Army Major General Rank

This soldier is the Army's third in command

Major General Jeffery Buchanan during a press briefing on COS Kalsu
••• Major General Jeffery Buchanan during a press briefing on COS Kalsu. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

In the Army's hierarchy, major general ranks below lieutenant general but above brigadier general, making the position third from the top. Sometimes referred to as two-star generals, major generals wear an insignia on their shoulders bearing two stars.

The rank was first established by the Army in 1775 at its inception, but was abolished in 1802. The rank of major general was restored not long after, ahead of the War of 1812. 

Army Major General Explained

The rank of major general is a permanent one, and the highest possible rank an officer can achieve during peacetime. Any ranks above major general are considered temporary and linked to a given role, such as commanding a division during wartime.

The Army's major general is the equivalent rank to a rear admiral in the Navy or Coast Guard. 

Responsibilities of an Army Major General

Major generals serve as commanders of divisions, which have between 10,000 and 16,000 soldiers. They perform major tactical operations and conduct sustained battles and engagements. There are 10 divisions in the active Army and eight in the Reserves/National Guard. Two-star generals also serve as high-level officers at major commands and the Pentagon.

How to Become an Army Major General

Fewer than one half of one percent of commissioned officers make it to the top three ranks. This is an Army job for experienced officers who have shown bravery and valor and are considered outstanding leaders. 

Promotions occur as vacancies open up within commissioned officer ranks. Boards composed of senior officers determine which officers are promoted based on achievement, years of service and number of open positions. The Secretary of Defense convenes the selection boards every year to make decisions for ranks higher than O-2 (first lieutenant).

The president nominates officers for the rank of major general, and the U.S. Senate must confirm the appointment before it is official. When a major general retires, dies while in the line of duty or loses the rank for some other reason, the president suggests a replacement from a list of nominees provided in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Retiring as Army Major General

The mandatory retirement age for a major general is 62, but it can be pushed to 64 in some cases. An Army major general must retire from the position five years after being promoted to that rank, or after 35 years of service, whichever comes first.

If a major general is promoted to a higher temporary rank, he or she is allowed to retire at that rank, even if they return to major general before retiring.

Removing an Army Major General's Rank

Demotions can result from conduct unbecoming an officer, such as adultery, or infractions such as dereliction of duty. It is rare for general officers to be stripped of their stars; such a punishment is usually meted out only to those facing serious charges.

For example, Maj. Gen. Samuel W. Koster, the most senior official implicated in the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, lost his rank.