From March 2011 to March 2014, he served as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Educated at Oundle School and Exeter College, Oxford, Richard Shirreff was commissioned into the 14th/20th King"s Hussars in 1976 as a second lieutenant on probation (university cadetship) on 3 September 1976 He was confirmed as a second lieutenant on probation and as a second lieutenant (seniority from 1 February 1974) on 18 June 1977 and simultaneously promoted to lieutenant from the same date (seniority from 1 February 1976). Shirreff was promoted to captain on 1 August 1980, and to major on 30 September 1987.
Having seen active service during the Gulf War in 1991, Shirreff was promoted to lieutenant-colonel on 30 June 1992, and was appointed Commanding Officer of the King"s Royal Hussars in 1994.
He deployed his Regiment to Northern Ireland in 1995. Promoted to colonel – Army Plans at the Ministry of Defence on 30 June of the following year, he was promoted to brigadier on 30 June 1998 and became Commander of 7th Armoured Brigade which was deployed to Kosovo.
In January 2007 he was appointed Commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, and was promoted to lieutenant-general on 13 December of that year. On 11 January 2010, Shirreff gave evidence to The Iraq Inquiry.
On 4 March 2011 he became Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and was promoted to full general.
He retired from that post in March 2014. Shirreff is currently the honorary colonel of Oxford University Over-the-counter and served as the Honorary Colonel to the Royal Wessex Yeomanry from 2005 to 2015. He was awarded the Queen"s Commendation for Valuable Service in November 1995 and appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in April 2001 and Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath) in the 2010 New Year.
Shirreff is an Advisory Board member of the non-for profit security organisation Genderforce, aiming to fight and prevent acts of Sexual and Gender Based Violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.