Well, I was wrong on Scheller

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.  

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. 

– Lt. Col. Scheller

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!

The military still doesn’t understand social media

The debate concerning Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, the Marine Corps officer that openly criticized the Joint Chiefs of Staff over the Afghanistan withdrawal, continues to prove my title point. For those of you not following it, here are the basic details:

  • Lt. Col. Scheller produced a video where he expressed outrage over the suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed 13 service members, as well as the withdrawal from Afghanistan in general
  • He was relieved of command (he was in charge of the Infantry Training Battalion in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) pretty soon after. He tendered his resignation after that.
  • The details here get murky, but at some point he was ordered to go to mental health screening. He then continued to post videos and content, despite being ordered not to.
  • The military placed him in pre-trial confinement, and he is scheduled for an Article 32 hearing next week.

For those that don’t know, and Article 32 hearing is where a military prosecutors argues before a judge about what charges a service member will face. The defense will argue against those charges, and the judge will send the prosecutor a letter saying what charges he thinks there is enough evidence to meet probable cause. Pre-trial confinement simply means the defendant sits in a jail cell until the Article 32 hearing, at which point the judge will recommend whether they remain there or not before trial.

Because of how the military chose to handle this case, its going to stay in the news for a long time. Plenty of other officers have resigned in protest, but they have pretty much all dropped out of the news. Unfortunately, the military services will take a black eye on the Scheller case, even if they win. People have already pulled this into the political arena, and once something is political, it tends to stick around. That’s a no-win situation for either side, because already people are making connections to Lt. Col. Vindman (remember him!?!) and his very different treatment.

Nobody wins here…except Lt. Col. Scheller. I’ll make my prediction here: Lt. Col. Scheller comes out of this with a military retirement and a nonsense charge on his record, and a subsequent request removes even that.

First, everyone is going to be glued to the news about his Article 32 hearing. The prosecutor has a pretty easy job here, since Scheller posted everything online. Open and shut right? Wrong. Any good defense attorney is going to fight tooth and nail to pick apart the arguments. Was Scheller really ordered to stop posting online, or was it a suggestion? Was the order in writing? Was it official? Was it done via official methods? It’s the defense attorney’s job to cast doubt into the charges.

Ultimately, some charges are going to get preferred, meaning Scheller will get charged with something. Likely, it’ll be Article 92 (failure to obey a lawful order) that will be the main and hardest charge to fight. The defense attorney’s next job is to drag this case out. Everyone that would sit on a court martial for Scheller right now is senior to him and likely angry over how he posted on social media. The defense is going to want time to pass, and lots of it. So we’ll see a lot of discovery requests and a lot of motions. We won’t have a court martial until summer of 2022. A good defense attorney will work hard to have it drop out of the news.

By that point, even if Scheller is found guilty of something, it’s unlikely he’ll be dismissed from service. Instead, he’ll then go to a Board of Inquiry (BOI) to determine if he should stay in the Marine Corps. That process might wrap up by the end of 2022. He should be at 18 years in the Marine Corps, and thus so close to retirement the BOI will likely recommend retention until 20 years. The Marine Corps certainly won’t promote him, but if he wants, he can finish serving and then leave. Granted, this assumes he wants to stay, since he could simply resign and walk out. But by pushing for a court martial, we almost guarantee that Scheller will get a chance to retire.

Now, what could the military have done differently? Simple: accept his resignation immediately, put him on terminal leave, issue him a Letter of Instruction and call it a day. Then, when Scheller makes statements about Afghanistan, let him talk. If you’re smart and issue detailed, written orders, Scheller will probably incriminate himself multiple times, and as any police officer will tell you, once someone starts talking, it’s only a matter of time before that person says something incriminating. Once you have a massive body of evidence, then you can release a statement that says something like this:

“Lt. Col. Scheller announced his resignation from the Marine Corps, and the Marine Corps accepted it and issued him a timeline so that he could quickly turnover and transition to civilian life. The Marine Corps supported him, like we support all our Marines, and tried to ensure Lt. Col. Scheller could transition without issue or delay. Unfortunately, instead of following these instructions to prepare himself for civilian life, Lt. Col. Scheller continued to engage in activity that violates the UCMJ, despite repeated written orders to the contrary. Because of his actions, we are now pursuing charges via the Court Martial system.”

Now, people will still cry foul, and anyone that wanted to use Scheller as a political weapon against the Biden administration is still going to do that. But the people in the middle, the ones that normally want folks to follow the law and don’t like politics in general, those people will read the above statement and think “Sheesh, what was Scheller thinking?” It’s a simple way of shifting blame. You don’t have to argue his points, and you won’t win by doing that. People don’t trust our generals and admirals (doesn’t help when they have hostile work environments), and trying to argue about the finer points of Afghanistan isn’t a winning plan. Instead, you deal with people like Scheller by giving them exactly what they want. From a prosecution point of view, Scheller is golden material, because he will literally write your case for you.

Now, I’m not saying the Marine Corps, or Scheller, are wrong. Maybe the Marine’s have a good reason to push charges and put him in pre-trial confinement. They have more information than I do. But pre-trial confinement over social media posts will get conflated with “punishment over mean tweets,” and you couldn’t have written a more political talking point if you tried. I’m also not saying Scheller is wrong. Many of his points are valid, which is why the greater danger is all the service members that will leave over the next 4 years as fallout from this and other decisions.

Watch Scheller’s case over the next year and let’s see how my prediction plays out. And remember, nothing I say should be construed as official positions or policy of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. I’m just a poor author writing about my personal opinions, so you should buy my book from Amazon to help me out.