Stuart Scheller’s viral social media video led to a discharge from the Marine Corps after 17 years of service, but he said speaking out was worth breaking the rules.
When the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan led to the fall of Kabul and a subsequent suicide terrorist bombing that killed 13 American service members, Scheller demanded accountability from senior leadership.
After witnessing the Taliban retake Afghanistan and the loss of life after the attack, Scheller, then a lieutenant colonel, posted a now-infamous video on social media expressing his frustration with the Department of Defense. It led to his arrest, court martial and eventual general discharge.
Years before life as a Marine, Scheller was a midwestern kid raised to love his country.
“My grandfather was in the Army and he actually landed at the beaches of Normandy. My grandfather influenced me a lot,” he shared. “My grandfather got an accounting degree and went into the FBI and the federal service. So that’s why I got my accounting degree. It wasn’t to be an accountant; I always thought I was going to go into the FBI.”
Scheller was a sophomore in college when the attacks of Sept. 11 occurred. Though he thought hard about joining the military then, he completed his schooling instead. But in 2004, as he watched the Iraq War heating up, he says it was time to join the fight.
“I was watching the TV and seeing Marines move through Fallujah, and I just felt like there was more that I could offer the country. I love America,” he explained. “I decided to call an officer recruiter and start the process.”
He began his career in the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines in December 2005. He deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantry officer, spending most of his career at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He was only three years away from earning a full pension and VA retirement benefits at the time he created the video, but Scheller says he felt compelled to take a stand — regardless of the consequences.
“I knew I was risking my job, my retirement, my family stability. I didn’t go into that day thinking I was gonna make a video — I went into that day just frustrated,” he said. “Even after I made the video, I didn’t post it right away because I still understood the ramifications. I went home and debated it and struggled with it. But ultimately, it was just too important to me to stay quiet.”
A day after his video was posted, Scheller was relieved of his command at Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-East. By December 2021, he was no longer an active-duty Marine. Although he is under a gag order due to the court martial, Scheller has spent the first half of 2022 sharing his story.
Scheller says being thrust into the media spotlight hasn’t been easy.
“I’m a normal American. I’m not really partisan, though I’m maybe more conservative. But at the same time, everything that I went through was just to talk about accountability of our senior leaders, which, in my opinion, shouldn’t have been one of the most political things,” he said. “It just seems like we’ve gotten to this place where all we do is attack people. We don’t provide logical arguments and the military is not isolated from that.”
Reactions to Scheller have been mixed, he says, with a large outpouring of support for his willingness to speak his truth, but also a lot of negativity and personal character attacks.
“The portrayals of me being a violent extremist or a right-wing extremist or motivated by politics or money, they’re just all fundamentally not true. It was easier for people to believe extreme theories than to just accept that maybe what I was saying was something I believed in,” he said. “It was easier to believe the narratives that I was crazy than to say, ‘Well, maybe he’s just a good person that believes in what he’s saying.’ I’m still committed to trying to make a difference and bring accountability to some of our key systems, and I think there’s a lot of people that feel the same way.”
Scheller considers himself a normal and proud American. He loves dogs, playing chess and being with his friends and family.
“I shop at Publix down the street,” he laughed. “Honestly, I’m not any different in terms of my everyday life. But I think the thing that sets me apart is I was willing to step outside of that security, stability and all those things to say, ‘Hey, this is wrong.’”
As for what he’d say to service members frustrated with the military system in the wake of the fall of Afghanistan, it was direct.
“I wouldn’t recommend anyone do what I did … There are ways to operate within the system and ask tough questions,” Scheller said. “We have to have the fundamental understanding that the power of the government comes from the people and there are times where we have to be able to speak out the truth. Now, there were repercussions … I took accountability for the rules I broke doing it but I thought it was important enough to do it anyway.”
And, he says, he’d do it all again.Read comments