There are currently 38 active duty four-star officers in the uniformed services of the United States: 10 in the Army, 4 in the Marine Corps, 10 in the Navy, 13 in the Air Force, 1 in the Coast Guard, and none in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Of the seven federal uniformed services, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps is the only service that does not have an established four-star position. Modern day four-star officers' ranks are usually referred to as full general or full admiral, the officers themselves being referred to and addressed as 'General' or 'Admiral'. Four-star officers are ranked in seniority by their time-in-grade and/or by statute via the position of office they hold.
|Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS)||GEN Martin Dempsey||USA|
|Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (VJCS)||ADM James A. Winnefeld, Jr.||USN|
|Commander, U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM)||GEN Carter F. Ham||USA|
|Commander, U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM)||Gen James N. Mattis||USMC|
|Commander, U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and
Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)
|ADM James G. Stavridis||USN|
|Commander, U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and
Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)
|GEN Charles H. Jacoby, Jr.||USA|
|Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM)||ADM Samuel J. Locklear||USN|
|Commander, U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)||Gen Douglas M. Fraser||USAF|
|Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)||ADM William H. McRaven||USN|
|Commander, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM)||Gen C. Robert Kehler||USAF|
|Commander, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM)||Gen William M. Fraser III||USAF|
|Chief, National Guard Bureau (CNGB)||Gen Craig R. McKinley||USAF|
Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and
Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A)
|Gen John R. Allen||USMC|
Commander, United Nations Command (UNC),
Commander, R.O.K.-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) and
Commander, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK)
|GEN James D. Thurman||USA|
|Director, National Security Agency (NSA),
Chief, Central Security Service (CSS) and
Commander, U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM)
|GEN Keith B. Alexander||USA|
|Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA)||GEN Raymond T. Odierno|
|Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (VCSA)||GEN Lloyd J. Austin III|
|Commanding General, U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM)||GEN David M. Rodriguez|
|Commanding General, U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC)||GEN Dennis L. Via|
|Commanding General, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)||GEN Robert W. Cone|
|Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC)||Gen James F. Amos|
|Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps (ACMC)||Gen Joseph F. Dunford, Jr.|
|Chief of Naval Operations (CNO)||ADM Jonathan W. Greenert|
|Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO)||ADM Mark E. Ferguson III|
|Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion and
Deputy Administrator, NNSA's Naval Reactors
|ADM Kirkland H. Donald|
|Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFLTFORCOM)||ADM John C. Harvey, Jr.|
|Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe (USNAVEUR),
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa (USNAVAF) and
Commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples (JFC Naples)
|ADM Bruce W. Clingan|
|Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet (USPACFLT)||ADM Cecil D. Haney|
|Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF)||Gen Mark A. Welsh III|
|Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force (VCSAF)||Gen Larry O. Spencer|
|Commander, Air Combat Command (ACC)||Gen Gilmary M. Hostage III|
|Commander, Air Education and Training Command (AETC)||Gen Edward A. Rice, Jr.|
|Commander, Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC)||Gen Janet C. Wolfenbarger|
|Commander, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC)||Gen William L. Shelton|
|Commander, Air Mobility Command (AMC)||Gen Raymond E. Johns, Jr.|
|Commander, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF)||Gen Herbert J. Carlisle|
|Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE)
Commander, U.S. Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA)
Commander, Air Component Command, Ramstein (AIR-COM Ramstein) and
Director, Joint Air Power Competence Center (JAPCC)
|Gen Philip M. Breedlove|
|Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard||ADM Robert J. Papp|
|Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH)||Howard Koh
(A civilian appointee and not a four-star officer)
|Designated position||Photo||Name||Service||Status & Date|
|Commander, U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)||Lt Gen John F. Kelly||USMC||(Confirmed) July 26, 2012 |
|Chief, National Guard Bureau (CNGB)||LTG Frank J. Grass||USA||(Confirmed) July 26, 2012 |
|Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion and
Deputy Administrator, NNSA's Naval Reactors
|VADM John M. Richardson||USN||(Confirmed) July 26, 2012 |
|Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFLTFORCOM)||VADM William E. Gortney||USN||(Confirmed) May 24, 2012 |
|Commander, Air Mobility Command (AMC)||Lt Gen Paul J. Selva||USAF||(Confirmed) July 26, 2012 |
U.S. Code of law explicitly limits the total number of four-star officers that may be on active duty at any given time. The total number of active duty general or flag officers is capped at 230 for the Army, 160 for the Navy, 208 for the Air Force, 60 for the Marine Corps. For the Army, Navy, and Air Force, no more than about 25% of the service's active duty general or flag officers may have more than two stars, and statute sets the total number of four-star officers allowed in each service. This is set at 7 four-star Army generals, 6 four-star Navy admirals, 9 four-star Air Force generals and 2 four-star Marine generals.
