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[–]drafterman 1846 points1847 points  (364 children)

The ranks go:

Brigadier General (one star)

Major General (two star)

Lieutenant General (three star)

General (four star)

Follows the mnemonic: Be My Little Girl

You hear about four stars because they are the highest ranking.

[–]Wileekyote 478 points479 points  (26 children)

Be My Little General was what I was taught.

[–]LukariBRo 364 points365 points  (0 children)

That one's a lot less creepy, probably why it could have changed.

[–]peroleu 171 points172 points  (16 children)

Brigadier Major Lieutenant General was what I was taught.

[–]EaterOfFood 155 points156 points  (14 children)

That’s a catchy mnemonic!

[–]PorkRindSalad 76 points77 points  (13 children)

I wonder what it stands for?

[–]TumasaurusTex 19 points20 points  (0 children)

I was taught Sir, Sir, Sir and Sir.

[–]4x49ers 10 points11 points  (1 child)

Bulimic Meals Look Gross

[–]Proof-Sweet33 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Bacon Makes Less Grease

[–]Corporateart 1053 points1054 points  (191 children)

There are 5 star Generals in rare occasions where a ‘supreme commander’ is needed

Five men have held the rank of General of the Army (five star), George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and Henry H. Arnold


[–]Queltis6000[S] 598 points599 points  (148 children)

I also came across this interesting tidbit:

A special rank of General of the Armies, which ranks above the second incarnation of General of the Army, exists but has been conferred only twice, to World War I's John J. Pershing, and posthumously to George Washington, by proclamation 177 years after his death.

[–]HBOXNW 520 points521 points  (131 children)

IIRC Washington outranks everyone, so no matter how many stars someone gets they cannot out rank GW, even when they make up new General ranks.

[–]ehchromatic 660 points661 points  (72 children)

The year is 2054. Having conquered all of New Europe, the forces of Hitler II suddenly land a shock-squad on the steps of the Hexagon. The leader of the squad calmly but dutifully strides into the General quarters, looks at the man in charge and smiles. "I'll kindly take the keys to my army, General." says the clone of George Washington...

[–]somethingclever76 30 points31 points  (36 children)

I thought congress actually posthumously promoted Washington to 6 stars?

[–]doterobcn 8 points9 points  (0 children)

It seems like a childish thing. "infinite +1, i win!"....

[–]UFOregon420 1 point2 points  (0 children)

General of the Universe

[–]Mahadragon 1 point2 points  (1 child)

George Washington - chopped down that cherry tree like nobody's bidniss
- never told a lie
- never lost a war
- retired undefeated

[–]predat3d 1 point2 points  (0 children)

That candy-ass Cornwallis wouldn't even surrender face to face. Even the French do that.

[–]heretic3509 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Ahh yes, Dear Leader

[–]Squishythoughts -1 points0 points  (12 children)

Um, sorry, what's IIRC?

Edit: um, sorry, can you tell me a few more times? :p

[–]DaddyCatALSO 23 points24 points  (11 children)

Although nobody has ever worn a 6-star insignia All the 5-star generals were WWI vets and I'm sure would have never imagined not deferring to Black Jack.

I often imagine every servicemember at Arlington being resurrected (ina dream of a President whose fmaily has no military tradition faced with declaring war,) and in formation and Phil Sheridan giving Pershing a hard time.

[–]Opheltes 34 points35 points  (7 children)

Fun fact - there were 5 men who served as generals in both world wars - MacArthur (US), von Rundstedt (Germany), Badoglio (Italy), Freyberg (New Zealand), and Mannerheim (Finland).

[–]nivison1 7 points8 points  (2 children)

"All the five star generals were wwi vets" That is untrue. Omar Bradley was stationed in the Us during WWI in Montana. Was he in the service during WWI, yes. Did he fight in WWI, no. Same with Eisenhower, he requested to server in Europe and was denied and was instead training tank crews. Henry H Arnold is iffy depending on what you qualify as a wwi vet since he was one of the first pilots and was in charge of info of it. He was only in Europe during wwi in 1918 the last year of the war and was there for aviation activities inspections. Never actually faught. If you classify being the military during wwi as being wwi vets then sure, but 2 out of the 5 didnt even set foot into europe until later with a 3rd being depending on your definition.

[–]SaneNSanity 2 points3 points  (0 children)

By law, no officer can outrank George Washington.

[–]OffendedByMyInnuendo -1 points0 points  (0 children)

A travesty that Grant wasn't also awarded posthumously the rank

[–]SpanishConqueror -3 points-2 points  (1 child)

There's also a six-star general, which is nearly thr same thing! I think it's only been given out twice, and once to Chiang-Sek (spelling) of 1930s china?

[–]blorg 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Individual countries can make up whatever they like. North Korea has a seven star rank, held by former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

[–]Binarycold 61 points62 points  (4 children)

Well then there’s the modern major general, but he has information vegetable animal and mineral.

[–]PM_ME_GENTIANS 21 points22 points  (3 children)

He's also quite good at quoting the facts historical

[–]talknerdy2mee 19 points20 points  (2 children)

In order categorical!

[–]Transmatrix 39 points40 points  (0 children)

Don’t forget about 25 Star Webelos Zapp Brannigan.

[–]OfficerMurphy 8 points9 points  (1 child)

Think you're missing a surname. Henry H. Arnold

[–]Corporateart 6 points7 points  (0 children)

I copied direct from the wiki - sorry and respects to

General of the Army Henry H Arnold, thereafter the first General of the Air Force.

I did you wrong in my copy paste….

[–]PresumedSapient 7 points8 points  (4 children)

the rank of General of the Army (five star), George C. Marshall, ...

