What does it mean for an officer to get "fired"?

Once in a while we hear about some high-ranking military officer getting fired for running a ship aground or dissing the president. But what really happens?

He’s not getting discharged, right? Just reassigned. Why don’t they just call it “reassigned”? What is the impact of such action on his military career? Does this mean that McCrystal is going to assigned to KP the rest of his career? Or what?

Contempt toward officials, Article 88 of the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice:

Punishment may include: Dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 1 year.


To address the OP’s questions directly:

Injuries kept me out of the military, so I can only answer based on what I’ve heard and read. Basically, AIUI, your career is over. Recently a couple of F-18 pilots flew too low over a football stadium. (They were supposed to fly over it, but they did it so low as to constitute a danger.) They were permanently grounded. I’ve heard of submarine commanders whose subs were involved in collisions and they were put on the beach. In these contexts, ‘firing’ means you are removed from your position and put into another, undesirable, one. That is, you’re ‘fired’ from your job and are reassigned.

He wasn’t fired. He resigned his command rather than being “relieved of command”. It’s like quitting to avoid being fired, but it’s not going to be good for future assignments. At that high level, assignments come from the Joint Chiefs, who work for SecDef, who works for the CinC. That’s not enough degrees of separation when you screw up like he did. He could be court martialed, but that’s for the Joint Chiefs to decide, and I doubt it will come to that. He will likely be reprimanded, which is also a bad thing to have in your record. He could still command military units, but will never see another position like he had until there’s somebody else in the White House.

I’ll leave the current situation out of it. A 4-star is a very rare animal. If we are talking about an officer who was relieved of command but no crime was committed then they are reassigned to some harmless staff or school position. Basically their career is over. When their packet goes infront of a promotion board they will not be promoted. Passed over twice and you are out. I have seen people hang onin hopes of somehow rehabilitating their career. Or they’ll stay on if they can reach retirement before they turn into a pumpkin. To actually get booted out there needs to be a crime and a court martial.

How much money does a 4-star make anyway? And what would his retirement package look like? I’m betting he’s not going to suffer at all, except perhaps from humiliation. A 4-star has to be above full retirement age and years in, doesn’t he?

According to this chart an O-10’s basic monthly pay is $15,188.10 to $18,675.30.

A 4-star general is an O-10. With 20 years of service (the minimum for that rank), annual salary is a little over $180,000. With 40 years of service (mandatory retirement, absent special exemptions from the Secretary of Defense or the President), that can go as high as $224,000.

Scooped! Damn those quick L.A. fingers.

He can’t be promoted again anyway. There hasn’t been a 5-star promotion since Bradley in 1950. Unless you’re speaking of a lateral promotion, or maybe ascension to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Even so, unless he gets demoted he’s long since hit the top of the pay scale.

No, it tops out at $$14,975.10 barring ascension to Chairman, Vice Chairman, a combatant command or the like. The numbers on the pay scale are just for show.

That said, when he was relieved he took a spectacular pay cut because he no longer qualifies for the higher rate, topping out at $179,701.20 pre-tax plus standard allowances. Still a boatload of money, but not $224,000.

Eh, isn’t Afghanistan a combat zone? Wouldn’t pay earned there come tax free? Does that even apply to brass?

Yes, hence my comment about the huge pay cut he just took.

And as far as I know, officers are tax-free as well in Afghanistan. I know enlisted pay is.

There’s also administrative separation, which is essentially a non-punitive discharge. For example, in the Army, if certain officers (CW3-CW5, or a Captain, Major, or Lieutenant Colonel) are not promoted after twice being considered by a promotion board, they will be separated unless they are within 2 years of being able to retire or their senior (superior officer) rater gets special approval to retain them. Generally, though, if the officer being considered for promotion has either vital skills or vital usefulness that warrants going through the ordeal of getting special approval to retain them, they probably would have been promoted in the first place.

The monthly income tax exclusion for officers in a combat zone is limited to the highest rate of enlisted pay (not counting any imminent danger or hostile fire pay recieved).

Camus is right–it’s tax free in combat zone, but up to that limit, which applies to all officers.

I would expect that the Gen will be retiring very, very soon. There is no lateral transfer in a situation like this. You’re removed (for all intents and purposes) from your post by the President. You’re done.

Besides, I’m sure there are many D.C. think-tanks and contractors salivating at the prospect of catching him the minute he (figuratively) walks out of the Pentagon’s doors.

Too late for Edit:

To directly address the OP, if an officer is “fired,” what next happens depends on the severity and nature of the offense, as well as his rank. For a loss of confidence scenario, O-3’s and below* are going to fail to promote at the first opportunity, which may take several years (e.g., a junior Capt or LT may not be up for promotion for three or four years after getting fired). After two failures to promote, the member will be separated. For something more grievous, the member can be punished via courts-martial and, if convicted, separated sooner (or at the end of his sentence).

  • For a member with seniority, like an O-4 or above (although the Navy does not consider an O-4 to be protected in the same manner), the member may continue on until he hits the 20-year retirement mark, at which time he must retire. This is assuming the nature of the offense did not warrant any punitive actions. He will not advance in position or rank. He will not hold any key-leadership or competitive positions. If force-trimming programs pop up, that member’s name will be on a list of people that are targeted.

Assuming he has 30 years in, his retirement pay will be 75% of the base pay of the last rank he successfully held (usually your final rank but there are time limits, etc. That is you have to hold the rank two years to retire at that rank). The various housing and other pays aren’t part of the retirement pay calculation.

The generic answer for what happens when an officer if fired (Army) is usually a “relief for cause” evaluation report. As mentioned above, any board considering the officer for promotion or assignments will not consider a relief for cause evaluation report to be a good thing. There is no authomatic “you are out” but there is the for-all-practical-purposes career end. If criminal charges are invovled, there are ways to kick someone out.

It is also possible that a general not be allowed to retire at his full rank. To retire with four stars, the retirement has to be approved by the Senate. If that does not happen, the general would hold a two star (major general) rank in retirement.

It is fairly rare for this to happen. There was a story about this relating to holding some commanders responsible for Pearl Harbor, but I can’t recall the details.