was arrested for aiding and abetting.

According to an arrest affidavit, Lloyd Hering stated he was picking up his son to help him turn himself in.

Hering told the officer that his father was taking him to Virginia to see a psychiatrist, and then he was going to meet with his attorney in Texas and turn himself in to Camp Pendleton. Lance stated that his parents have not known of his whereabouts and that he only recently engaged them in conversation.

The report goes on to say, "Lloyd Hering stated that he had not seen his son in the two years since he has been gone, and he only recently found that he could pick him up in Port Angeles to help him get through the process of turning himself in."

Police also found pictures of Hering and his father together at an event in September.

The Marines took Hering into custody on Nov. 22, picking him up from the Clallam County Jail in Washington and taking him to Camp Pendleton in California.

Ellie

thedrifter
12-20-08, 06:00 AM
Marine discharged for staging disappearance

Sat Dec 20, 12:09 am ET


CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A Marine who faked his disappearance during a hike in Colorado has been discharged after pleading guilty to deserting his unit for more than two years.

Lance Cpl. Lance Hering was ordered by a military judge to forfeit about $1,160 in pay and was sentenced to time already served.

He was then handed over to authorities from his hometown of Boulder, Colo. to face charges of violating his probation from a 2004 attempted burglary conviction.

The 23-year-old told the judge he fled the Marines because he suffered mental trauma while in Iraq. Eight Marines in his unit were killed.

Hundreds of people scoured Eldorado Canyon State Park after Hering faked his disappearance in August 2006. Police following a tip found him at a Washington state airport last month.

Ellie

thedrifter
12-20-08, 06:08 AM
Marine reveals his shaken faith, confused feelings
By Kevin Vaughan, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)
Published December 19, 2008 at 12:16 p.m.
Updated December 19, 2008 at 11:53 p.m.

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Lloyd Hering paused and drew a breath, his eyes glistening with tears, his son sitting a few feet away facing the final reckoning of his disappearance 28 months earlier.

Emotion took the words from the father's mouth, and in that moment Friday morning he wasn't thinking about the legal proceedings, about the court- martial where his son, Lance Cpl. Lance Hering, would ultimately plead guilty to an unauthorized absence from the U.S. Marine Corps.

He was thinking about his boy, and a moment passed in silence. Then another.

Finally, Lloyd Hering turned toward his son, the long hair of his freedom gone, his fatigues void of his rank insignia, and spoke as a father.

"You are the best possible Christmas present that your mom and I could ever have," he said. Then he dabbed at his eyes with a crumpled tissue.

It had seemed simple enough when Lance Hering vanished in late August 2006 - a young Marine, just back from combat, had concocted an elaborate ruse and dropped out of sight rather than fulfill his duty to the military, rather than face the prospect of returning to Iraq.

But Friday morning, in a courtroom in a squat concrete building on the sprawling Marine base north of San Diego, the story that emerged was complicated and nuanced. It was a story of a young man seared by his time on the battlefield, where he waged war against dark-skinned young men who looked like the kids from his Scout troop and his soccer team. It was a story of a family whose dedication to the military has stretched through two generations, from Vietnam to Iraq. And it was a story of the insidious illness now called post-traumatic stress disorder.

'I plead guilty, sir'

Lance Hering entered the courtroom at 9:19 a.m., his blond hair shorn to within a quarter inch of his scalp, and sat at the defense table, his parents and attorney, James Culp, 6 feet away in the front row. The 24 red cushioned seats, some threadbare, held six reporters, a sketch artist and five Marines.

Marine Capt. William J. Ryan, the hearing officer, began the formalities of the summary court- martial, the lowest level legal proceeding in the military, by asking the young man if he was Lance Cpl. Lance Hering.

"Yes, I am sir," Hering responded.

After a series of legal questions - did he understand the charge? - Capt. Ryan asked Hering whether he wanted to enter a plea.

"I plead guilty, sir," he said.

Hering, home on leave after a tour in Iraq when he disappeared, was supposed to have returned to his unit, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment on Sept. 18, 2006. At the time Hering vanished, a friend said he feared others in his unit, some of whom faced charges in the death of an Iraqi civilian.

