Exclusive interview with former Marine Lt.Col. Stuart Scheller; where he’s been and where he’s going
Former Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller has been busy doing interviews since his release from the Marines last month. I was fortunate to be able to speak with him on January 7.
We discussed where he’s been, where he’s going, and he gave candid perspectives on some of the events that have changed his life over the past few months.
Over the course of his 17 years as an infantry officer in the Marines, Scheller has been around the world, trained in every country between the Middle East and the European theater, and has evacuated Americans from Israel.
Well versed in foreign policy, he has a master’s degree in Military Science and his thesis was on how to make foreign diplomacy more effective.
The set of events building up to his now-famous video began with his frustration watching the situation in Afghanistan unfold last year, while his senior leaders were putting out messages telling Marines their sacrifices were worth it, and to seek counseling if anyone was struggling.
“We’ve won every single tactical battle that we’ve been in the last 20 years. Why we’re failing wars is the link between the operational level, which is really at the combatant command level, up to the National Security Council Executive strategic level,” Scheller said. His frustration grew when he saw those senior leaders not acknowledging this.
Scheller’s first unit, the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines (1/8), came under attack on August 26 when a suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. service members at Kabul Airport. He was in Ramadi, Iraq with the 1/8 when his best friend was hit by someone wearing a suicide vest. Upon hearing of the attack against the 1/8 that day, Scheller said, “It came full circle” with him, and “it was personal.”
He knew what the consequences would be when he made the video but thought it was important enough to put out.
I mentioned to him that people have compared his courage to those who fought in the American Revolution, and he has indeed referenced many of our founding fathers in his posts.
Scheller said one of the problems is that “the founding fathers didn’t envision a military arm in foreign diplomacy in the way that it’s evolved.” He noted that changes to the way our military operates began after World Wars I and II, but there have not been any changes since the Goldwater Nichols Act in 1986, and it may require some tough conversations to make that happen.
As 2022 began, Scheller, newly released from the Marines, and free from a four-month gag order, started doing interviews and has stated that he places much of the blame of the failure of the planning and execution of the evacuation of Afghanistan on Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the current commander of the U.S. Central Command. On January 6, it was announced that McKenzie will be retiring in the spring.
Scheller said he was “taken aback” by the news because it had been just days after he started doing interviews. He noted the possibility that McKenzie’s time could have been coming up to rotate out, but it was “unique timing” and he’s not convinced it was a coincidence.
The experience and pressure he was under since last August has taken its toll on Scheller’s family life and has tested friendships.
Scheller said he is going through a divorce but says it is amicable. The situation “illustrated that going forward in our lives, we potentially want different things,” and they are adjusting to their new normal.
Most of his Marine Corps peers, some that were considered friends, have betrayed and disappointed him. “They just you know, when you attack a system, the system kind of will come together and that’s what happened,” Scheller said. “I attacked the system and they kind of closed ranks and took turns.”
In one instance, Scheller received a text from a friend inquiring about what he was doing, and that person turned around and provided the texts to the investigating officer. Others made negative comments about personal things like his marriage, and the smile in his official Marine photo. He said that “cut deep” and was “probably the biggest knife in the back.”
He found out about those statements because they were part of his investigation, which he received while he was in jail. Chuckling, he said it was probably a good thing he had those six days to work through the emotions and couldn’t react right away.
He decided not to do anything until after his court-martial in October, and then he “texted all of them…and I was just like, hey, man, you said this, like, I hung out with you a week before that. You didn’t say any of that to me. But then, once I put those videos out, you’re making formal statements that you think this…obviously, that’s not true. You lied.” They never responded.
One friend, in particular, passed the test though, and Scheller relayed a humorous story about it.
The night before he went to jail, he “wiped his phone,” but intentionally left certain things on it, thinking they were going to eventually search his car and find it. While in jail, one of his buddies came to visit and being a major, prison personnel thought he was with Scheller’s command, and therefore was permitted to visit with him. While sitting in the visiting area with a plate of glass between them, Scheller had the idea to ask his friend to get his phone out of his car when he left. Having been betrayed by many friends before, he was sure the major would turn the phone over to someone else, but he gave the phone to Scheller’s parents. Once out of jail, Scheller called the friend to explain what he had done, and why, and he apologized. Friend test passed.
