A military judge has sentenced U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller to receive a letter of reprimand and a loss of one month’s pay, $5,000, after he pled guilty to six misdemeanor level offenses for his criticisms of the military’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Fox News reported the judge’s sentence was far short of what prosecutors had recommended, which called for the letter of reprimand and forfeiture of six months of Scheller’s pay. The judge said he did not condone Scheller’s offenses, which included contempt and disrespect for superiors, but noted the Marine’s 17 years of military service and strong record up to that point.
While he had a good service record up to that point, Scheller caught viral attention when for a video he made on August 26 — the same day that 13 U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing attack at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan while evacuating Americans and Afghans. In his original video, Scheller said, “People are upset because their senior leaders let them down and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability and saying ‘we messed this up.’”
The sentencing decision comes one day after Scheller pleaded to all six charges: contempt toward officials; disrespect toward superior commissioned officers; willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer; dereliction in the performance of duties; failure to obey an order or regulation and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
Scheller’s attorney said the Marine felt that after so publicly calling for accountability from senior military leaders, he too needed to accept accountability and plead guilty to the ensuing charges.
The Washington Post reported Scheller’s defense team had reached a plea agreement with prosecutors prior to entering his guilty plea on Thursday. That agreement stated Scheller could receive no more than a letter of reprimand and a seizure of two-thirds of his pay for up to 12 months.
On Friday, the Pipe Hitter Foundation, which has been fundraising for Scheller, celebrated the judge’s sentencing decision.
“Accountability won in court today. The military judge wisely recognized that LtCol Scheller issued a sincere call for accountability,” the Pipe Hitter Foundation wrote in an Instagram post. “He also recognized that Scheller held himself accountable. He recognized that caring for lost Marines isn’t criminal. It’s expected.”
The foundation said, “The judge also called for investigation into possible government misconduct. This was a huge win for all those who stood up for justice.”
The judge also recommended the Secretary of the Navy gives Scheller either an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions. The Pipe Hitter Foundation said the judge’s findings “send a strong message for an honorable discharge.”
With an honorable discharge, Scheller may keep all veteran benefits he is entitled to this point in his military career. With a general discharge under honorable conditions, Scheller would stand to lose some benefits.
CNN reported that if Scheller receives a general discharge he may forward the discharge characterization to a board of inquiry for review. Scheller said he would only seek to challenge his discharge characterization if the Secretary of the Navy gives Scheller a discharge status other than the two that the judge recommended.