Are you curious about how many generals are there in the US military?
The answer changes each year, but the maximum number of army generals has a limit. There can only be 231 generals in the Army, 162 generals in the Navy, 62 generals in the Marine Corps, 198 generals in the Air Force, and 41 or 45 in the Space Force.
Table of Contents
- What is a General in the US Military?
- Number of Generals in US Army for All Branches
- Types of Generals
- List of US Generals from Past to Now
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is a General in the US Military?
4-star generals are the highest commissioned officer ranks in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and most recently, in the Space Force.
Technically, a general rank can be followed by another higher rank like the “General of the Army” and “General of the Air Force.” However, these ranks are only reserved for wartime.
In the Navy and Coast Guard, “admiral” is the equivalent of the general ranking.
Generals and admirals both have the four-star insignia on their uniforms, usually in silver.
Here are other facts about a general of the United States:
|Main role:||As one of the highest military positions in the Department of Defense, generals and admirals command operations within their geographical areas.|
|Next higher rank:||“General of the Army,” “Fleet Admiral,”” “General of the Air Force” (only used during wartime)|
|Next lower rank:||Three-star general (Lieutenant General), Two-star general (Major General), One-star general (Brigadier General)|
Number of Generals in US Army for All Branches
According to the U.S. Code, the country has a limit of 4 star generals on active duty at any given time. This means a maximum of 620 generals from all branches could hold the 4-star rank at the same time.
The total of active-duty generals is divided as follows:
- Army: 218 generals
- Navy: 149 generals
- Marine Corps: 62 generals
- Air Force: 170 generals
- Space Force: 21 generals
Before one can become a four-star officer, he/she must first be nominated for appointment by the president of an eligible office. If the majority of the Senate confirms this nomination, the general can now assume the four-star rank and take office.
Some branches of the military reserve a four-star ranking for their top leaders. For example, the chief of staff and vice chief of staff in the Air Force and Army are bound to become active-duty generals during their term.
Other roles that could receive four-star appointments include:
- Chief and Vice Chief of Space operations (Space Force)
- Commandant and Assistant Commandant (Marine Corps)
- Chief of the National Guard Bureau (National Guard)
Types of Generals
The military is a highly-organized structure to ensure all branches and departments operate as smoothly as possible.
The rank of generals in the military includes several types:
1. Brigadier Generals (or 1 star Generals)
In the US military, a brigadier general is a one-star general officer in the Marine Corps, US Army, Air Force, and Space Force.
As their name suggests, brigadier generals lead a “brigade” in planning and coordinating missions.
In the US, brigadier generals are the lowest-ranking general officers, but they rank above colonels. In other countries, these generals could have a higher standing.
2. Major Generals (or 2 star Generals)
In the US Armed Forces, major generals are two-star generals in the US Army, Air Force, Space Force, and Marine Corps.
Major generals lead a division with units totaling 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers.
A major general is ranked below the lieutenant generals and is the equivalent of the rear admiral in other uniformed services.
3. Lieutenant Generals (or 3 star Generals)
Lieutenant generals or three-star generals are high-ranking officers found in the US Army, Air Force, Space Force, and Marine Corps.
Lieutenant generals usually lead a unit of around 20,000 to 45,000 soldiers in the Marine Corps or US Army.
3-star generals are addressed with the abbreviated “LTG” in the Army, “Lt Gen” in either the Air Force and Space Force, or “LtGen” in the Marine Corps.
4. General (or 4 star Generals)
Four-star generals rank above 3-star lieutenant generals.
As of 2023, a 4-star is the highest-possible general ranking military officers can achieve in peacetime. Meaning, as long as there is no major war, 5-star generals are nonexistent.
The US military established 5-star general ranks in 1944, specifically during World War II. From 1944 to 1950, 10 generals were appointed with 5-star ranks, including:
- Generals of the Army George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Henry H. Arnold, and Omar Bradley;
- General of the Air Force Henry H. Arnold; and
- Fleet Admirals William D. Leahy, Ernest King, Chester W. Nimitz, and William Halsey, Jr.
