I won’t say catastrophically wrong, but wrong nonetheless. In case you forgot, I predicted Scheller’s court martial would get drawn into obscurity by his defense counsel, who would want some time to pass before anyone passed judgement on Scheller. Any good defense lawyer is going to want distance between alleged crimes and judgement so that emotions can die down and, hopefully, cooler heads prevail. I also figured after getting a light sentence of some kind, which would not include jail time, Scheller would be allowed to retire.
Besides the light sentence part, I was wrong. Lt. Col. Scheller plead guilty to all six charges against him. The judge punished him with a sentence of one month forfeiture of $5,000 and a reprimand. His next stop is a Board of Inquiry, which will likely recommend dismissal from service.
Now, this doesn’t mean he loses all benefits. The Veteran’s Affairs will still assess if he can get disability pay, which could be in the thousands per month depending on his level of disability. Given that he fought in Afghanistan, and the Marine Corps has pounded his body over the past 17 years, he’s almost assured to get some disability pay.
At first I was in disbelief that things went completely different from my prediction. I took some time to read his court martial statement, which made things much more clear. Lt. Col. Scheller couldn’t NOT plead guilty. If he had fought the charges, it would have made him look like a crazy person who suddenly realizes he made a mistake and is trying to quickly sweep it under the rug. Scheller isn’t crazy. He might be depressed, but its understandable, given that both his wife and the Marine Corps are abandoning him. But he’s not crazy. It becomes very apparent near the end of his statement:
…Going forward, I am still demanding accountability from my senior General officers. Since this endeavor began, not a single General officer has accepted accountability. Not a single General officer has contacted me directly in any forum to deescalate the situation. Since this endeavor began, I have acknowledged that I should be held accountable for my actions. I am standing here today pleading guilty. This is me accepting accountability. But it deeply pains me that my senior leaders are incapable of being as courageous.– Lt. Col. Scheller
Without accountability from our senior leaders, the system cannot evolve, and the military will ultimately keep repeating the same mistakes in the future. It doesn’t matter if a SSgt squad leader is highly efficient in distributed operations if the General officers have relegated themselves to ‘yes sir’ responses. We need senior leaders who possess the morale courage to push back when something doesn’t make sense.
If Lt. Col. Scheller wanted to cast light on the problem, he certainly did so. But where does it go from here? Tackling the military industrial behemoth is a daunting task. Even Mad-dog Mattis, who finally won the war in Iraq, still struggled to make the Department of Defense refocus and change. The revolving door for senior officers still exists, not dissimilar from the revolving door for politicians and lobbyists. Also, given Lt. Col. Scheller’s negative response to help from Donald Trump, I’m not sure where he’s going to start to affect the change he wants to make.
I will say this: this episode is only going to make the 2024 personnel cliff even worse for the military. In less than a month the military threw everything at Scheller over social media posts. Every military member is taking notice. Any that agreed with him will be quietly quitting, and the slow drip of lost manpower is going to accumulate into a river.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. If you liked what you read, why not buy my book on Amazon and help me out!