A dozen days after outspoken Marine Lt. Col. Stuart P. Scheller pleaded guilty at court-martial for wielding social media to portray the military brass as unaccountable martinets unmoved by two decades of failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Corps hit back.
A bracing Oct. 26 letter of reprimand penned by Marine Training Command’s Maj. Gen. Julian D. Alford paints Scheller as a “narcissistic” officer who eroded the rule of law in the military through a series of social media posts and videos that called into question his leaders’ competence.
“You have violated your solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Alford wrote. “Your actions have harmed good order and discipline within the service as well as publicly discredited the U.S. Marine Corps. Your narcissistic acts can serve only to erode the rule of law. You have failed in your duties to your command, fellow Marines, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the laws and traditions governing military service.”
In his letter, Alford reminded Scheller that he was found guilty under military law for contempt; disrespect toward a superior commissioned officer; willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer; dereliction of duty; failure to obey a lawful order; and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
Scheller pleaded guilty to all charges at a Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, special court-martial and will leave the military three years shy of his 20-year pension. He drew a $5,000 fine and a letter of reprimand from a general officer.
But if Alford designed his stinging words to shut Scheller up, he failed.
Two days after Alford signed the reprimand, the decorated combat infantry officer returned fire with a written response that called into question “the legality, content, and double standard” of the two-star general’s reprimand.
Instead of using any personal vitriol as ammo against Alford, however, Scheller largely borrowed from the public findings of his Marine special court-martial judge, Marine Reserve Judge Col. Glen R. Hines.
Scheller began his two-page rebuttal with a poke at Alford, who appears in the charge sheet as a victim of the lieutenant colonel’s broadsides and who was also the commander who convened Scheller’s court-martial. By writing the reprimand, the two-star general continued to create “a strong appearance of a conflict of interest,” Scheller said.
Although Scheller’s plea deal waived his right to invoke unlawful command influence as a defense, he urged the brass to name a “neutral and impartial” flag officer to write the reprimand, not Alford.
Termed the “mortal enemy of military justice” by higher courts, unlawful command influence happens when leaders utter words or take actions that illegally guide the outcome of court-martial trials or undermine the public’s confidence in the armed forces by appearing to tip the scales of justice.
Scheller also disputed Alford’s characterization of his actions as “narcissistic,” which the lieutenant colonel believes suggests a psychological personality disorder.
“I am not narcissistic,” Scheller wrote. “I was not diagnosed with this condition after the mental health screening your command ordered me to undertake.”
With a bitter sense of irony, Scheller pointed to the leak of his medical records, including mental health notes, to the media on the eve of the court-martial trial, an act that wasn’t lost on his court-martial judge.
Hines voiced concerns about how Scheller’s official files ended up in the hands of a reporter, calling the scandal “very disturbing,” “unfair,” “illegal,” and worthy of investigation since it also “creates the specter of unlawful command influence.”
Although Alford claimed Scheller had violated his oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, the lieutenant colonel wrote that Hines disagreed. He pointed to the judge’s findings that the Marine officer seemed rather to be a man “in pain,” “confused,” and “someone who was significantly frustrated,” not an oath breaker.
As for failing the Marine Corps, Scheller’s letter urges Alford to read the judge’s thoughts on the fitness reports the infantry officer’s 17-year career generated.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone consistently marked in the top three marks of the Christmas Tree in the Reviewing Officer Evaluations,” Hines said. “Glowing comments from Reporting Seniors and Review Officers consistently. A career that appeared to be on the upward slope until last month.”
In his conclusion, Scheller noted the nine days he spent in solitary confinement inside the Camp Lejeune brig as a pretrial “flight risk.” His confinement occurred under Alford’s command. Scheller always insisted he wasn’t going to flee accountability for his words and deeds, and Hines noted how “very rare” it was to incarcerate a Marine before trial for the type of light charges the lieutenant colonel faced.
Scheller ended his rebuttal by mentioning the 13 US service members killed by an Aug. 26 suicide bomb attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport’s Abbey Gate. That tragedy during the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan triggered Scheller’s crusade demanding brass accountability for bungled operations that got brave men and women killed there and in Iraq.
Coffee or Die urged the Marine Corps to halt a secret hearing to decide the fate of Stuart Scheller, who urged accountability for failures in Afghanistan.https://t.co/MZjHexvsSp
— Coffee or Die Magazine (@CoffeeOrDieMag) October 5, 2021
“I have accepted responsibility and accountability for my actions,” Scheller wrote. “I hope you ensure the same degree and accountability is exacted from those who unlawfully leaked my private records to the media, improperly ordered me confined to the brig, improperly denied me my basic needs in the brig, and, of course, failed in their duties to ensure that 13 service members did not have to die needlessly.”
Marine spokespeople did not reply to messages from Coffee or Die Magazine seeking comment.