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Overnight Defense & National Security — Marine who criticized Afghanistan withdrawal sentenced

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After a brief trial, a military judge handed down the sentence for a Marine Corps officer who gained intense media scrutiny for criticizing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

We'll break down the punishment given, what the judge said and the blame he placed on the Marines in handling the case.

For The Hill, I'm Ellen Mitchell. Write to me with tips: emitchell@thehill.com.

Let's get to it.

Judge gives officer light sentence

A military judge on Friday blasted the Marine Corps' handling of the case of an officer who criticized the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan via videos posted to social media.

Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller a day earlier had pleaded guilty to six charges stemming from videos he posted to Facebook and LinkedIn in which he demanded accountability from those in leadership over the messy evacuation. 

The sentence: But instead of taking the prosecution's punishment request - where Scheller would have had to forfeit $5,000 of pay a month for six months and receive a letter of reprimand - Marine Corps judge Col. Glen Hines Hines only directed he forfeit $5,000 pay for one month, Military Times reported.

Also under his plea agreement, Scheller will resign his commission and receive an honorable discharge or general under honorable conditions. 

In addition, Scheller will lose his retirement benefits for resigning.

The convictions: Scheller on Thursday during a court-martial hearing was convicted of six misdemeanor charges, including contempt toward officers, disrespect toward superior commissioned officers, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, failure to obey lawful general orders, dereliction in the performance of duties and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

What led to it all: The convictions stemmed from his now viral videos posted on Aug. 26 in which he called out senior leaders, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, for the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, during which 13 service members were killed in a suicide bombing at Kabul's airport. 

That and subsequent posts led to Scheller being relieved of his command, a week in confinement in the brig and the six convictions. 

Where does the blame lay?: Hines did reprimand Scheller for his contempt of Austin, calling the comments very "serious" and "corrosive," as they can "degrade public trust" in the military.

But the judge also called out the Marines for placing Scheller in the brig prior to the trial, a move that raised the "specter of unlawful command influence," and created intense media scrutiny that doesn't happen for "99 percent" of other courts-martial, Military Times reported.

Read more on that here.

 

Air Force general now 2nd woman to head combatant command

 

Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost on Friday took over U.S. Transportation Command, becoming the second woman ever to lead one of the Defense Department's 11 combatant commands.

Ovost will now oversee the military's global transportation network, which led the evacuation of more than 124,000 people during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

'A legend of a leader':Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, during a change-of-command ceremony, called Ovost "a legend of a leader" and said she "played a pivotal role" in the Afghanistan airlift, which she aided as the head of Air Force Air Mobility Command.

"We need every Jackie Van Ovost we can get," Austin said at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. "As she likes to say, 'As young women looking up, it's hard to be what you can't see.' So General Van Ovost knows the importance of breaking barriers."

Her background: Ovost, who is the only female four-star general in the U.S. military, graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1988 and was previously the vice director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff. President Biden nominated her for the combatant command role in March along with Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, who will become the next head of U.S. Southern Command later this month.

She takes over Transcom from Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, who will retire.

Read the full story here.

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

  • The Middle East Institute will hold its "MEI Defense Leadership Series" with the head of the Middle East and North Africa section at NATO Giovanni Romani, at 10 a.m.
  • The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion on "Maximizing military power by minimizing bureaucratic barriers," featuring retired Marine Gen. James Jones and retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, at 2 p.m.
  • The Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance will hold a virtual discussion on "Air to Air Missile Defense," with Brig. Gen. Paul Murray, NORAD's deputy director of operations; Brig. Gen. Christopher Niemi, PACAF director of strategy, plans, programs, and requirements; and Col. Jason Nalepa, commander of the 173rd Operations Group, Oregon Air National Guard, among others, at 3 p.m.

 

WHAT WE'RE READING

The New York Times: 'The only exit':' Where soldiers are dying after sexual assaults

 

That's it for today. Check out The Hill's defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you Monday.

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