"Tell me in your own words what you did," Capt. Ryan said.

"I didn't go back to California and report in," Hering answered. He detailed how he had been on one month's leave at the time, how he fled first to Iowa, how he understood that he was due back, how he lacked permission to be away.

When Capt. Ryan asked him whether anything prevented him from returning to his unit, Hering answered, "Yes, sir."

"What was that?" Ryan asked.

"Not physically, but the mental state I was in," Hering answered.

The next question: Did anyone threaten him?

"There actually were threats, sir," he said. "They actually got thrown around . . . "

Capt. Ryan cut him off, telling Hering that he appeared to be offering a defense, and if he was it would wipe out his guilty plea and lead to a trial. Hering and his lawyer left the courtroom for a few minutes.

"I misunderstood you, sir," Hering said after he returned. "Threats were not specifically directed at me. They were Marine to Marine . . . That did not prevent me from returning.

"I was aware that it was legally wrong to not return. I was just going through a lot of emotional trauma at the time."

As he talked, Lloyd Hering closed his eyes and rested his chin on his hands as if in prayer. Elynne Hering leaned in against her husband.

Father testifies

Lance Hering was given the option of calling witnesses, and he asked his father to testify. Lloyd Hering, in the same gray shirt he wore in court in November after he and his son were arrested in Port Angeles, Wash., identified himself for the record. Then he turned to his son and smiled faintly.

"Lance, thank you for coming home and thank you for the decision to trust us all and start rebuilding our family," he said.

He told of the morning he got a call from the Boulder County sheriff's deputy, telling him his son was injured and lost in the mountains.

"It turned out that call was correct," Lloyd Hering said. "He was injured, and he was lost, but not in the ways we expected."

The search for him, and a subsequent surveillance tape that captured Lance Hering boarding a Greyhound bus in Denver, shook the family.

"We realized then that Iraq must have gone very wrong for him to give up his entire life," Lloyd Hering testified.

Over the next 18 months, he testified, he and his wife heard nothing from Lance. Then on May 11 - Mother's Day - Elynne Hering received a cryptic e-mail. "Happy Mother's Day. I love you."

The message brought hope, Lloyd Hering said, that they would "get a second chance to be Lance's parents."

He told how over the ensuing months the family had sporadic e-mail contact with Lance.

He recalled flying to the Burning Man festival, a huge counterculture gathering in the Nevada desert, and sitting by his tent, hoping Lance would find him. And he talked about Nov. 16, the day he hoped to fly his son out of Port Angeles, and his plan to take him to see a psychiatrist and his attorney, then how Lance planned to turn himself in to the Marines.

Then he turned to his son's fragile emotional state.

"I believe it's not surprising that my son was torn by the war in Iraq," he said.

Lance was born in Saudi Arabia, he said, where he and his wife taught English. He spent 11 of his first 13 years there, where his friends were Middle Eastern boys in his Scout troop and on his soccer team, where he looked up to the American military men and women he saw.

Then Lance Hering found himself in Iraq, in an infantry unit, fighting soldiers who looked like his childhood friends.

Lloyd Hering told of how quiet Lance was when he came home on leave in the summer of 2006, how distant he was, and of his growing understanding of PTSD.

"I did not recognize it in myself many years ago when I returned from my service in Vietnam, and my family has paid a price for that," he said.

Lloyd Hering, an Army infantryman, came home from Vietnam, landing in Oakland after dark, he said, then experiencing the bewildering hours ahead as he found himself, "out of the military and in civilian clothes and on a bus to San Francisco before sunup."

He talked about the work his son would have to do to face the people in Boulder who searched for him and cared about him. And he offered thanks for his son's life.

"We still have our son," he said. "My heart goes out, sir, to those families where sons will never step off that bus."

And then he broke down. Later, as he walked back to his seat, he paused for a moment next to his son, reached down and squeezed his shoulder.

A shaken faith

A little later, after testimony from a military lawyer, Lance Hering unfolded a handwritten note on a piece of white notebook paper.