Several of these slots are reserved by statute. For the Army and the Air Force, the Chief of Staff and the Vice Chief of Staff for both services are all four-star generals; for the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations and the Vice Chief of Naval Operations are both four-star admirals; for the Marine Corps, the Commandant and the Assistant Commandant are both four-star generals. In addition, the Commandant of the Coast Guard  is a four-star admiral; for the National Guard, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau  is a four-star general under active duty in the Army or Air Force; for the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the Assistant Secretary for Health  is a four-star admiral if he or she holds an active duty appointment to the regular corps.
There are several exceptions to the limits allowing more than allotted four-star officers within the statute. A four-star officer serving as Chairman  or Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff  does not count against his or her service's general or flag officer cap. An officer serving as Chief of the National Guard Bureau  does not count against his or her service's general officer cap. The Secretary of Defense can designate no more than 20 additional four-star officers, who do not count against any service's general or flag officer limit, to serve in one of several joint positions. These positions include the commander of a unified combatant command, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, and the deputy commander of U.S. European Command  but only if the commander of that command is also the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Officers serving in certain intelligence positions are not counted against statutory limit, including the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The President may also add up to 5 four-star slots to one service if they are offset by removing an equivalent number from other services. Finally, all statutory limits may be waived at the President's discretion during time of war or national emergency.
On September 14, 2001, the President declared a national emergency and invoked his authority to waive all statutory limits on the number and grade distribution of general and flag officers on active duty. On this basis, a number of senior officers in the Middle East have been appointed in excess of the normal limits, including the four-star commanders of the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters, and the temporary authorization for their positions will expire shortly following the termination of the national emergency.
Four-star grades go hand-in-hand with the positions of office they are linked to, so these ranks are temporary. Officers may only achieve four-star grade if they are appointed to positions of office that require and/or allow the officer to hold such a rank. Their rank expires with the expiration of their term of office, which is usually set by statute. Four-star officers are nominated for appointment by the President from any eligible officers holding a one-star grade or above, who also meets the requirements for the position, under the advice and/or suggestion of their respective executive department secretary, service secretary, and if applicable the joint chiefs. The nominee must be confirmed via majority by the Senate before the appointee can take office and thus assume the rank.
It is extremely unusual for a four-star nominee to draw even token opposition in a Senate vote, either in committee or on the floor, because the administration usually withdraws or declines to submit nominations that draw controversy before or during the confirmation process.
When a doomed nomination is not withdrawn, the Senate typically does not hold a vote to reject the candidate, but instead allows the nomination to expire without action at the end of the legislative session.
The standard tour length for most four-star positions is three years, bundled as a two-year term plus a one-year extension, with the following exceptions:
Extensions of the standard tour length can be approved, within statutory limits, by their respective service secretaries, the Secretary of Defense, the President, and/or Congress but these are rare, as they block other officers from being promoted. Some statutory limits of tour length under the U.S. Code can be waived in times of national emergency or war. Four-star ranks may also be given by act of Congress but this is extremely rare.
