Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller criticized senior leaders for their handling of the Afghan withdrawal. US Marine Corps photo.
A Marine commander has been fired after posting a widely shared video to Facebook in which he called out the Secretary of Defense, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and other senior military leadership and demanded accountability for the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“Not making this video because it’s potentially an emotional time,” Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller says in the nearly five-minute video. “I’m making it because I have a growing discontent and contempt for my perceived ineptitude at the foreign policy level, and I want to specifically ask some questions to some of my senior leaders.”
Scheller, who has served as an infantry officer for 17 years, was the commanding officer of the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion at School of Infantry East. He completed one yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, according to his official biography.
“I want to say this very strongly,” Scheller says in the video. “I have been fighting for 17 years. I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders, I demand accountability.”
Scheller confirmed his firing on his Facebook page.
“I have been relieved for cause based on a lack of trust and confidence as of 14:30 today,” he wrote. “My chain of command is doing exactly what I would do if I were in their shoes.”
In the video, Scheller asks senior leaders to hold themselves to the same standards of accountability as the rest of the military. In a letter dated Aug. 18, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger advised that Marines should seek community if they were struggling. Scheller acknowledged that he himself sought counseling, but he said that was not the solution for the current situation.
“There’s a time and place for that, but the reason people are so upset on social media right now is not because the Marine on the battlefield let someone down; that service member has always risen to the occasion and done extraordinary things,” he says in the video. “People are upset because their senior leaders let them down, and none of them are raising their hand and accepting accountability or saying ‘We messed this up.’”
Scheller says in the video that he understands the risk of calling out his leaders on social media, but he took the risk as a way of leading by example.
“I think what you believe in can only be defined by what you are willing to risk,” Scheller says. “If I’m willing to risk my current battalion commander seat, my retirement, my family’s stability, to say some of the things I want to say, I think it gives me some moral high ground to demand the same honesty, integrity, and accountability from my senior leaders.
“If an O-5 Battalion Commander has the simplest live-fire incident or Equal Opportunity complaint, boom, fired. But we have a Secretary of Defense that testified to Congress in May that the Afghan National Security Force could withstand a Taliban advance,” he adds, in the wake of an avoidable loss of 13 lives.
Scheller then addresses the Marine Corps’ top leaders directly.
“Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say, ‘Hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Air Field, the strategic air base, before we evacuate everyone.’ Did anyone do that? And when you didn’t think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say, ‘We completely messed this up’?” he asks angrily.
Scheller points out that many veterans of the 20-year war are now wondering whether 2,461 of their comrades died in vain.
“Potentially all those people did die in vain, if we don’t have senior leaders that own up and raise their hand and say, ‘We did not do this well in the end.’ Without that, we just keep repeating the same mistakes,” he answers.
Scheller’s terse remarks have been shared more than 14,600 times in less than 24 hours. He addressed the video to the American leadership and signed it “US.” As Americans are reeling from the devastating loss of 13 service members and dozens of Afghan civilians, Scheller seemed to capture what many are thinking.
“This is obviously an emotional time for a lot of Marines, and we encourage anyone struggling right now to seek counseling or talk to a fellow Marine,” Marine spokesperson Maj. Jim Stenger said in an email to Coffee or Die Magazine. “There is a forum in which Marine leaders can address their disagreements with the chain of command, and it’s not social media.”
In the social media post announcing his firing, Scheller said that, while America “has many issues,” it’s “still the light shining in the fog of chaos.”
“When my Marine Corps career comes to an end, I look forward to a new beginning,” Scheller said. “My life’s purpose is to make America the most lethal and effective foreign diplomacy instrument. While my days of hand-to-hand violence may be ending … I see a new light on the horizon.”
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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