Major General: The Rank Today
The rank of Major General is a two-star general officer in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. A Major General is an O-8 on the pay scale and is the equivalent of a Rear Admiral, Upper Half in the United States Navy and Coast Guard. The rank is abbreviated as MG in the Army and Maj. Gen. in the Air Force and Marines. It is the rank which follows Brigadier General, but is under Lieutenant General.
The insignia for a Major General is two, silver, 5-point stars touching at the points. The insignia is worn in different places and manners, depending on the uniform. All services wear this insignia subdued and sewn to the collar on the BDU. Air Force and Army wear the stars embroidered to epaulets (black ones for Army, dark blue for AF) and worn on the shoulder of Class B uniforms. Marines wear metal, shiny-finish stars on their collar for their Class B uniform.
Major Generals have a personal flag; red for Army and Marines and blue for Air Force, with two white, five-point stars centered on the flag. They also have license plates with the same color/star scheme which is placed on the front of any vehicle they are in.
History of the Rank
Historically, the title Major General actually used to be “Sergeant Major General”. The Sergeant Major General was often a commoner as opposed to the nobility that usually staffed the general officer corps. He would be something like a commanding Sergeant Major NCO for the entire army. Eventually, the Sergeant was dropped and the rank became simply Major General. This explains why Lieutenant General is higher than a Major General when a Major is superior to a Lieutenant. Originally the Lieutenant (General) was higher than the Sergeant (Major General).
In the United States, Major General was one of the first two general officer ranks created. Once George Washington was appointed as General and Commander in Chief, he selected a handful of officers to be his Brigadier and Major Generals. Originally, different colored ribbons and hat plumes were used to distinguish rank, especially since there were no official uniforms nor funding for such things. In June 1780, Washington ordered that Major Generals were to wear gold epaulets on their shoulders with two silver stars on each (and that Brigadier Generals were to use one silver star). Therefore, the insignia for Major General is the oldest in the traditions of the US Armed Forces, along with that of Brigadier Generals.
Major General was the highest rank at many times in the history of the US Armed Forces. George Washington became a Lieutenant General in 1798 (choosing three stars for his insignia), and thereafter Lt. Gen. was used sparingly. In fact, up until 1939, promotions above Major General were special acts of Congress and the President, and were not common. Today, Major Generals are a regular institution and a mostly normal promotion.
Major Generals in the Armed Forces today are well respected general officers, as they have usually served 20+ years and have worked their way up from Second Lieutenant. According to January 2002 Pay Charts, a Major General can expect to make, depending on years of service, between $8500 - $9852 per month, base pay while active duty. Major Generals can also expect a very nice pension upon retirement from the service. Upon retirement, they retain all the customs and courtesies afforded them while in the service. They also are entitled to receive a full military honors funeral with a caparisoned horse and 21-gun salute.
- Personal Knowledge
- Naval Historical Center
- Airman Magazine, Jan. 2002 for pay scales