"I'd like to start by thanking my parents - Mom, Dad - for your continuous love and support," he said, turning toward them for a moment.

"Before I joined the Marines I did not fully feel this love, and during my military experience I felt it grow only further away until in Iraq it seemed impossibly unreal. By the time my unit returned from our deployment, the things I'd seen in people - the actions committed and my involvement in them - shook my faith, not only in the Marines and our mission, but in humanity and its purpose.

"What I did in leaving the Marines, my family, my friends, and the Boulder community was irrational and careless. I am sorry for the confusion and frustration left in the wake of my absence. I wish I could say what was going through my head. Those were very dark days for me.

"And it is difficult to put into words the disturbing images, violent thoughts and confusing feelings that flooded my mind.

"I am truly sorry for all those who looked for me and feared for me . . . I wish I had an adequate explanation for that day, those days, but I do not."

The false report of Hering's disappearance after a hiking injury sparked hundreds of people to search the Eldorado Canyon area.

Boulder County authorities later estimated that search cost more than $33,000 - a bill that Lloyd Hering said he plans to face in the near future.

After he sat down, Capt. Ryan adjourned the hearing so he could consider other evidence privately. There were reports from Marine doctors who concluded that Lance Hering suffered from PTSD but wasn't insane, and an 18-minute DVD made by the Hering family.

On it was a Tom Brokaw report on PTSD and a slide show of boyhood photographs of Hering, narrated by his mother.

At 11:06 a.m., Capt. Ryan was back in the courtroom, where he fined Hering, placed him under restriction, and ordered that a special board consider the most appropriate way to discharge him from the Marines.

At 11:08 a.m., the court-martial ended, and the reporters and Marines walked out into the California sunshine. Lloyd and Elynne Hering stayed behind, visiting with their son privately for a little while before finally emerging from the building arm-in-arm.



Crime and punishment

A look at Friday's guilty plea by Boulder Marine Lance Hering to a charge stemming from his 2006 disappearance:

* The crime: Hering pleaded guilty to committing an unauthorized absence of over 30 days.

* The punishment: Forfeiture of one month's pay, $1,166; 60 days of "restriction," which is equal to 30 days in jail. Because Hering already had spent 33 days behind bars, he has satisfied that part of the sentence.

* The Marines: A special board will consider how to discharge Hering from the military. The board has three options - an "honorable" discharge, a "general" discharge and an "other than honorable" discharge.

* What's next: Hering signed a waiver to be extradited to Colorado and was turned over to Boulder County authorities on Friday to answer charges that he violated the terms of probation in an attempted burglary case. His attorney said Hering's family will pay the approximately $33,000 bill racked up during the days-long search for him in Eldorado Canyon in 2006.


After his arrest last month, Boulder Marine Lance Hering faced the very real prospect of a desertion charge and the possibility of a years-long jail sentence.

In the end, he lost a month's pay and was given a sentence that amounted to the 33 days he had already served. He will not have a federal conviction on his record as a result of his guilty plea to the Marine Corps charges.

"I think it's a tremendous result," said James Culp, Hering's attorney.

Culp said he took two messages from the proceedings.

"I think the Marine Corps said . . . that they understood and were taking into consideration some pretty personal facts, and I think that was the first message.

"The second message . . . based on the sentencing evidence that was presented today, they understand even more that what he went through was a pretty terrible ordeal."

According to Culp, the sentence is an acknowledgment that Hering was airlifted out of a combat zone with an acute mental defect and then sent back to the war three weeks later without a clear diagnosis. In addition, a psychologist and a psychiatrist in the Marine Corps who examined him in recent weeks concluded that he suffered from an acute stress disorder but that he was not insane.

"It says, 'I'm sorry,' " Culp said of the sentence meted out Friday.

Ellie

thedrifter
12-20-08, 06:11 AM
Last modified Friday, December 19, 2008 7:27 PM PST




MILITARY: PTSD pushed Marine to abandon family and service

By MARK WALKER - Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON ---- Marine Lance Cpl. Lance Hering says the war in Iraq pushed him to abandon his family and his service.

