CAMP PENDLETON — Lance Hering, who went AWOL from the Marine Corps for two years after being emotionally overwhelmed by combat duty in Iraq, is home in Boulder, Colo., free on $5,000 bond on a probation violation charge from a previous burglary conviction.
Hering, 23, faces a Jan. 7 court date. He also faces a separate charge stemming from the 2006 hoax that he and a buddy pulled to try to convince the Marine Corps that Hering was dead in the wilds of Eldorado Canyon State Park.
The buddy received probation in that case and was ordered to pay the $33,000 cost of a massive search undertaken by Boulder County authorities before the hoax was uncovered. The Hering family is ready to pay the $33,000.
The burglary conviction stems from a 2004 incident in which Hering and the same buddy were caught scaling downtown buildings at night. The two said it was just an urban mountain-climbing exercise. They were placed on probation. Hering allegedly violated that probation by becoming a fugitive from the Marine Corps.
Arrested Nov. 16 in Port Angeles, Wash., Hering was taken to court-martial last week at Camp Pendleton. The Marines could have thrown the book at him -- desertion in time of war can carry the death penalty -- but instead barely tossed a pamphlet.
The hearing officer ordered him to forfeit $1,166 in pay but serve no additional jail time beyond the 33 days Hering spent in the brig awaiting court-martial.
Nor did the hearing officer reduce Hering in rank from lance corporal. Within hours, Hering was discharged from the Marine Corps.
There is no indication that the Corps' lenient treatment of Hering will set any precedent for other lengthy AWOL cases.
The way the Marine Corps handles long-term cases affords the convening authority, a colonel, with unrestricted latitude to consider each case individually, officials said. Not even the commandant can tell him what to do.
Also, the facts of the Hering case appear unique. While serving in Iraq in 2006 he suffered a mental collapse and was evaluated at military hospitals in Iraq and Germany, but doctors apparently missed what military psychologists now say is an acute case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hering was born in Saudi Arabia, where his parents were teachers at oil-company schools. He spent 11 of his first 13 years there, surrounded by Arab friends at school and on sports teams and camping trips. The family traveled widely in the region and enjoyed Arab hospitality.
At the court-martial, Lloyd Hering testified that he was not surprised at his son's horror at returning to the Middle East and finding Americans and Arabs killing one another.
"Iraq shook my faith in humanity and its purpose," Lance Hering told the hearing officer.
After the court-martial, Hering was escorted back to Boulder by Boulder County sheriff's deputies and had made bail before his parents' flight landed.