Semper fight

Crisis of Command: How We Lost Trust and Confidence in America’s Generals and Politicians

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Consider the title – “Crisis of Command: How We Lost Trust and Confidence in America’s Generals and
” – and you could infer that the book is a survey about U.S. military and political decision-making

It’s not. 

Delete the royal “we” in the title and insert an “I,” because “Crisis of Command” is as much memoir as manifesto.

Author and former Marine officer Stuart Scheller presents his perspective on policies and personnel – persistently and often provocatively.

The fall of Aghanistan in 2021 prompts him – he is “thrust into the media” – to post his nearly five-minute
YouTube video demanding accountability among leaders who “demonstrate an inability to engage or acknowledge obvious failures” there. He knows his declaration of insistence will end his career, and sure enough, his action prompts the fall of the lieutenant colonel.

The chaotic Kabul exit is the straw that broke his cammies’ back. 

For 17 years he has bosses who do not meet his professional standards, starting with a recruiter whose error means a repeat physical test. Scheller questions the inconvenience, and the captain snaps at him. “In that moment I almost. . . walked away from the process” of becoming a Marine. Why? He can handle others’ mistakes so long as they are acknowledged with civility. “Little did I know how important this theme would be,” he writes, tellingly.

“A subordinate officer must find the balance between being a pain in the ass and providing honest feedback,” he advises.

Evidently equilibrium is not easily attained. “Crisis” is a compendium of situations with higher-ups that “plague me through {sic} my career,” and between the lines is a case study about how to manage and how to communicate with another service member – or civilian employee – about a perceived injustice. 

Overall, the book’s assessments sometimes fall short of the target, and sometimes seem naïve or disingenuous. Nevertheless, what’s clear are Scheller’s high expectations for himself and everyone else.

Here are some examples:

  • “Tall men are statistically promoted more often because people have an unconscious bias that height equates to strong leadership,” and “a large proportion of battalion commanders right now are sons of other generals,” he suggests – without offering numbers. 
  • At Infantry Officer Course he meets officer who epitomizes “the warrior poet I wanted to become” but later is let go “based on political correctness.” This reviewer’s online search shows then-Lt. Col. Marcus Mainz was fired for violating alcohol limits, using anti-gay slurs, and, according to Marine Corps Times, “pretending a M242 bushmaster chain gun was his penis.”
  • Teaching at The Basic School, Schuller is “amazed at how much diversity and female inclusion absorbed the bandwidth of the instructor staff.” The staff is “ordered to give minorities and females requesting combat arms their preference without scruple.”
  • Former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, acquitted on murder charges, “experienced the inequities of the military’s legal system.” During Scheller’s legal frenzy he partners with the ex-sailor’s Pipe Hitter Foundation – which raises “over $2 million” for him. Now Scheller informs readers they may check his own website for “current initiatives, or how to support him.” 
  • At Officer Candidate School he is skeptical of drill instructors who “had never been officers themselves” and might not be “the best people to identify the qualities needed in officer candidates.” 
  • As a pay agent carrying “a backpack full of hundreds of thousands” dollars in Ramadi, he questions the legitimacy of paying a “powerful” individual when “the money wasn’t going to help the local Iraqis.” When he expresses concern, he is told his company commander is evaluated weekly “based do how much money we spent” and “to look at {the situation} as a competition.”
  • At Weapons Co. Battalion, an officer gives him a top report but says his promotion to major must be sidelined in order to promote another Marine. Scheller is outraged. “I don’t think it’s fair that I am predestined to be your lowest report to help out the other majors {sic} career progression.” Ultimately, he prevails.
  • At Command and Staff College, “too much importance was placed on academic PhDs with zero military experience.” He wishes “the staff met me at my level of ability and pushed me as an individual rather than prioritizing the small group’s aggregate understanding.”
  • He joins others in questioning the practice of retired generals’ landing seats on corporate boards, a revolving door that gives them “influence over the active generals,” which he describes as “insider trading done legally.”
  • Lt. Col. Thomas Hobbs at Infantry Training Battalion develops “my leadership as a young officer more than any other mentor” and believes injustice is a reason “to throw our rank on the table,” advice Scheller wears on his Marpat sleeve. After Hobbs writes an op-ed piece headlined “The Marine Corps: Always Faithful – to White Men,” Scheller questions why then-Colonel Hobbs “didn’t say anything while in uniform.” 

And he is perplexed at Hobbs’ stance. “Does history demonstrate the most diverse force wins wars,” Scheller asks, “or does history demonstrate that the best trained warfighting force with the strongest will ultimately wins the war?” Later, Hobbs “turned on me” (after the video).

Among other names Scheller cites: Gen. Carter Ham’s “blind obedience to orders resulted in Americans dying needlessly” in Benghazi . . . Gen. James Mattis “talked about reading books” but “didn’t win any wars. Maybe {he} should have read different books . . .”

Alexander the Great or Elon Musk “would never lead the American military in our current system.” To show how it’s done, Scheller offers 13 suggestions for changes at the Department of Defense, including an idea for the next commander in chief:

“Allow me to recruit and train a unit . . . I have a long list of superior warfighters sitting on the fringes, forced out of the current military system due to a lack of conformity . . . I’ll demonstrate with performance that my ideas are better.”

Crisis of Command: How We Lost Trust and Confidence in America’s Generals and Politicians” by Stuart Scheller, Knox Press, 272 pages, $28

Huffman’s book reviews received the Military Reporters and Editors’ 2018 award for commentary. He serves on the board of Student Veterans of America and co-edited “The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (Marine Corps
University Press, 2012).