On Friday, two years after he faked his own death and deserted his unit, the 23-year-old Hering stood in a Camp Pendleton courtroom.

By the end of an emotional court-martial, Hering emerged with a sentence of time served behind bars since his Nov. 16 arrest, a fine of $1,166 and an administrative discharge from the service.

Marine Corps officials refused to characterize the nature of the discharge, saying it was subject to privacy regulations.

Hering's case was different from others in that authorities acknowledged he had not been treated for post-traumatic stress syndrome before leaving Iraq in the summer of 2006, even though he sought counseling, according to unchallenged testimony heard Friday.

"Iraq shook my faith in humanity and its purpose," Hering told the officer who presided over the court-martial, Capt. William Ryan. "I don't regret the decision to leave. I do regret the way I chose to leave."

Shortly after his return to Camp Pendleton, Hering went on leave to visit his family in Boulder, Colo. But after only a few days at home, he quietly slipped away, boarded a bus for Iowa and had no contact with his family or the Marine Corps for two years.

Then, in May, he sent a Mother's Day e-mail to his mom saying that he loved her.

A few weeks later, he agreed to meet his father, Lloyd, at the annual Burning Man art and self-expression festival in the Nevada desert. The two talked for hours and forged a plan for Lance to rejoin his family and face the consequences of going AWOL.

The first step toward that reunification came last month when he and his father prepared to fly from Port Angeles, Wash., to Colorado and a meeting with a nonmilitary psychiatrist. That was to be followed by a return to Camp Pendleton. That plan went awry when authorities got a tip that father and son were in Port Angeles and arrested them, starting the military legal process.

Hering told the court that he spent his two years wandering the country, time in which he said he searched for meaning and purpose. The early days were the hardest.

"Those were very dark days for me," he said. "I had confusing images, violent thoughts."

When he was arrested, Hering had no identification and had grown his hair to the middle of his back.

On Friday, he appeared the image of any young Marine, standing straight, speaking calmly, his hair cut high and tight.

Hering said that he was afraid to return to Camp Pendleton.

"I don't know what would have happened from the state that I was in," he said. "I didn't tell anyone I was leaving or contact them for two years ---- I just left. The journey that has brought me here today has been long and difficult, but it has been healing."

In May, the Pentagon said at least 30 percent of all combat troops returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. It put the number of troops with the diagnosis at nearly 40,000.

His father said he believes part of the reason for his son's trauma was that he was raised for a time in Saudi Arabia and grew up with a deep appreciation for the people of the Middle East and their culture.

"For me, it wasn't surprising that my son was tormented by Iraq," Lloyd Hering said. "The violence of war in the Middle East came as a shock to him."

The elder Hering, who served in the Army infantry in Vietnam and later was diagnosed as also suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, said his meeting with his son was cathartic for both.

"We talked for hours about my mistakes and his," he told the court while wiping away tears. "He was running from where he had been."

Smiling at his son, who was wiping away his own tears, Lloyd Hering thanked him for "finally coming home."

Lloyd Hering also praised the way the Marine Corps has handled his son's case.

"The Marine Corps has a reputation for magnificent inflexibility, but that is not what I have seen," he said. "He has been treated like a wayward and wounded warrior."

During his address to the court, Lance Hering turned to his parents and said his decision to return to his family and society after months was in part fueled by a woman he grew close to while on the lam.

"She's not here, but she taught me to love again," he said.

Hering has more legal trouble to deal with. Late Friday, he was turned over to Bolder authorities to face a false reporting charge stemming from when a friend reported him missing during his 2006 visit home in an attempt to fake his death so he would not be a wanted man.

Hering also faces a probation violation for an attempted burglary conviction prior to his enlistment. The probationary period was set to expire two weeks after he went AWOL.

His attorney, James Culp, said Hering's sentence acknowledged the flaws in the methodology used in 2006 to identify troops with post-traumatic stress.

"But the Marine Corps is now getting it," Culp said.

After the court session, Lance Hering talked on the telephone with someone else he hasn't seen or spoken with in more than two years ---- his brother.

Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or mlwalker@nctimes.com.

Ellie