“I am not saying we can take back what has been done; all I asked for was accountability,” he said, adding that he could have remained silent for three more years to reach the 20 years of service required for full pension, but that he opted to speak out instead.
Scheller said leaders accepting “accountability” for a harried U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan could have a more significant effect on service members “with post-traumatic stress or struggling with purpose” than any other “piece of paper or message.”
He added that he wanted to forfeit any retirement benefits and entitlements.
“I don’t want a single dollar. I don’t want any money from the VA,” he said. That the money should go to senior officers who “will need it more than I do.”
“When I am done with what I am about to do, you all are going to need the jobs and the security,” he said.
In a statement sent to The Washington Post on Sunday, a spokesperson said that the Marine Corps was aware of the video and that it was “taking appropriate action to ensure the safety and well being of Lt. Col. Scheller and his family.”
“As this is a developing situation, we cannot comment further at this time,” Capt. Sam Stephenson’s statement added.
Scheller did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Thursday, hours after the attack in Kabul that killed at least 170 people and 13 U.S. service members, Scheller sat in full uniform before his military vest and helmet and recorded himself rebuking senior U.S. leaders in Afghanistan. He posted that 4:45-minute video to Facebook.
“I want to say this very strongly,” he said in Thursday’s video. “I have been fighting for 17 years. I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders: I demand accountability.”
“The reason people are so upset on social media right now is not because the Marine on the battlefield let someone down,” he said. “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.’ ”
He noted that he had “a lot to lose,” especially if the video “picks up traction.” By Friday evening, the video had been shared 28,000 times.
As a member of the Marines for 17 years, he had not hit the 20-year mark to qualify for a full pension.
He later posted that fellow Marines asked him immediately to take down the post. “We all agree with you, Stu, but nothing will change, and it will come at a huge personal cost to you,” Scheller said they told him.
But he said in the video that he had thought through the consequences. “What you believe in can only be defined by what you’re willing to risk,” he said, adding that he was risking his battalion commander position, family stability and retirement. “I think that gives me some moral high ground to demand the same honesty, accountability and integrity from my senior leaders.”
About 18 hours after he uploaded the video, he posted that he had been relieved of duty.
In a statement sent to The Washington Post on Friday, Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Jim Stenger confirmed that Scheller was “relieved of command by Col. David Emmel, Commanding Officer of School of Infantry-East due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command.”
“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 wrote. “There is a forum in which Marine leaders can address their disagreements with the chain of command, but it’s not social media.”
“I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever,” Scheller said in the video. “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 air base, before we evacuate everyone?’”
He said in Thursday’s video that he has commander friends who are saying similar things and are wondering whether lives were lost in vain over the past 20 years.
“What I’ll say is, from my position, potentially all those people died in vain. We don’t have senior leaders who own up and raise their hands and say, ‘We did not do this well in the end.’ Without that, we keep repeating the same mistakes,” he said.
That video received support, with Facebook comments including: “Absolutely honored and proud of you for saying what needed to be said. The cost of incompetence is permanent for those young men.” Another said: “You threw it on the line and if big government takes it away. Many service members / veterans are willing to give. We have your back financially and any other way.”
After announcing that he was relieved of command, Scheller wrote in a post, “My chain of command is doing exactly what I would do … if I were in their shoes.”
“America has many issues … but it’s my home. … When my Marine Corps career comes to an end, I look forward to a new beginning,” he wrote. “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 new light on the horizon.”
In a post five hours after he was relieved of command, Scheller said that after having had time to process the situation, and having had many Marines agree with him, he offered this: “If you all agree … then step up. They only have the power because we allow it. What if we all demanded accountability?”
Speaking to the pushback he had received from the initial video, Scheller said Sunday that all he wanted was for officials to acknowledge that the military had made mistakes in Afghanistan. “Had they done that,” he would have gone back into rank-and-file service, he said.
In Sunday’s video, he offered his wife’s PayPal address for donations, but suggested that people donate money to the families of the 13 service members who were killed in the attacks in Kabul.