General officers in the United States
A general officer is an officer of high military rank; in the uniformed services of the United States, general officers are commissioned officers above the field officer ranks, the highest of which is colonel in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force and captain, in the Navy, Coast Guard, Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps (NOAACC).
General officer ranks currently used in the uniformed services are:
- One-star: Brigadier general in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force and rear admiral (lower half) in the Navy, Coast Guard, PHSCC, and NOAACC
- Two-star: Major general in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force and rear admiral in the Navy, Coast Guard, PHSCC, and NOAACC
- Three-star: Lieutenant general in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force and vice admiral in the Navy, Coast Guard, PHSCC, and NOAACC
- Four-star: General in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force and admiral in the Navy, Coast Guard, PHSCC, and NOAACC
Above these four general-officer ranks are five-star ranks, but these are generally reserved for wartime use. They are the General of the Army (in the Army, equivalent to the foreign rank of field marshal), Fleet Admiral (in the Navy), and General of the Air Force (in the Air Force). Nine Americans have held five-star ranks, but none currently.
The highest ranks, senior to the five-star ranks, are General of the Armies (in the Army) and Admiral of the Navy (in the Navy). These ranks are sometimes called six-star ranks, but holders of the ranks have never used six-star insignia. Only three people have ever held these ranks, which are sometimes considered to be the equivalent of the foreign ranks of generalissimo or grand marshal, and they have never been used at the same time as all other general-officer ranks. The rank of General of the Armies has been held only by John Pershing, promoted in 1919, and George Washington, promoted posthumously in 1976 as part of American Bicentennial celebrations. The rank of Admiral of the Navy has been held only by George Dewey, promoted in 1903 with the date of rank retroactive to 1899. Proposals to bring back these ranks was made during World War II, with Douglas MacArthur and Chester W. Nimitz under consideration for appointment as General of the Armies and Admiral of the Navy, respectively, but this was never implemented.
Throughout much of U.S. history, ranks above three stars were either not used at all, used only on a temporary basis, or only used one at a time, with different titles used at different times for the same rank.