JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – He was kicked out of the Marines Corps after 17 years of service for posting a social media video, which went viral, of himself, in uniform, criticizing the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.
Nearly six months later, former Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller says, while he lost everything, he’d do it again.
He says his goal now is to spread a message of moral courage and accountability.
Scheller recently sat down with News4JAX. He was in the Jacksonville area over the weekend, speaking to veterans. On Friday night, he spoke at the Hidden Hills Golf Club on Monument Road. On Saturday, he visited a popular private home in Middleburg called The Patriot’s Barn. The homeowner is known for his 3D flags made from real wood, but his barn is a photo-op for local, state and national leaders from the area.
The national speaking circuit is a path Scheller says he hadn’t planned, but he says he intends on sharing his message to those with the same spirit.
VIDEO: Press the play button below to watch News4JAX anchor Joy Purdy’s full interview with former Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller
Scheller won’t back down from the nearly 5-minute video message he posted last summer.
“I did it out of love for service, love of country -- not out of anger and emotion,” Scheller said. “I went into that day not knowing I was going to make a video. It was like one of those things where I needed an outlet to vent. I wrote something on the computer. And I was, like, somebody needs to make a video. Made a video. And even then I didn’t post it. Like, I drove home and chewed on it and thought about it. I finally posted it.”
The next day, Scheller was fired from his job as battalion commander.
He says when public attacks started coming from multiple current and former military leaders, he made several more social media posts and videos.
“I probably would go back and tweak the verbiage of the follow on statements because I started getting emotional then. At that point I knew, my marriage was falling apart, my retirement was going to be gone, this was heading toward legal action, but I couldn’t back down,” Scheller said.
Scheller spoke out against the August U.S. drone strike that mistakenly killed Afghan civilians for which U.S. Central Command’s top general later apologized.
Scheller was also deeply disturbed about the suicide bombing at an airport in Kabul during the U.S. withdrawal, that killed 13 U.S. military members and many more Afghans.
“My problem, my whole series of videos had to do with the general officers that, the general officers that preach to me about accountability but don’t hold themselves accountable. The double standard,” Scheller said.
He was put in the brig -- the military jail -- and in October, Scheller faced a special court-marshal, during which he pleaded guilty to several Uniform Code of Military Conduct violations.
He was given a general discharge under honorable conditions and can’t re-enlist into any branch of the military, losing his chance at full retirement, as well as his 17-year marriage.
“It’s hard for people to even comprehend the stress of the situation,” Scheller said. “We had reporters showing up at the house, we had people feeding her information. I was getting contacted by investigating officers, by NCIS. My kids are getting taunted at school because everyone knew that their dad was in jail. It was a circus in my hometown.”
I said to Scheller during our interview, “There may be some who might not agree with what you did and say, you know what, you took an oath and you violated that oath.”
“We can have an academic argument about whether I broke that oath. I would submit to you that I’ve upheld it more than all my peers who didn’t do that,” Scheller said.
Willing to go to jail for what he believed was right, Scheller had hoped his message would gain traction.
“I’ve read that you would not encourage others to do the same thing that you’ve done,” I said to Scheller.
Scheller responded: “So, to qualify, like, if you were going to go out on that ledge, you can’t act like a victim when the branch breaks. And you then have to answer for all those things that you did. I was willing to do it. To be honest, knowing that I was taking the brunt of everything that was going on, I really thought more people would ask for accountability within the military. And it just didn’t happen, but I understand why I didn’t. They got a lot to risk. But somebody needed to say it.”
Scheller was also disappointed when he said people started using his plight for their own political gain.
I asked him for the record, what does he think about President Joe Biden and the current administration since the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan happened on Biden’s watch.
“I clearly think President Biden is not very good as a strong leader. I think there are some things that he does alright like the Russia-Ukraine situation. I mean, he called the shot on Russia invading, and he’s been at least wise enough to not get involved in the no-fly zone, which will quickly escalate a nuclear war. He hasn’t thrown troops at the problem, so there are some things positive things you can say,” he said. “In terms of Afghanistan, he couldn’t have played that worse. And he doesn’t demonstrate a lot of leadership. But my, I would never say that as a uniformed military member and quite honestly the way you hold a president accountable is by voting, so me as a military member complaining about it would do no good.”