A military at the end of empire
This was my InFocus briefing over at Forward Observer/Early Warning. The first half is a recap since Thursday, much of which the Twittersphere has probably already seen. It’s followed by some truly endemic problems in the military. Is this a military at the end of empire?
Last Thursday, we witnessed a tragic scenario play out in Kabul, Afghanistan. An initial briefing on the combat deaths of 13 service members didn’t come from the Secretary of Defense, nor from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but U.S. Central Command — something I considered to be a bit low on the totem pole given the circumstances. It was as if no one wanted to take blame. Later in the evening, President Joe Biden gave a statement on the situation, but did not take questions. Since then, numerous private text messages appeared online purporting to show Marines and other military personnel airing grievances against top brass over the entire Kabul debacle. In at least one exchange, a Marine in Kabul privately told a confidant that leaders knew about the potential for a suicide bombing. According to the exchange, which I can’t independently verify, a local radio station was counting down the hours until the attack, as if it were an open secret.
According to a Politico article based on a classified report, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told leaders to prepare for a “mass casualty event” the morning before the attack. The classified report, according to Politico, included a warning from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley that a “complex attack” was being planned. (h/t JH) In other words, senior leaders knew in advance about the attack against Abbey Gate. Several Marines asked why, then, Marines were kept at the Abbey Gate instead of cordoning it off and telling the Americans lined up there to move elsewhere. In total, the suicide bomber killed nearly 200 people.
A day later, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller published a video on Facebook and LinkedIn, demanding accountability from senior leaders over the deaths. "People are upset because their senior leaders let them down and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying 'we messed this up.”... I want to say this very strongly. I have been fighting for 17 years. I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders that I demand accountability,” he said. Scheller was relieved of his command on Friday.
Over the weekend, Scheller released another video thanking Americans for the outpouring of support and promising to “bring the entire f*cking system down.” He said that he is likely to forgo over $2 million in retirement benefits, but that it “should go back to all the senior general officers because I think they need it more than I do, because when I am done with what I am about to do, you all are going to need the jobs and the security.” [Both videos can be found on Scheller’s LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stuart-scheller-589062139/detail/recent-activity/shares/]
My Intitial Conclusions on Scheller
There was some uncertainty over exactly what he meant. Many assumed that he intended to go on a violent rampage, which I don’t believe will be the case. (This man is a chess player.) What’s more likely is that he’ll make a run for office, or lead a pressure campaign to hold leaders accountable. These are both ways a former lieutenant colonel can exact revenge against senior military leaders. In the video, Scheller asks for help from philanthropists and business leaders, which lends support to a nonviolent course of action. Scheller also asks for the support of those who are “willing to go back outside the wire every single day, to wear a blue collar and just go into work every single day and feed their families — those are the people that I need. Follow me and we will bring the whole f*cking system down… We’re just getting started,” he says.
Notably, some sleuths pointed out that the set up of the chessboard in the video is what’s known as a Trompowsky Attack, an aggressive move which some chess experts have described as “You win, or you die.” Scheller signed off on his latest LinkedIn post with “Bxf6” which may point back to his opponent’s next move on the chessboard. Also notable: Scheller wrote, “Every generation needs a revolution,” which is likely a reference to Thomas Jefferson. "Every generation needs a new revolution," wrote Jefferson in 1780. Regardless of how Scheller’s accountability campaign will shape up, it’s clear that he expresses the sentiment of a great many Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen, and millions of veterans.
Other Structural Problems
Last week, Max and I discussed the possibility that thousands of service members leave the military over mandatory vaccine requirements. According to Army policy documents, medical and religious exemptions are likely, but mandatory vaccinations are expected to add to the Army’s ongoing retention problems.
Earlier this year, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinstead announced that females in the Army will have multiple hairstyle and earring options, and can wear an expanded range of colors of lipstick and nail polish. The changes were cleared by a panel of 17 soldiers consisting of 15 females (10 black, four white, and one Hispanic) and two males (one black and one Hispanic). “Some people don’t like change but that’s just how the world is. It changes over time and we need to change with it,” Sergeant Major Grinstead explained.
Many male soldiers had hoped that the Army would allow beards. When females received new options to “affirm their identity” without updates for males (other than being able to now wear clear nail polish), some criticized Grinstead and other senior leaders as being tone deaf. Further, Grinstead virtually absolved himself of responsibility for the decision by saying that the changes were approved by an Army panel.
Closer to home, Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas saw 39 soldiers die or go missing in 2020. Thirteen of those 39 soldiers committed suicide. Five of the 39 soldiers were murdered, while 11 cases of missing soldiers remain unsolved. The Army’s response was to name an entry gate after murder victim Specialist Vanessa Guillen, who was missing from April to June 2020 when her body was found. Many soldiers saw this as another tone deaf response, although over a dozen Army officers and senior non-commissioned officers were fired or disciplined. This is not just a problem at Fort Hood, though. Missing soldiers and unexplained deaths have occurred at numerous military posts across the country.
Cumulatively, what I’m seeing is the potential for a crisis within military ranks. Scheller stated that he’s received support from other field grade officers in the Marine Corps. Supportive comments on LinkedIn are a Who’s Who of former military officers. And many have pointed out that morale among both regular components and veterans could be improved by holding accountable the most senior ranks — including those who, for over a decade, told Congress that the Afghan national security and defense forces would be able to keep the Taliban at bay.
We know that the military’s shift towards more diversity and inclusion programs, expansion of equal opportunity training, and other “woke” decisions are harming morale. Back in 2019, I stated a key assumption that as the military went further to the Left culturally, conservatives would join in lower numbers. At best, senior leaders have good intentions but their misguided actions are carrying unintended consequences. That’s being gracious. At worst, senior decision-makers are undermining what was once a predominantly non-political institution. There are plenty of reasons to believe that the backbone of the military — the infantry and other combat arms units — consisted of more moderate and conservative elements.
It previously stood to reason that the further on the political left one is, the less likely he or she is to join the military. That was likely a safe assumption even five years ago, but it appears to be a more shaky assumption today.
As I was getting out in 2012, the Army decided that the Military Intelligence branch needed greater diversity. Virtually every MI unit I ever encountered was predominantly white, followed by Hispanic and then black. For a period of time, I had a section sergeant who spent 12 years as a wheeled mechanic and was then “reclassed” to MI and became responsible for the production of intelligence of my section. He attended a four week intelligence training course to prepare him for his new billet, versus our five month advanced individual training. There were several instances where he -- never deployed and new to intelligence -- told me -- a sergeant then on my second deployment -- that I was doing my job incorrectly. My section was certainly not unique and his steep on-the-job learning curve was disruptive.
All this is to say that today’s military has some deep structural problems stemming from political decisions. Senior leaders wonder why good troops leave the military in greater numbers. What I’ve outlined is the making of a crisis in the military. The Kabul debacle is one result of leaders, at best, taking their eyes off the ball. At worst, it’s indicative of the erosion of competence among senior leadership and decision-makers. These problems are unlikely to be self-correcting, which is why former officers like Stuart Scheller will have a greater platform. - M.S.