On Thursday, a Marine infantry officer and battalion commander 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 says is 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 a recent 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 Thursday evening by Scheller, who identified himself as the Battalion Commander for Advanced Infantry Training Battalion. On Friday afternoon, 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 announced 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.”
According to his official bio, Scheller is stationed at School of Infantry East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and took over the post as the AITB commander in June 2021.
The infantry officer began the video message by addressing the terrorist attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan by Islamic State militants on Thursday, which claimed the lives of 13 U.S. service members. On Friday, the Marine Corps issued a statement confirming that 11 of those killed in the attack were 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 reads and reacts 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 10,000 times on Facebook and received more than 1,000 comments as of Friday morning.
While some comments on social media criticized the officer for calling out his senior leaders while in uniform, many others praised Scheller for putting his career on the line to do so.
And let’s not make any bones about it: calling out the commandant of the Marine Corps, the secretary of defense, and other top-ranking officers while in uniform is a big professional risk for any Marine, particularly those who have more to lose, like Scheller.
“And I will say that as a person who’s not at 20 years, I feel like I have a lot to lose,” he said. “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 ends 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 updated with additional information regarding Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller’s relief of command.