Long-Term Effects of a Split-Second Decision on the Battlefield
By Jennifer Bucholtz, criminal justice and forensic science faculty member at American Military University
Split-second decisions are a given in a time of war. Military members—from top-ranking generals to platoon leaders to brand-new soldiers—are trained extensively on how to react to myriad scenarios with precision and logic.
In July 2012, that training became a horrific reality for Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance while on a dismounted foot patrol with his squad in southern Afghanistan. Newly appointed as a Platoon Leader (his immediate predecessor had been killed in action), 1st Lt. Lorance led his troops into known Taliban-infested territory. Their aerial surveillance support warned of enemy personnel nearby.
While crossing a barricaded road designated only for military and police use, his platoon encountered a dreaded—and possibly deadly—threat: Three men on a motorcycle speeding directly towards them. Not only were the men driving on a prohibited road, but they ignored the platoon’s verbal shouts and hand signals commanding them to stop. They also fit the description of the enemy personnel as described by the overhead surveillance team.Fearing an impending ambush and/or vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, either of which could have resulted in the loss of additional men (his unit had already lost four soldiers), Lorance commanded his gunners to open fire on the motorcycle. The first shots missed the riders. The three Afghan men on the motorcycle roared through the platoon formation, then came to a halt nearby. All three dismounted and began walking aggressively towards Lorance’s troops, still ignoring commands to stop.
Not knowing whether the men might be armed with traditional weapons and/or suicide vests, he again gave permission to his men to open fire, resulting in the death of two of the Afghans. The third ran away but was found and detained later that day. His hands tested positive for homemade bomb-making materials residue, lending to the suspicion that he and his cohorts were preparing for an attack against American soldiers. Another local Afghan quickly retrieved the motorcycle from the scene and rode away on it before it could be collected as evidence or assessed for explosives.
The Legal Outcome
Although this same scenario has played itself out countless times during U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this one concluded with Lorance being convicted on two charges of murder for the deaths of the Afghan men on the motorcycle. According to news reports, prosecutors argued that Lorance ordered his men to open fire immediately, which violated the military’s rules of engagement (ROE) that requires soldiers to hold fire unless they have evidence of hostile action or hostile intent.
Despite this evidence playing into his murder convictions, Lorance was found not guilty of violating the ROE, which appears contradictory. He is currently serving a 20-year sentence at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.
Lorance’s case is currently being appealed and is under review by the 82nd Airborne Division Commanding General at Fort Bragg, N.C. Lorance takes full responsibility for his decisions and actions, as well as those of his soldiers, on that day in Afghanistan. Although he could have passed the blame or skewed the truth, he stuck to the oath he took as a military officer, to remain accountable for himself and his troops, and preserve his integrity and honor.
In His Own Words
Through hand-written letters, Lorance and I have communicated back and forth for several months. Having deployed to Afghanistan myself, I can relate to the scenario he encountered that ill-fated day. Despite his obvious frustration at the charges brought against him for a situation familiar to many of our troops faced in Afghanistan, he holds minimal grudge against the Army.
His motivation for joining was the same as countless other soldiers: the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He explained to me his disbelief and shock as he watched the terrorist attacks unfold that tragic September day. He knew immediately his life was changed and told me, “It wasn’t even a question for me. If my country was going to war, I was going to pitch in.”
Putting aside his plans to go to college and become a state trooper, Lorance enlisted in the Army on his 18th birthday and became a military police officer (MP). Over the next seven years, he was assigned to three duty stations, both stateside and overseas, and completed a 15-month deployment to Iraq. In 2010, he completed Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Ft. Benning, Ga., and obtained his commission as an infantry officer. While serving on active duty, Lorance was the recipient of multiple military awards and medals including an Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Platoon Leadership Award, and several Army Achievement Medals.
Despite his current situation, Lorance is optimistic towards the future. He is confident military officials will accept his appeal and reverse their original findings. Whether his conviction is overturned or not, his future plans remain the same:
“I want to be away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. I want to live in a nice little town near my family with plenty of land to grow my own food and support my family and live out the rest of my life not having to ever make life-or-death decisions again.”
Thousands of other soldiers and veterans can likely sympathize with these aspirations for a simple lifestyle. Lorance is currently preparing to further his education and complete his master’s degree in humanities with an emphasis in history. He was recently accepted to the graduate school at California State University (via distance learning) and will begin classes in spring 2015. Teaching history at the collegiate level is another of his life goals. He wants to share his passion for this topic with others and start anew in a completely different career field.
Reflecting on his years in the Army, Lorance has several words of advice for other soldiers:
- Remember your Army values (loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage) and stick to them at all times.
- Take responsibility for your decisions and actions. Do not pass the buck. Do not lie.
- Ask for specific clarification on ROE. No one should have to make a guess when engaged in a life-or-death situation on the battlefield. (Lorance asked specific questions about the ROE and received shoulder shrugs in response. That is not the right answer.)
- Watch your own back, literally and figuratively. Although members of military units should always support and assist each other, not everyone does. As with any large corporation, politics and personal agendas come into play
- Follow his personal motto: Never give up. Never give in!
- Details about this case are available at www.freeclintlorance.com, a website dedicated to this case
- Petition for his release, which has been drafted by Lorance’s mother
For information and insight on the situation and war in Afghanistan, There Is No Goat, a book written by Jennifer Bucholtz.
About The Author: Jennifer Bucholtz is a former U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent and decorated veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She holds a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, Master of Arts in criminal justice and Master of Science in forensic sciences. Jennifer has an extensive background in U.S. military and Department of Defense Counterintelligence operations. While on active duty, she served as the Special Agent in Charge for her unit in South Korea and Assistant Special Agent in Charge at stateside duty stations. Jennifer has also worked for the Arizona Department of Corrections and Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. Jennifer is currently an adjunct faculty member at American Military University and teaches courses in criminal justice and forensic sciences, within the School of Public Service and Health. You can contact her at Jennifer.Bucholtz@mycampus.apus.edu.