Part of our discussion involved a post of his that was written after being released from the Marines last month. In it, he stated that some time ago, he realized that the website for the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) was using a .com domain. Most military sites use a .mil. He did some checking and found that the military was using the .com and .mil inconsistently on their websites.
Out of habit, people tend to type ‘.com’ when typing a URL, and so it is common practice to purchase the matching .com domain for a website with a different extension to protect against someone else buying it and using it for other purposes.
Scheller checked to see if the military had purchased .com domains to protect their .mils, and surprisingly, they had not. So, over several years, he purchased about 60 military-related .com domains.
“It blows the mind that they haven’t done that already,” Scheller said. “That’s why I was buying them, I’m like, the military needs to buy these…this is ridiculous that these are all still out here being publicly sold.”
In his post, he offered to give them to General Berger, Commandant of the Marines, for free. “All you gotta do is call me, I’ll give them to you, he said.” “But I knew they don’t have the humility to call me right, they’re not gonna call me and ask for something.” He’s confident they won’t be calling, and until they do, all of those military-related .coms are being redirected to his new website, AuthenticAmericans.com.
Scheller is known for making references to chess moves in his posts and videos, and this was definitely a clever move.
Getting back to more serious topics and accountability, we discussed the striking parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam. In addition to the similarities of the chaotic final hours in each, Scheller has also drawn comparisons to the My Lai Massacre.
He noted the irony that the most famous case study on moral courage taught in the military comes from the My Lai Massacre in 1968, in which an entire village of South Vietnamese civilians was killed by American troops. Although there were consequences for those that directly participated in it, no senior officers were held accountable.
The case of moral courage he referenced was that of 25-year-old Warrant Officer and Army pilot, Hugh Thompson. Thompson was flying overhead during the incident and saw a large number of dead civilians. He also spotted survivors that were still under fire by American forces. He landed his helicopter and placed himself in between the group of civilians and the troops who were preparing to fire on them. Thirty years later in 1998, Thompson and two other members of his crew were awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest award for bravery not involving direct contact with the enemy.
Scheller said, “The fact that no senior officers were held accountable when they went and killed a whole village of civilians…like if that doesn’t perfectly illustrate the point that I’m making right now…what else does?” He added, “We just keep having the same mistakes.”
On speaking out, a violation of military protocol, Scheller said that can’t be happening on a macroscale and there needs to be discipline and order in the system. When he spoke out, he hoped that after taking responsibility for his actions, so would the senior leaders.
It would be a problem “if everyone started speaking their mind whenever they want,” but Scheller is hoping for some kind of balance. He feels that service members speaking out is a symptom of bigger problems, and if they are addressed, “we can go back to the order of the system and have it function in the manner that it should,” he said.
Scheller feels that focusing on how he broke the rules without acknowledging the content of his statements is short-sighted.
It is interesting that in November 2021, the Marines released a plan titled Talent Management 2030, in which they describe changes being made to their personnel system and acknowledge the potential for “toxic leadership” at senior levels. In an attempt to identify and combat this they have introduced 360-degree feedback into reviews. The process includes feedback and perspectives not only from senior leaders, but also peers and juniors.
Asked for his opinion on this, Scheller said the corporate world has been doing 360 reviews for thirty years and it’s long overdue. It’s a tool that can be used in combination with other methods to evaluate someone’s performance.
I brought this up because, during his investigation, the Marines only interviewed Scheller’s superiors, but no one that ever worked for him, which he said “blew his mind.” He said, “As a leader, you’re never gonna make everybody happy, you’re always gonna be able to find one or two that might be upset, but the vast majority of people that have served under me have nothing but great things to say. And so it felt like they had almost done that intentionally.”
In terms of the support he has received, Scheller said he observed a “weird dynamic.” It seemed to him that most, but not all, retired military agree with him, as well as the majority of the junior enlisted. However, he says it seems like the current active field grade officers “almost universally disagree” with him.
