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Saturday, October 26, 2019

Leavenworth, Ep. 1: Soldiers.

This post is by my FIU colleague Eric Carpenter, a retired Ranger and JAG attorney. He is covering the HBO documentary for us. Episode 1 aired last Sunday; Episode 2 premieres tomorrow.

If Clint Lorance had not deployed to Afghanistan, he would have never committed a crime like murder. By all accounts, he was a productive member of society and joined the military for honorable purposes. In Episode 1 of Leavenworth, the director appears to start his argument for why a law-abiding, disciplined soldier would commit a crime like this. His basic thesis will be, I think, that Lorance was overcompensating for several factors and felt he had to quickly establish himself as a tough leader who would impose his will on the enemy. Ignoring the rules of engagement (or creating his own) fit that image.

One of these factors is that Lorance was tasked mid-tour, on short notice, to replace the battle-seasoned platoon leader of a battle-seasoned platoon. The original platoon leader—the one who led the unit through the preparations for combat and the initial part of the deployment—was wounded in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion. This platoon leader appears to have been well-respected by his soldiers and was Ranger-qualified.  

The platoon was battle-seasoned, too. The platoon had already been in firefights and, presumably, had already been awarded the coveted Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB). Two other members of the platoon were also seriously wounded in combat. And the director brings in a social psychologist to explain how people bond in situations like these.

Replacing that platoon leader in that platoon would be a tough leadership task for anyone to undertake. Lorance had some strikes against him.

To start, he did not graduate from Ranger School. In the Army, having bells and whistles on your uniform matters. Lorance walked into the unit without a Ranger Tab and without a CIB.

After new lieutenants graduate from Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, they go to Ranger School. If they graduate from Ranger School, they can expect to be a platoon leader in a light infantry unit. If they do not, they often go to a mechanized infantry unit, or go to a light infantry unit but serve in a headquarters element. Lorance did not graduate from Ranger School and so was serving in a headquarters unit. When I deployed, I was a judge advocate and served in a headquarters unit. An anacronym exists for people in headquarters elements: REMF. Rear-echelon . . . 

So not only did Lorance show up without the right bells and whistles, he had been, up to that point, a REMF. He may have thought that he had something to prove.

Plus another factor. I have been following this case for a while, and I did not know about it.

Lorance is gay. He grew up within a conservative family, as a Pentecostalist, in Hobart, Oklahoma, itself a very conservative area. The director leads us to believe that his family was not accepting of his sexual orientation. As I think through how that fact might be relevant to the story, I expect the director will argue that he felt he had to overcompensate within what many would consider to be a hyper-masculine society.

Congress repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) on September 20, 2011. The repeal was supported by a large number of senior military leaders. I was a student at the Command and General Staff College in the period leading up to the repeal. We routinely heard from senior leaders in government as they talked about complex problems. One of the best comments I heard was from Admiral Mike Mullen, then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said that his turning point was when he recognized that the policy ran contrary to one of the military’s key values: integrity. His point was, “How can we say that we value integrity, and then turn around and tell a service member that they have to lie about who they are?”

Those who opposed the repeal warned of dire consequences (primarily, that unit cohesion will fall apart), but in the part of the Army where I served, none of the dire consequences came about. From the perspective of many straight service members, nothing really changed. (I was against the policy and glad for the symbolic meaning of repeal.) There were LGBTQ service members in the military during DADT, everyone knew it, and most people did not care. People cared about whether you were good at your job.

I recognize that those in the LGBTQ community must have had a completely different experience under DADT, and even if 95 out of 100 service people treated them with dignity and respect (I am making that number up), they would still have to constantly deal with the 5 out of 100 who didn’t.

Lorance took over his platoon in 2012. DADT was only a year in the grave, and I don’t know what the experience during this period was like for members of the LGBTQ community. Further, I don’t know what the culture was like in infantry units at the time. I expect the director will fill us in.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 26, 2019 at 04:40 PM in Criminal Law, Law and Politics | Permalink

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