Marine Corps LtCol Stuart P. Scheller resigned his commission as a Marine officer after his superiors pulled him from his assignment following a video he released demanding accountability for senior leaders involved in the Afghanistan debacle.
“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,’” Scheller said. He claimed to have a personal relationship with one of the fallen soldiers but did not say which soldier.
“I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever,” Scheller stated. “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 added: “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 completed Officer Candidate School in 2005 and became a platoon commander within the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. Scheller is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has been awarded a bronze star for valor in combat, and participated in the evacuation of American citizens out of Beirut during the 2006 Israeli/Lebanese conflict. This past June, he took over as the commanding officer of the Advanced Training Battalion at the School of Infantry East.
After posting the video, Scheller was relieved of command, to which he responded, “My chain of command is doing exactly what I would do … if I were in their shoes.”
However, after much criticism from some and support from others, Scheller announced his resignation from the Marine Corps and posted the letter to Facebook (below). In it, he noted his and the American people’s “lack of trust and confidence in your ability to lead,” a pointed reference to the go-to explanation that generals give to the media whenever they relieve a subordinate officer.
Scheller also posted a video to further explain to the public why he decided to resign.
Sitting inside an abandoned school bus, he said, “I’m resigning my commission as a United States Marine, effective now … [and] I am forfeiting my retirement, all entitlements. I don’t want a single dollar.”
He responded directly to criticism from retired Marine Col. Thomas Hobbs, who said, “If Scheller was truly honorable, he would have resigned his commission in protest after stating what he did.”
Scheller said that he knew Hobbs and loved him like a father but was clearly hurt by his comments. Scheller took Hobbs up on his challenge and announced his resignation, even stating that he didn’t want his retirement or VA benefits.
When you are in a position of accountability — whether a president, a general, a CEO, or a school board member — your willingness to truly take responsibility for your actions and decisions is shown by your willingness to accept the consequences when things go wrong — no matter how bad those consequences might be.
One of the most notable examples of this was Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who penned an “in case of failure” letter on the night before the D-Day invasion in which he accepted all of the blame and which would have been submitted to his superiors and the public had the risky operation not turned out as well as it ultimately did.
Lt. Col. Scheller knew that speaking out publicly against his superiors would guarantee serious consequences for his career, but he felt that it was more important for him to speak up. So in the aftermath of his actions, he graciously accepted the Marine Corps’ decision to strip him of his command and resigned his commission.
That’s what real leaders do — or at least what they used to do. Not that long ago, any leader who failed to proactively accept the consequences of their actions brought shame and dishonor on the organization they served and on their own good name.
While Scheller’s actions are highly irregular for an active-duty Marine, his video seems to echo the frustration felt within the military ranks and across the country as the Biden administration’s handling of the Afghanistan situation could not be characterized as anything but a total disaster. Rather than try to pass the blame, our leaders need to step up, take responsibility for their failures, and apologize to the service members and veterans who have fought for decades in the Middle East.
If the disciplinary standard required Scheller to be relieved of his command for simply asking for accountability among military and civilian decision-makers who indirectly caused the deaths of 13 service members and scores of civilians in the last week alone, then those decision-makers — including Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — need to be held to that same standard by willingly admitting that they bungled every aspect of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and resigning their positions immediately.
If they won’t accept responsibility, then they should be fired and forced to bear the shame of dishonoring the military and the high standards demanded within the chain of command.