Today, this five-star rank (as well as the six-star rank known as “General of the Armies”) are no longer attainable.
List of US Generals from Past to Now
The list of U.S. Army generals is updated on a yearly basis whenever a high-ranking official has been nominated and promoted to the general level.
As of 2023, 256 people have been appointed to 4-star generals.
10 Famous U.S. Generals with 4-Star Rank
|Name||Years in Commission||Military Background||Notes|
|George Washington||1775 to 1783||Served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783 during the American Revolution||One of the Founding fathers of the United States; Became the first US president in 1789|
|Ulysses S. Grant||1864 to 1869||During the American Civil War, Grant won against the Confederacy.||Became the first U.S. Army officer to receive four stars as General of the Army of the US in 1866.|
|John J. Pershing||1917 to 1924||Led the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) to victory during World War I.||At the time of his promotion, Pershing was the only officer promoted to General of the Armies.|
|Peyton C. March||1918 to 1921||One of the high-ranking leaders who fought during World War 1||Served as the 9th Chief of Staff of the Army. Retired as major general in 1921, but promoted to general in 1930.|
|Douglas MacArthur||1930 to 1951||Served in WWI, WWII, and the Korean War.||One of the few US military officials with a five-star rank.|
|General Daniel James, Jr.||1975 to 1978||US fighter pilot with the Air Force during World War II||General Daniel James, Jr. was the first African-American to reach the rank of four-star general in the Armed Forces.|
|Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.||1988 to 1991||Planned and led the famously successful 100-hour Operation Desert Storm that defeated the Iraqi Army in 1991||Wrote an autobiography, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero” instead of pursuing a political career.|
|Colin Luther Powell
|1989 to 1993||As a professional soldier, Powell served in the US Army from 1958 to 1993.||Powell became the first African American secretary of state in 2001.|
|Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody||2008 to 2012||Served in the US Army from 1975 until retirement||Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody was the first female US military officer promoted to 4-star general.|
|John W. Raymond||2019 to 2022||Served as commander for the US Air Force for years.||Became the first-ever four-star general to lead the newly-created Space Force at the time of the military branch’s launch.|
As of mid-2023, current 4-star generals include 39 active duty four-star generals and four-star admirals. There are 13 generals in the Army, one in the Coast Guard, 12 in the Air Force, 2 from the Space Force, 3 in the Marine Corps, and 10 from the Navy.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do you have to be in the military to be a general?
There is no specific number of years required to become a general. But most generals have served the Army for over two decades and have gained ranks throughout their service.
Of course, any nominee must achieve the lower military ranks first before being appointed as general.
How many female 4-star generals are there?
CBS notes that only ten 4-star generals in history have been female, but Wikipedia says otherwise.
Notable female 4-star generals include General Ann Dunwoody (Army), Admiral Michelle Howard (Navy), Generals Janet Wolfenbarger and Jacqueline Van Ovost (Air Force), Army Gen. Laura Richardson (Army), and Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan (Coast Guard).
Can you enlist to be a general in the US military?
Unlike military service men and women who enlist in the military, generals are commissioned officers who serve at the pleasure of the US president. As such, they can only reach the higher chain of command once nominated and approved by a majority of the Senate.
Is there a six-star general?
The informal six-star rank is considered to be the General of the Armies (GAS). General George Washington was posthumously appointed to a 6-star rank in 1776.
How long do US generals serve?
Generals usually have to retire once they have completed 40 years of service or a month after their 64th birthday.
Isn’t it interesting to know that the maximum number of active-duty generals for all US military branches should not exceed 620 at any given time? And that some of these ranks require appointment (instead of earned through years of service)?
If you’ve always wondered how many generals are there in the US military, this article should have given you an insider’s look at how military officials achieve the highest general rankings possible.
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