Other than voluntary retirement, statute sets a number of mandates for retirement. Four-star officers must retire after 40 years of service unless he or she is reappointed to grade to serve longer. Four-star officers serving in the reserve active duty must retire after five years in grade or 40 years of service, whichever is later, unless he or she is reappointed to grade to serve longer. Otherwise all general and flag officers must retire the month after their 64th birthday. However, the Secretary of Defense can defer a four-star officer's retirement until the officer's 66th birthday and the President can defer it until the officer's 68th birthday.
Senior officers typically retire well in advance of the statutory age and service limits, so as not to impede the upward career mobility of their juniors. Since there are a finite number of four-star slots available to each service, typically one officer must leave office before another can be promoted. Maintaining a four-star rank is a game of musical chairs; once an officer vacates a position bearing that rank, he or she has no more than 60 days to be appointed or reappointed to a position of equal or greater importance before he or she must involuntarily retire. Historically, officers leaving four-star positions were allowed to revert to their permanent two-star ranks to mark time in lesser jobs until statutory retirement, but now such officers are expected to retire immediately to avoid obstructing the promotion flow.
To retire at four-star grade, an officer must accumulate at least three years of satisfactory active duty service in that grade, as determined by his or her service secretary. The President and Congress must also receive certification by either the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, or the Secretary of Defense that the retiree served satisfactorily in grade. The Secretary of Defense may reduce this requirement to two years, but only if the officer is not being investigated for misconduct. The President may also reduce these requirements even further, or waive the requirements altogether, if he so chooses. Four-star officers who do not meet the service-in-grade requirement will revert to the next highest grade in which they served satisfactorily for at least six months which is normally the three-star grade. Since three-star ranks are also temporary, if the retiree is also not certified by the Secretary of Defense or the President to retire as a three-star, the retiree will retire at the last permanent rank he or she satisfactorily held for six months. The retiree may also be subject to congressional approval by the Senate before the retiree can retire in grade. It is extraordinarily rare for a four-star officer not to be certified to retire in grade or for the Senate to seek final approval.
Four-star officers who are under investigation for misconduct typically are not allowed to retire until the investigation completes, so that the Secretary of Defense can decide whether to certify that their performance was satisfactory enough to retire in their highest grade.
Four-star officers typically step down from their posts up to 60 days in advance of their official retirement dates. Officers retire on the first day of the month, so once a retirement month has been selected, the relief and retirement ceremonies are scheduled by counting backwards from that date by the number of days of accumulated leave remaining to the retiring officer. During this period, termed transition leave or terminal leave, the officer is considered to be awaiting retirement but still on active duty.
A statutory limit can be waived by the President with the consent of Congress if it serves national interest. However, this is extremely rare.
|United States commissioned officer and officer candidate ranks|
|Pay Grade / Branch of Service||Officer
|Approximate insignia||(no universal insignia)|
|Air Force||Cadet / OT||2d Lt||1st Lt||Capt||Maj||Lt Col||Col||Brig Gen||Maj Gen||Lt Gen||Gen||GAF|||
|Army||CDT / OC||2LT||1LT||CPT||MAJ||LTC||COL||BG||MG||LTG||GEN||GA||GAS|
|Marine Corps||Midn / Cand||2ndLt||1stLt||Capt||Maj||LtCol||Col||BGen||MajGen||LtGen||Gen|||||
|Navy||MIDN / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM||FADM||AN|
|Coast Guard||CDT / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM|||||
|Public Health Service||||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RADM||RADM||VADM||ADM|||||
|National Oceanic and
 Grade is authorized by the U.S. Code for use but has not been created
 Grade has never been created or authorized
|United States warrant officer ranks|
|Public Health Service|||||||||||
|National Oceanic and
 Grade is authorized for use by U.S. Code but has not been created
 Grade never created or authorized
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