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What does "firing" mean when the US military "fires" a commander? Is it different than being "relieved of duty"?

(E.g., it was reported today in the NY Post that in the aftermath of the incident where US sailers got captured by Iran near Farsi island on January 12 2016 that "In addition to Moses, the Navy last month fired Eric Rasch, commander of the squadron that included the sailors." And I've seen it in other articles too, recently, e.g., about a death by "hazing" during training in the USMC where "So far, at least two leaders at Parris Island have been fired in connection with an investigation into Siddiqi’s death". The latter quote was from the Marine Corps Times where the reporter may be presumed to know the proper terminology, so I'm guessing it isn't just a newspaper shortcut.)

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It means the commander is removed from their position in command of the unit, and transferred to a lower-key job where they can't do much damage. Actually firing an officer (in the sense of "they no longer put on a uniform every morning") is not trivial; military officers have due process rights. There is an administrative separation process to allow the military to get rid of an officer who hasn't done anything court martial-worthy, but it takes time and isn't always the most appropriate move. It's not unusual for officers to remain in for years past their relief.

That doesn't mean the officer keeps going as though nothing happened. An officer relieved of command for cause won't be assigned to another command, and is unlikely to ever be promoted again. In the US military, an officer who does not get promoted is automatically separated from military service (although senior officers may be allowed to stick around until they qualify for retirement). If a commanding officer is "fired" (i.e. relieved from command), their career gets an end date; however, it's not necessarily over just yet.

  • Caveat: The president can dismiss any officer at any time for any reason without meaningful additional process. The only appeal for such a dismissal would be to the President. High-ranking enlisted personnel are significantly more protected. – Ben Barden Jul 27 '17 at 19:17

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