Being an Army General

Army officers saluting their general

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The rank of U.S. Army general is the most senior in that branch of the armed services. It is designated as O-10 on the military pay scale, the highest pay range. The exact salary would depend on the number of years of service. The insignia for an Army general, worn on the shoulder, consists of a row of four stars.

Typically, this rank is not achieved before 20 years in the service. An Army general is responsible for major areas of command, including operations that fall within a geographic area. The commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, for instance, is a four-star general. The positions of chief of staff and vice chief of staff within the U.S. Army also are held by four-star generals.

Famous U.S. Army Generals

While most are content to stay out of the public eye, some generals have become well-known, usually for serving during times of war or for especially meritorious service. In addition to George Washington, there have been several American generals who went on to become president. Here are a few notable examples of generals in the Army:

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), nicknamed "Ike," was a five-star general who commanded the Allies in Europe during World War II. He was responsible for the Allied Forces successfully invading France and Germany and was later elected the 34th U.S. president. 

George S. Patton (1885-1945) commanded the U.S. Seventh Army during World War II. He also led the U.S. Third Army after the invasion of Normandy, France in June 1944 (known as D-Day)

And Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) was Commanding General of the Army, serving as a Union general during the Civil War. He was later elected the 18th president. 

Duties of Army Generals

The command is responsible for the combat readiness of active Army and Army Reserve units, as well as the training and supervision of the Army National Guard during peacetime. It sounds like a relatively simple description, but in fact, encompasses all strategic decision-making during wartime and peacetime. 

It's not an easy status to attain: Fewer than one-half percent of commissioned officers make it to the top three ranks of Army general. In all, there can be only 302 general officers (generals, lieutenant generals, major generals, and brigadier generals) in the U.S. Army at one time.

How Soldiers Are Promoted to the Rank of General

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 general, and the U.S. Senate must confirm the appointment. When a general retires or loses the rank for some other reason, the president suggests a replacement from a list of nominees. The mandatory retirement age is 62, though it can be pushed to 64 in some cases.

The Army demotes four-star generals only in rare cases. For instance, Gen. Kevin P. Byrnes, who supervised the recruitment and academic programs at 33 Army schools, was relieved of his command in 2005 amid allegations of an extramarital affair. 

Generals and Army Hierarchy

Army regulations allow for a maximum of seven four-star generals on active duty at a given time. While it's possible for a general to have around 20 years of service in the Army before being promoted, most have at least 30 years' experience before reaching this milestone. The highest-ranking officer in the Army is General of the Army. This is an O-10 but only assigned during a time of war.