Major general (United States)

Major general (United States)
Major general insignia
Rank flag of a Major General in the United States Army

In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general. Major general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed services, and is the highest permanent rank during peacetime in the uniformed services. (The higher ranks are temporary ranks linked to specific positions, although virtually all officers who have been promoted to those ranks are approved to retire at their highest earned rank.)


Statutory limits

The United States Code explicitly limits the total number of general officers that may be on active duty at any given time. The total number of active duty general officers is capped at 230 for the Army, 208 for the Air Force, and 60 for the Marine Corps.[1] Some of these slots are reserved or finitely set by statute. For example the Deputy Judge Advocates General of the Army[2] is a major general in the army; also the Deputy Judge Advocate General of the Air Force[3] is a major general; the Army's Chief of Engineers[4] is also a major general.

Promotion, appointment, and tour length

To be promoted to the permanent grade of major general, officers who are eligible for promotion to this rank are screened by an in-service promotion board comprising other general officers from their branch of service.[5] This promotion board then generates a list of officers it recommends for promotion to general rank.[6] This list is then sent to the service secretary and the joint chiefs for review before it can be sent to the President, through the defense secretary for consideration.[7] The President nominates officers to be promoted from this list with the advice of the Secretary of Defense, the service secretary, and if applicable, the service's chief of staff or commandant.[8] The President may nominate any eligible officer who is not on the recommended list if it serves in the interest of the nation, but this is uncommon. The Senate must then confirm the nominee by a majority vote before the officer can be promoted. Once confirmed, the nominee is promoted to that rank on assuming a position of office that requires an officer to hold the rank. For positions of office that are reserved by statute, the President nominates an officer for appointment to fill that position. For all three uniformed services, because grade of major general is a permanent rank, the nominee may still be screened by an in-service promotion board to add their input on the nominee before the nomination can be sent to the Senate for approval. Since the grade of major general is permanent, the rank does not expire when the officer vacates a two-star position. Tour length varies depending on the position, by statute, and/or when the officer receives a new assignment but the average tour length per two-star billet is two to four years.


Other than voluntary retirement, statute sets a number of mandates for retirement. All major generals must retire after five years in grade or 35 years of service, whichever is later, unless appointed for promotion or reappointed to grade to serve longer.[9] Otherwise all general officers must retire the month after their 64th birthday.[10] However, the Secretary of Defense can defer a general officer's retirement until the officer's 66th birthday and the President can defer it until the officer's 68th birthday. General officers typically retire well in advance of the statutory age and service limits, so as not to impede the upward career mobility of their juniors.


The rank of Major General was abolished in the U.S. Army by the Act of March 16, 1802 [11] and restored by the Act of January 11, 1812 [12] as preparations were being made for the War of 1812. Major General has been a rank in the U.S. Army ever since.

Until the American Civil War, Major General was the highest rank that could be attained by an officer in the U.S. Army, though Winfield Scott had been given the brevet rank of Lieutenant General[13] in 1855. This was a consequence of the fact that at his death George Washington was officially listed as holding the rank of Lieutenant General, rather than full general, and it was regarded as improper for an officer to hold a rank equal to or superior to Washington's. To address this anomaly, Washington was posthumously promoted by Congress to the rank of General of the Armies of the United States in 1976.

The position of Major General Commanding the Army was entitled to wear three stars according to General Order No. 6 of March 13, 1861.[14] When Ulysses S. Grant was appointed Lieutenant General on March 9, 1864[15] and took command of the Union forces, he used the three-star insignia formerly assigned to that position.

The Confederate States Army maintained a similar rank of major general, usually associated with the command of a division, while lieutenant generals often commanded corps and full generals led armies as a general convention.

There was no Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps until Commandant Charles Heywood was specially promoted by Act of Congress in July 1902. From his retirement on October 3, 1903, Brigadier General was again the highest rank in the Marine Corps until May 21, 1908 when the office of Commandant was raised to the rank of Major General. It remained the highest rank in the Marine Corps until January 20, 1942 when the office of Commandant was raised to the rank of Lieutenant General.

See also


  1. ^ 10 USC § 526. Authorized strength: general and flag officers on active duty
  2. ^ 10 USC 3037 Judge Advocate General, Assistant Judge Advocate General, and general officers of Judge Advocate General’s Corps: appointment; duties
  3. ^ 10 USC 8037 Judge Advocate General, Deputy Judge Advocate General: appointment; duties
  4. ^ 10 USC 3036 Chiefs of branches: appointment; duties
  5. ^ 10 USC 611 Convening of selection boards
  6. ^ 10 USC 616 Recommendations for promotion by selection boards
  7. ^ 10 USC 618 Action on reports of selection boards
  8. ^ 10 USC 624 Promotions: how made
  9. ^ 10 USC 636 Retirement for years of service: regular officers in grades above brigadier general and rear admiral (lower half)
  10. ^ 10 USC 1253 Age 64: regular commissioned officers in general and flag officer grades; exception
  11. ^ Act of March 16, 1802, ch. 9, 2 Stat. 132
  12. ^ Act of January 11, 1812, ch. 14, 2 Stat. 671
  13. ^ Foote, p 918
  14. ^ General Order No. 6 Regulations for the Uniform and Dress of the Army of the United States 1861
  15. ^ Boatner, p 353

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