Remaining a Marine at this point would be difficult due to the distraction he would cause, Scheller said. He explained that driving onto the base, gate guards would shake his hand and want to take photos with him, and he was recognized everywhere. He was dealing with the contrast of senior leaders showing contempt towards him and junior Marines wanting to celebrate him.
Scheller agreed he would be able to make a much larger impact now that he was out of the military, rather than trying to “quietly navigate behind closed doors.”
He also told me that people have reached out to him about bringing it back to the 13 service members that were killed. He has been in touch with some of them and is helping in any way he can, but his goal is not to make it a memorial. He wants to “prevent the future service members from being placed in the same position as those 13 service members who lost their lives.”
He says, “We can’t allow ourselves to get lost in the news cycle, and all these other things and we have to remain active. We have to come together to try to make the changes because otherwise, the pain that they’re feeling is going to be inflicted upon other families if we can’t change the system.”
One thing he hasn’t spoken about in other interviews is an interaction he had with a former boss.
Scheller had not planned on making any videos after the first one but said they relieved him of his command quickly and without an investigation. Something that “pushed him over the edge” was a remark on one of his social media posts made by former boss, retired Marine Col. Thomas Hobbs. It said, “If Stuart Scheller was honorable, he would resign.” Scheller said it infuriated him and made him feel his leaders didn’t care about him.
Hobbs had been interviewed by the Washington Post shortly before the court-martial and is quoted as saying that Scheller was one of his best company commanders. He also said that “while Scheller was a top performer, he warned him long ago that his arrogance could be his downfall.”
Scheller addressed another comment Hobbs made during that interview: “He hasn’t shown one speck of remorse or admitted he was wrong in any way. I 100 percent believe it’s a ploy for him to run for office.”
Scheller says there’s a fine line between arrogance and doing what you think is right and he doesn’t apologize for anything. He said that Hobbs may think he shows a lack of humility, “but I think what I’m doing is right, and I should not have to apologize for that.”
When it comes to regrets, Scheller says the only thing is the verbiage he used. He would have tweaked certain things he said because it allowed people to fixate on some of the smaller parts while missing the larger message.
“And so I am deeply flawed. I’m trying to navigate this with the pressure of the world on me, everything is falling apart,” he said. “And so to just replay one of my videos five times and pick a little three-word message, and to then not address the larger context or situation, but I get it. That’s the way the world works.”
“Did I break the rules? Yes. Did I take accountability for it? Yes. Am I apologizing? No.”
Scheller said this was never political for him, but the situation became politicized. He believes the biggest threat facing the United States is our divisions and hyperpolarization. He also believes that the problems lie with the hyper right and left, and thinks those that fall just right and left of center have many things in common. “I think we need to make a concerted effort to be the United States,” he said.
Scheller said we should have things like a Common Ground Caucus where people from both parties sit down and figure out the things they agree on and build from that. “It’s so easy to figure out what you disagree on,” he said, but finding things we do agree on will take a little more work.
He sees politicians making a lot of noise, but not affecting any change, and he wants to do something about that. Scheller believes we need leaders, not politicians, so one of the websites he started is Votes4Vets.org, which is set up for people to get involved in his organization and aims to recruit and support strong political candidates.
They have both veteran and civilian coalitions, and Scheller says he currently has five senate candidates and twenty congressional candidates on board. People can support them by donating to their PAC.
His other website is AuthenticAmericans.com, and its mission is to provide a platform for a “virtual town hall where independent thinkers can network, think, and discuss critical issues facing the American representative democracy across all political ideologies, ethnicities, classes, and religions. This community seeks to reunite a UNITED States.”
Included on the website are some of the videos Scheller posted earlier this year, documents related to his case, and a section with topics for open discussion. The goal is to bring America together and find common ground by addressing some of the country’s more divisive issues.
Scheller says he has no animosity and credits the Marines for making him the man that he is, but he says, “It’s time for new beginnings and moving forward.”
Lt. Col. Scheller is moving quickly on his promises and we will do our best to keep up with him and report on his progress.
Read all of our articles on Lt. Col. Scheller here.
Originally published on Citizen Stringer January 13, 2022