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Iraq War vet faces hearing after stolen valor argument

He never planned on becoming a case study.

Lonergan, who served in Iraq during his time with the Wisconsin National Guard, will face a hearing early next week with GWC officials resulting from an Oct. 6 incident in the school's dining hall, where the 28-year-old graduate student confronted another student who'd allegedly claimed to have served as a Marine infantry officer.

Witnesses notified school officials of the incident — first reported by the Wisconsin Daily Independent — and the next day, Lonergan received notice that he was expected to attend a hearing in six days and would not be allowed on campus, except to attend class, until the matter was resolved.

Lonergan got a lawyer. His story made its way to military-themed blogs, including those focused on stolen valor claims. He appeared on radio and local television.

School officials said the limited campus ban is part of the code of conduct and isn't influenced by Lonergan's service, and that all sides of the confrontation are being treated equally as disciplinary measures are considered.

Former Spc. Ryan Lonergan confronted an alleged Marine faker at his college and witnesses reported his actions to the school.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Lonergan via Facebook

The former soldier said that response is part of the problem, and while he doesn't approve of critics tearing into the school online over the issue, administrators at GWC "just don't know how to handle veterans."

"This is the epitome of why they need to have a veterans organization and a veterans infrastructure," he said. " 'Oh, well he's just a normal student' — no, no, no. You don't throw a veteran off campus. Have they lost their minds?"

The confrontation 

GWC, a campus of Aurora University, sits a bit more than 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee. Aurora has about 5,500 "degree-seeking students" on four campuses, according to its website. Lonergan had never met the purported Marine until the man approached him in the dining hall, commented on Lonergan's service-themed stickers and started swapping war stories.

Except the stories didn't make sense. Lonergan said the man told him about his unit using rubber bullets in a field exercise, about training at a location Lonergan had never heard of, and about a fellow service member stealing a "Hummer" — not a Humvee — and being tracked down using GPS.

"Oh, yeah, the BFT," Lonergan recalled saying, referencing the common Blue Force Tracking system. Then he quickly issued a pop quiz.

"I said, 'Is that the biometric force tracker?' I made it like a question," Lonergan said. "And he agreed with me."

This was enough to confirm Lonergan's suspicions. He pulled the man aside and offered him a chance to come clean. Lonergan said he did just that, admitting to never having served a day in uniform.

"When we were done, we walked back over [to the dining booth], and that's kind of when my passion kind of clouded my judgement," Lonergan said. "I told him, 'Grab your food, grab your stuff.'

"My voice carries, I was in the infantry, most guys' voices carry. ... I wasn't loud and thunderous, I was just like, 'Grab your s--t, grab your food and get the f--k away from me. I don't want you sitting near me.' And that's what I said, that's all I said. I wasn't screaming."

Policy and punishment

"What we do, by default, in our student code of conduct … is we say, if someone issues this concern, we're obligated to say, to everyone involved, 'Hey, just limit your time on campus to when you have classes, just for a couple of days, until we can sort everything out,' " McFarland said.

McFarland took issue with claims, including some posted on the school's social media sites, that GWC is focusing only on Lonergan as it sorts out the incident and is thus behaving unfairly to veterans while failing to investigate stolen valor concerns.

"The conclusion that some people have jumped to is that only Ryan is being 'investigated,' for lack of a better word, and that is simply not true," he said.

McFarland would not say whether disciplinary proceedings were underway regarding the other student, citing federal privacy legislation. He did say the school was "following our procedure, which mandates treating all alleged participants equally," and that GWC would comply with any law enforcement agency who wanted to investigate the purported Marine.

Such an investigation would be unlikely unless evidence surfaced that the man had benefited, financially or otherwise, from his military claims.

Some feedback has been positive, McFarland said, including from veterans "who have said, "Listen, we get it, you guys have to figure this out. I just hope you treat everyone fairly.' "

McFarland said the limited campus ban is not disciplinary in nature. Lonergan said it's preventing him from putting time into his "field placement," a necessary component of his master's degree that involves him interacting with students and school officials outside the classroom setting — oddly, in this case, to determine how best to improve the school's interaction with the veteran community.

McFarland said he wasn't aware of such work and that the ban may not apply. Lonergan said he isn't risking it.

"I played their game," he said. "If I'm not allowed on campus, I'm not allowed on campus."

Staying put

Lonergan said he has no intention of transferring from or dropping out of the school unless a full-time job in his chosen career field — helping veterans — falls into his lap.

He has soured on plans to assist GWC with its veterans outreach, though, saying he's now focused on earning his master's degree.

Despite those feelings, he's not thrilled about the negative attention the college has drawn thanks to coverage of his ordeal.

"I love what I do there," he said of GWC. "I love the faculty. The students there are awesome. ... I don't want anyone to bash the school."

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