Marine commander relieved over viral video calling out military leaders for Afghanistan withdrawal [UPDATED]
"I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders 'I demand accountability.'"
Last week a Marine infantry officer and battalion commander generated a wave of controversy online after he took to social media to air his frustrations with senior military leadership over their handling of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and what he said was a lack of accountability for mistakes made by those charged with managing the final stages of America’s longest war.
“I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever, but I am saying: Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say ‘hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, a strategic airbase, before we evacuate everyone,’” asked Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller in an Aug. 26 video shared to Facebook and LinkedIn.
“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.’”
The video was posted online by Scheller, the Battalion Commander for Advanced Infantry Training Battalion at School of Infantry East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. According to his official bio, Scheller took over the post as the AITB commander in June 2021.
The following day, Scheller shared another post to Facebook announcing that he had been relieved of command.
“My chain of command is doing exactly what I would do… if I were in their shoes,” he wrote. “I appreciate the opportunities AITB command provided. To all the news agencies asking for interviews… I will not be making any statements other than what’s on my social platforms until I exit the Marine Corps. America has many issues… but it’s my home… it’s where my three sons will become men. America is still the light shining in a fog of chaos. When my Marine Corps career comes to an end, I look forward to a new beginning. 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.”
The Marine Corps confirmed that Scheller was relieved “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command,” according to Maj. Jim Stenger, a spokesman for Headquarters Marine Corps.
“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,” Stenger said. “There is a forum in which Marine leaders can address their disagreements with the chain of command, but it’s not social media.”
On Sunday afternoon, Scheller uploaded another video, this time to YouTube, in which he appeared to be responding to critics from the back of a refurbished school bus somewhere in eastern North Carolina, and claimed that he would be resigning his commission as a United States Marine.
“I want to make the announcement today: After 17 years I am currently not pending legal action and I could stay in the Marine Corps for another three years, but I don’t think that’s the path I’m on. I’m resigning my commission as a United States Marine, effective now,” said Scheller, before adding that he has yet to begin the process or read up on the relevant Marine Administrative Message (MARADMIN) for how to resign a commission. “I’m sure there’s some MARADMIN on how I’m supposed to do that and I’ll work through that, but I am forfeiting retirement, all entitlements. I don’t want a single dollar. I don’t want any money from the VA. I don’t want any VA benefits. I’m sure I’m entitled 100%.”
Scheller ended the video, titled “your move,” by saying “follow me and we will bring the whole fucking system down.”
When asked about Scheller’s most recent video, Capt. Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for Marine Training and Education Command, told Task & Purpose that the service was “aware of the video Lt. Col. Scheller released on Sunday afternoon. Currently, the Marine Corps is taking appropriate action to ensure the safety and well-being of Lt. Col. Scheller and his family. As this is a developing situation, we cannot comment further at this time.”
The infantry officer began the Aug. 26 video message by addressing the terrorist attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan by Islamic State militants last week, which claimed the lives of 13 U.S. service members, including 11 Marines.
“I’ve been in the Marine infantry for 17 years. I started my tour with Victor 1-8, that’s the current unit that’s doing perimeter security, dealing with the mess that’s going on there,” Scheller said. “You can see open-source reporting that there was an explosion and some people were killed. I know through my inside channels that one of the people that was killed was someone that I have a personal relationship with. I won’t go into more detail because the families are still being notified.”
“I’m not making this video because it’s potentially an emotional time,” continued Scheller, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who’s held billets as a commander from the platoon, to company, and battalion level. “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.”
From there, Scheller read and reacted to a portion of a recent message from Gen. David H. Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, regarding the Taliban takeover of much of the country ahead of a full U.S. military withdrawal:
“And sir, you wrote ‘Some of you may be struggling with the simple question ‘was it all worth it? We want you to know that your service is meaningful, powerful and important. You fought for the Marine to your left and the Marine to your right. You never let them down.’
Then you go on to say that if we’re struggling, we should seek counseling. Which, you know, I get it. People have killed people. I’ve killed people, and I seek counseling, and that’s fine. There’s a time and place for that.
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 always rose to the occasion and has done extraordinary things. People are upset because their senior leaders let them down and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying ‘we messed this up.’
If an O-5 battalion commander has the simplest live fire incident, EO complaint. Boom. Fired.
But we have a secretary of defense that testified to Congress in May that the Afghan National Security Forces could withstand the Taliban advance. We have Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs — who the commandant is a member of that — who’s supposed to advise on military policy. We have a Marine combatant commander. All of these people are supposed to advise.
And I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever, but I am saying: Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say ‘hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, a strategic airbase, 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?’”
Scheller’s comments generated an immediate reaction online. Since posting the video it has been shared more than 62,000 times on Facebook and received more than 1,800 comments as of Monday morning.
While some comments on social media criticized the officer for calling out his senior leaders while in uniform, others praised Scheller for appearing to put his career on the line to do so.
“And I will say that as a person who’s not at 20 years, I feel like I have a lot to lose,” Scheller said in the Aug. 26 video. “If you play chess you can only see two-to-three moves out because there’s too many variables. I thought through ‘if I post this video, what might happen to me?’ especially if the video picks up traction, if I have the courage to post it. But I think what you believe in, can only be defined by what you’re willing to risk. So 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, accountability from my senior leaders.”
The video ended with Scheller imploring leaders to take his words seriously.
“But what I’ll say is, from my position, 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,’” he said. “Without that we just keep repeating the same mistakes.”
“I want to say this very strongly: I have been fighting for 17 years. I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders ‘I demand accountability.’”
UPDATE: This article has been substantially updated with statements from Marine Corps public affairs and Lt. Col. Scheller’s most recent video statement.
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