Harman Patil (Editor)

General of the Army (United States)

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Country  United States
Abbreviation  GA
NATO rank  OF-10
Service branch  United States Army
Rank  Five-star
Non-NATO rank  O-11
General of the Army (United States)

General of the Army (abbreviated as GA) is a five-star general officer and the second highest possible rank in the United States Army. A General of the Army ranks immediately above a general and is equivalent to a fleet admiral and a General of the Air Force. There is no established equivalent five-star rank in the other federal uniformed services (Marine Corps, Coast Guard, United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps). Often called a "five-star general", the rank of General of the Army has historically been reserved for wartime use and is not currently active in the U.S. military. The General of the Army insignia consisted of five 3/8th inch stars in a pentagonal pattern, with points touching. The insignia is paired with the gold and enameled United States Coat of Arms on service coat shoulder loops. The silver colored five-star metal insignia alone would be worn for use as a collar insignia of grade and on the garrison cap. Soft shoulder epaulettes with five 7/16th inch stars in silver thread and gold-threaded United States Coat of Arms on green cloth were worn with shirts and sweaters.


A special rank of General of the Armies, which ranks above General of the Army, exists but has been conferred only twice, to John J. Pershing and posthumously to George Washington.

Post–American Civil War era

On July 25, 1866, the U.S. Congress established the rank of "General of the Army of the United States" for General Ulysses S. Grant. His pay was "four hundred dollars per month, and his allowance for fuel and quarters" except "when his headquarters are in Washington, shall be at the rate of three hundred dollars per month." When appointed General of the Army, Grant wore the rank insignia of four stars and coat buttons arranged in three groups of four.

Unlike the World War II rank with a similar title, the 1866 rank of General of the Army was a four-star rank. This rank held all the authority and power of a 1799 proposal for a rank of "General of the Armies" even though Grant was never called by this title.

In contrast to the modern four-star rank of general, only one officer at a time could hold the 1866–1888 rank of General of the Army.

After Grant became the U.S. president, he was succeeded as General of the Army by William T. Sherman, effective March 4, 1869. In 1872, Sherman ordered the insignia changed to two stars with the coat of arms of the United States in between.

By an Act of June 1, 1888, the grade was conferred upon Philip Sheridan, who by then was in failing health. The rank of General of the Army ceased to exist with Sheridan's death on August 5, 1888.

World War II and Korean War era

As the logistics and military leadership requirements of World War II escalated after the June 1944 Normandy Landings, the United States government created a new version of General of the Army. The five-star rank and authority of General of the Army and equivalent naval fleet admiral was created by an Act of Congress on a temporary basis when Pub.L. 78–482 was passed on 14 December 1944, as a temporary rank, subject to reversion to permanent rank six months after the end of the war. The temporary rank was then declared permanent 23 March 1946 by Pub.L. 79–333, which also awarded full pay and allowances in the grade to those on the retired list. It was created to give the most senior American commanders parity of rank with their British counterparts holding the ranks of field marshal and admiral of the fleet. This second General of the Army rank is not the same as the post-Civil War era version because of its purpose and five stars.

The insignia for General of the Army, created in 1944, consists of five stars in a pentagonal pattern, with points touching. The five officers who have held the 1944 version of General of the Army are:

The timing of the first four appointments was coordinated with the appointments of the U.S. Navy's first three five-star fleet admirals (William D. Leahy on December 15, 1944, Ernest J. King on December 17, 1944, and Chester W. Nimitz on December 19, 1944) to establish both an order of seniority among the generals and a near-equivalence between the services. The final naval appointment of five-star rank was that of William Halsey Jr. on December 11, 1945.

Although briefly considered, the U.S. Army did not introduce a rank of field marshal. In the United States, the term "Marshal" has traditionally been used for civilian law enforcement officers, particularly the U.S. Marshals, as well as formerly for state and local police chiefs. In addition, giving the rank the name "marshal" would have resulted in George Marshall being designated as "Field Marshal Marshall", which was considered undignified.

Dwight D. Eisenhower resigned his army commission on May 31, 1952 to run for the U.S. presidency. After Eisenhower served two terms, President John F. Kennedy signed Pub.L. 87–3 on March 22, 1961, which authorized reappointing Eisenhower "to the active list of the Regular Army in his former grade, of General of the Army with his former date of rank in such grade". This rank is today commemorated on the signs denoting Interstate Highways as part of the Eisenhower Interstate System, which display five silver stars on a light blue background.

Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, a general in the Army, was the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces when he was promoted to the rank of General of the Army. After the United States Air Force became a separate service on September 18, 1947, Arnold's rank was carried over to the Air Force, as all Army Air Force personnel, equipment, etc. also carried over. Arnold was the first and, to date, only General of the Air Force. He is also the only person to hold a five-star rank in two branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

These officers who held the rank of General of the Army remained officers of the United States Army for life with an annual $20,000 (equivalent to $180,000 in 2016) pay and allowances. They were entitled to an office maintained by the Army along with an aide (of the rank of Colonel), a secretary and an orderly.

Modern usage

No officers have been appointed to the rank of General of the Army since Omar Bradley. The rank of General of the Army is still maintained as a rank of the U.S. military, and could again be bestowed, most likely during a time of major war, pending approval of the United States Senate. United States military policy since the creation of a fifth star in World War II has been to award it only when a commander of U.S. forces must be equal to or of higher rank than commanders of armies from another nation under his control. However, the President with consent from the Senate may award a fifth star at any time they see fit.

Although the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Omar Bradley, was eventually awarded a fifth star, such a promotion does not come with the office; Bradley's elevation was a political move so that he would not be outranked by his subordinate, Douglas MacArthur.

In the 1990s, there were proposals in U.S. Department of Defense academic circles to bestow a five-star rank on the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War but before his tenure as Secretary of State, there was talk of awarding a fifth star to General Colin Powell, who had served as CJCS during the conflict. But even in the face of public and Congressional pressure to do so, Clinton presidential transition team staffers decided against it for political reasons, fearing that a fifth star may have assisted Powell had he decided to run for office. An effort was also made to promote General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. to General of the Army, although it was not carried out.

As recently as the late 2000s, some commentators proposed that the military leader in the Global War on Terrorism be promoted to a five-star rank. In January 2011, the founders of the Vets for Freedom political advocacy group published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for David Petraeus to be awarded a fifth star in recognition of his work and the importance of his mission. Earlier, in July 2010, D.B. Grady wrote an article in The Atlantic supporting the same promotion.

General of the Armies

The rank of General of the Armies is senior to General of the Army, and this rank has been bestowed on only two officers in U.S. history. In 1919 John J. Pershing was promoted to General of the Armies for his services in World War I. In 1978 George Washington was posthumously promoted to this rank for his service as the first commanding general of the United States Army. In 1903, retroactive to 1899, George Dewey was promoted to Admiral of the Navy, a rank equivalent to General of the Armies.

When the five-star rank of General of the Army was introduced, it was decided that General Pershing, who was still living, would be superior in rank to all the newly appointed Generals of the Army. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson was asked whether Pershing was therefore a five-star general (at that time the highest rank was a four-star general). Stimson stated:

It appears the intent of the Army was to make the General of the Armies senior in grade to the General of the Army. I have advised Congress that the War Department concurs in such proposed action.

Section 7 of Public Law 78-482 read: "Nothing in this Act shall affect the provisions of the Act of September 3, 1919 (41 Stat. 283: 10 U.S.C. 671a), or any other law relating to the office of General of the Armies of the United States."

George Washington was posthumously promoted to the rank of General of Armies on March 15, 1978 by Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander. In relation to American's Bicentennial celebration, Congress passed legislation on January 19, 1976 urging Washington's promotion and President Gerald Ford approved it in October, 1976, but historians found that Congressional and Presidential actions were not enough and that the Army had to issue orders to make the promotion official. According to Public Law 94-479, General of the Armies of the United States is established as having "rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present", clearly making it superior in grade to General of the Army. Washington will always be the most senior general of the United States. During his lifetime, Washington was appointed a general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and a three-star lieutenant general in the Regular Army during the Quasi-War with France.

Equivalent ranks

The rank of General of the Army is equivalent to the U.S. Air Force's rank of General of the Air Force and the U.S. Navy's rank of Fleet Admiral. The other uniformed services of the United States, such as the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, and the commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Public Health Service, do not have an equivalent rank.

In foreign militaries, the equivalent rank is typically Marshal or Field Marshal. In the British Army, Field Marshal was traditionally the highest rank a general officer could be promoted to but is now a ceremonial rank. Russia uses the rank of Marshal of the Russian Federation.


General of the Army (United States) Wikipedia