A Return to “Marshall Law”: Life After Relief From Command

  • Colonel Jeff A. Bovarnick

During World War II, General George Marshall relieved numerous commanders. Rather than separate those officers, he allowed them to remain in the Army and contribute in other areas of demonstrated expertise. Currently, a commander relieved for cause stands little to no chance of being retained in the service. This paper suggests that under certain circumstances, a policy similar to Marshall’s is feasible in today’s Army to retain those officers who can continue to make valuable contributions. When effectively implemented, the principles of mission command foster an environment conducive to such a policy. The elements of trust, prudent risk taking and underwriting honest mistakes enable a senior commander to consider a relieved commander for continued service. Further, those officers who commit illegal, immoral, or unethical acts are not viable candidates where those who make honest mistakes should be considered. As current procedures make it unlikely that an officer could survive a relief from command, the Army would have to consider a policy similar to curtailment to allow a relieved officer to remain on active without the negative consequences that follow a relief for cause.