Thoughts on Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller

On 26 August 2021, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller of the United States Marine
Corps posted a video in which he shared his disdain for the nation’s elected executive branch of
government and his military leadership by voicing his “growing discontent and contempt” and
“ineptitude at the foreign policy level” of the handling of the Afghanistan debacle. Since the
posting of his treatise on social media, Lt. Col. Scheller has been relieved from command and
has been remanded into custody in a navy brig. The 1st Amendment of the United States
Constitution clearly spells out “Congress shall make now law . . . abridging the freedom of
speech,” Please hear me. Lt. Col. Scheller’s problem is not that his 1st Amendment rights have
been curtailed. Lt. Col. Scheller’s problem is simple. He violated a long-standing military law
that he has known since he entered the military and that he violated his oath of allegiance to the
Constitution and those elected officials in authority over him.

Let me explain further. Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice clearly states
that “any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice
President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department . . . shall
be punished as a court-martial may direct.” Furthermore, DoD Directive 1344.10 dictates
whether active-duty military members can participate in political activities, including protests
and rallies. That directive, does allow military members to personally engage in partisan
activities, including writing letters to the editor for or against a specific candidate or attending
events as spectators out of uniform. I spent 37 years in the armed forces of our great nation. I
learned from day one as a private in the Army until I retired as a Colonel in the Air Force that I
was free to be an active participant in our nation’s political process but that there were
limitations on how and when I could exercise my 1st Amendment freedoms. Bottom line: one
does not wear their uniform when they protest or rally in the political process. Lt. Col. Scheller
knew exactly what he was doing when he posted, while in uniform, his video as a sitting Marine
Corps battalion commander. Furthermore, he was asking for a fight when he challenged his boss
to “please have the MPs waiting for me at 0800 on Monday. I’m ready for jail,”
The question for us today is did Lt. Col. Scheller have an ethical dilemma confronting
him when he decided to share his thoughts with the world on social media? In my opinion, the
answer is a simple no! To have an ethical dilemma you must have values in conflict. He had a
responsibility to obey the orders of those that the Constitution of our nation had placed over him.

He had the responsibility to conduct his behavior in a manner commensurate with the Uniformed
Code of Military Justice and the Department of Defense Instructions that clearly spell out how
uniformed members may exercise their Constitutional rights. If he could not live, work, and
support those in authority he has always known that he had the right to resign his commission in
the military. He could then protest all he wants on social media. Our nation has never had a
political coup de tat because our military take great pride in being civilian-led and loyal to the
Constitution. Our nation’s citizens expect us to loyally serve our elected officials, regardless of
our political affiliation.

Next time you want to stand up to power consider these questions first from the Special
Operations Forces Ethical Field Guide based on the Business Ethics Field Guide by Agle,
Miller, Miller and O’Rourke. 1) Are there others in your organization who agree with you? 2)
Does the powerful party have the authority to ask you to do what they are asking? 3) Are you
being asked to do something that is illegal, violates regulations, policy, ethos, or the values of
your organization? You might also be careful of these pitfalls: 1) Charging the Hill: Where
possible, avoid vocally and stridently opposing the request. Explore indirect options. 2) Not
protecting yourself. When it’s time to assign blame, people with more power tend to win out. 3)
Assuming too much: Don’t assume you know all that you need to know.

It is clear that Lt. Col. Schoeller had an agenda the moment he pushed “play” on his
phone. There is a right and wrong way to exercise your rights. He made a very expensive
choice to not follow the law and now he sits in a brig for that choice.