Viral Marine who demanded ‘accountability' for Afghanistan failures: ‘I’m resigning my commission’
A Marine officer who filmed a viral video calling out senior military and civilian leaders for failures in Afghanistan resigned his commission “effective immediately” in a new 10-minute video Sunday and threatened to “bring the whole [expletive] system down.”
Lt. Col. Stu Scheller was dismissed Friday from command of the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., over the original video. In the new one, he claims he is not currently under investigation and that he likely would be allowed to ride out his remaining three years until retirement if he chose to stay silent.
“I don’t think that’s the path I’m on,” he says in the video, shot inside an “abandoned school bus” in eastern North Carolina. “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 then suggests that senior military leaders would need the money for jobs and security after what he intends to do, though he does not provide further details.
“The Marine Corps is taking appropriate action to ensure the safety and well-being of LtCol Scheller and his family,” said service spokesman Capt. Sam Stephenson in an emailed statement. “As this is a developing situation, we cannot comment further at this time.”
In his original video, posted on social media hours after a blast in Kabul killed 13 U.S. troops, Scheller appeared in uniform and criticized the Marine Corps commandant, defense secretary and other senior defense officials.
That nearly 5-minute clip had been viewed about 1 million times on Facebook and LinkedIn combined as of Sunday and touched a nerve within the military and veterans community.
Some have praised his courage to challenge the brass at the risk of his career, and others criticized him for grandstanding or sowing dissent.
“Blatantly using rank does cross a line,” said Jim Golby, a 20-year Army veteran and adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security who focuses on civil-military relations. A battalion commander “just doesn’t have all the info that senior military (or civilian) leaders do.”
Golby hoped someone would convince Scheller to seek mental health treatment and “get out of the spotlight quickly,” he said. “I find it very sad and misguided.”
It’s not clear what new consequences he could face, but Golby said the Corps will need to be careful not to cement him as a “martyr” among those who would use him divisively.
He’s been celebrated by some on the right “to further demonize my husband and justify the vitriol he endured,” Rachel Vindman, wife of retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, said in a tweet Sunday.
I like you and I like Jim so I'll sit this one out because he has been celebrated by the crazies who are using it as an opportunity to further demonize my husband and justify the vitriol he endured. Once wasn't enough for him, he had to lean in all the way.— Rachel Vindman (@natsechobbyist) August 29, 2021
Alexander Vindman is a former Ukraine expert for the National Security Council who testified in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment case.
Scheller did not immediately respond to an inquiry asking for clarification of his plans.
Marine spokesman Maj. Jim Stenger said Friday that social media is not the place to air disagreements with the chain of command, saying it was “an emotional time for a lot of Marines” who should seek counseling or talk to their comrades.
Eleven Marines, a soldier and a Navy corpsman were killed in the attack on Kabul’s airport Thursday, which was claimed by the Islamic State group. Over 160 Afghans were killed, two officials told The Associated Press on Friday. Scores of others were wounded, along with at least 18 U.S. troops.
Scheller had a personal relationship with one of the slain Marines, he said Thursday, though he did not say who because next of kin of the fallen had not yet all been notified.
In his new video, he tells those offering to send him money to instead give to the families of the fallen. He thanks both his supporters and critics but singles out a remark by retired Marine Col. Thomas K. Hobbs, who he said he knew personally and loved like a father.
“If Scheller was truly honorable, he would have resigned his commission in protest after stating what he did,” Hobbs wrote in a comment on one of Scheller’s LinkedIn posts.
Scheller repeatedly quotes from that remark, protesting that he is honorable and announcing his resignation in response to it. The video does not appear to be a resignation in a formal sense, though he says he plans to follow whatever the service’s legal requirements are.
But he also says that if senior leaders would have simply said “yes, mistakes were made” in Afghanistan, he would have gone back to “rank-and-file” and given up his quest. He believes such an admission would help those struggling with PTSD and other issues more than any other message, he said.
Praising the ordinary grunts who “go outside the wire, get blown up, bring their Marine back and then go back out there the next day,” Scheller says “they deserve accountability.”
While some of his critics have suggested he’s positioning himself for a political career, he’s vague about his plans. But he suggests he may need backing from “rich philanthropists” and “blue collar” workers.
“Follow me, and we will bring the whole [expletive] system down,” he says. “We’re just getting started.”