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IRAQ: Once Arabs were his friends, but in Iraq they were enemies

December 20, 2008 |  9:47 am

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Lance Cpl. Lance Hering was discharged from the Marine Corps on Friday just hours after pleading guilty to being AWOL for two years after returning from combat duty in Iraq.

The hearing officer ordered no additional jail time beyond the 33 days Hering spent in the brig awaiting court-martial after being arrested. Nor did the hearing officer reduce Hering in rank.

The Marine Corps opted to take Hering, 23, to a summary court-martial, the lowest level of judicial proceeding, rather than a special court-martial, where the penalty could be a year in the brig, or a general court-martial, where the penalty for desertion, in theory, could be death.

There is no indication that the Corps' treatment of Hering will set any precedent for other lengthy AWOL cases.

The way the Marine Corps handles such 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 kind of 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 Friday's 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.

-- Tony Perry from Camp Pendleton

Photo: Lance Hering on a family trip to Syria as a boy. Credit: Hering family

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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