WASHINGTON — The deputy commander of U.S. nuclear forces, Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, was notified Wednesday that he has been relieved of duty amid a military investigation of allegations that he used counterfeit chips at an Iowa casino, the Navy said.
The move is exceedingly rare and perhaps unprecedented in the history of U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for all U.S. nuclear warfighting forces, including nuclear-armed submarines, bombers and land-based missiles.
The Navy’s top spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Giardina, who had held the job since December 2011, is being reassigned to the Navy staff pending the outcome of the probe by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which originated as a local law enforcement investigation in Iowa in June.
As a consequence of being removed from his post at Strategic Command, Giardina falls in rank to two-star admiral. He had been suspended by Gen. Robert Kehler, the top commander at Strategic Command, on Sept. 3, although that move was not disclosed publicly until Sept. 28.
After his suspension Giardina remained at Strategic Command but was not allowed to perform duties that required use of his security clearance.
The decision to take the next step — to relieve him of duty — was made on Oct. 3, one official said. That required approval by President Barack Obama, two defense officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal decision-making.
Kehler had recommended to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Giardina be relieved of duty and returned to the Navy, according to Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog.
A former commander of Strategic Command, retired Air Force Gen. Eugene Habiger, said he believes this is the first time in the history of the command that a deputy commander has been relieved of duty. Strategic Command was created in 1992 at the end of the Cold War. The aim was to unify the command of nuclear forces previously run separately by the Air Force and the Navy.
“I know of no other case ever of a deputy commander who was relieved for cause,” Habiger said in a telephone interview. He headed the command from 1996-98.