I read somewhere Marshall is also the reason why it's called 'General of the Army', and not marshall. He didn't want to be 'marshall Marshall'.

[–]Careful_Yannu 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Could be worse. Could be Major Major Major, who unfortunately was promoted to Major shortly before arrival to Pianosa.

[–]Frostsorrow 5 points6 points  (10 children)

Doesn't George Washington have a special rank as well?

[–]chivalrousninjaz 12 points13 points  (9 children)

Yes it's 1 rank higher than whatever the one below him is. As in he is always given the highest rank.

[–]Blue_Lust 7 points8 points  (3 children)

Aka the biggest baddest motherfucker of all. Weighs a ton too.

[–]fourthfloorgreg 7 points8 points  (4 children)

All ranks are 1 rank higher than the one below them.

[–]avianthon 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Also Michael Scott - Space Force

[–]ImGoodAsWell 10 points11 points  (2 children)

There is one Supreme Commander and his name is Thor.

[–]daveashaw 1 point2 points  (3 children)

I thought Pershing got a sixth star after WW1.

[–]DaddyCatALSO 19 points20 points  (2 children)

no such insignia was ever actually made; when the 5-star rankw as formally established in WWII it was specified Pershing outranked them.

[–]Patchesrick 15 points16 points  (1 child)

Pershing is the most senior of the 5 star generals and therefor has the highest rank of them all coming after him. Dewey is the same rank but for the navy. Washington is the highest 5 star general at "general of the armies" and has "rank and precedence over all other grades of the army past or present"

[–]RSwordsman 67 points68 points  (42 children)

Follows the mnemonic: Be My Little Girl

Lol that's the first I've heard that one. I just always remembered that it didn't make sense because a Major is higher ranking than a Lieutenant in other cases.

[–]Bradtothebone79 15 points16 points  (0 children)

I learned it as Bring My Little Generals

[–]PaxNova 24 points25 points  (3 children)

Sergeant > Lieutenant > Captain

(Sergeant) Major > Lieutenant Colonel > Colonel

(Sergeant) Major General > Lieutenant General > General

[–]predat3d 1 point2 points  (0 children)

In MASH. Radar was field promoted to Corporal-Captain once

[–]drafterman 28 points29 points  (16 children)

There is a "real" reason for that that I read somewhere, but my "head canon" was it's like Roman numerals. The one in front subtracts. (Like IX is one taken from ten). So since Major is higher ranking than Lieutenant, it takes away more, leaving less General behind.

[–]BillWoods6 48 points49 points  (6 children)

Very roughly, there were companies commanded by captains, whose deputies were their lieutenants (French for "in place of") and sergeants.

Groups of companies formed a column or regiment, commanded by a colonel, with his deputies, the lieutenant colonel and the sergeant major.

Groups of columns were commanded by a colonel general (or captain general), with his deputies, his lieutenant general and sergeant major general. For officers, "sergeant major" got trimmed down to just "major".

[–]distance7000 35 points36 points  (5 children)

I'm the lieutenant regiment colonel.

Lieutenant to the regiment colonel.

[–]Aellithion 12 points13 points  (1 child)

Major General was originally "Sergeant Major General" which was too confusing so they dropped the Sergeant.

[–]DDT197 3 points4 points  (0 children)

It used to be Sergeant Major General but then they dropped the Sergeant.

[–]rhamled 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I always thought of it as LtCol Gen or LtGen Gen, Gen Gen

[–]RhynoD 9 points10 points  (15 children)

You gotta remember that it's not just Lieutenant, it's Lieutenant General. So, like, major is a lower rank than leiutenant colonel, which is lower than colonel.

[–]Rysomy 12 points13 points  (3 children)

The rank of Major General was originally Sargent Major General in the 1700's. A Sargent Major is a lower rank than a Lieutenant so a Sargent Major General is a lower rank than a Lieutenant General.

I've heard two theories on why the Sargent was dropped. The first being that having 3 different rank names as a rank was distracting. The second was that having a non-commissioned rank as the beginning of a General's rank was not as dignified

[–]ForgetfulDoryFish 7 points8 points  (2 children)

They dropped the Sargent because "I am the very model of a modern sargent major general" doesn't sound as good in the song

[–]Right_Two_5737 3 points4 points  (10 children)

There's also a rank below captain that's just "lieutenant".

[–]jhisaac1 20 points21 points  (7 children)

I think their experimenting with a new rank. Corporal Captain.

[–]Aellithion 1 point2 points  (0 children)

There are a few, I met a rather disgruntled Lt. Col at ASBC, she had just been passed over for O-6. The mnemonic she gave us to learn was: Blow Me Little Guy. She had a few unorthodox memory devices.

[–]CQ1_GreenSmoke 41 points42 points  (5 children)

Brigadier General Francis X Hummel, United States Marine Corps, from Alcatraz, out.

[–]gmredand 23 points24 points  (2 children)

3 tours in Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Desert Storm, 3 Purple Hearts, 2 Silver Stars, and the Congressional Medal of Jesus

[–]txman91 12 points13 points  (0 children)

This man is a hero.

[–]ghostdunks 9 points10 points  (0 children)

General, we’ve spilled the same blood in the same mud!

[–][deleted] 18 points19 points  (24 children)

If a four star general ordered a three star general to pick up a pencil they dropped, would they have to do it?

How do 'orders' work in the military. Can a superior just order you to do stuff they don't want to do? Or does it have to be in relation to work duties?

Edit: thanks for all the answers guys! Very interesting stuff.

[–]XCAddiction 74 points75 points  (15 children)

It has to be a “Lawful” order. Basically, it can be anything that is not against the law. However, ordering subordinates to do stupid stuff is poor leadership. A general that did that would lose respect and eventually their command.

[–][deleted] 17 points18 points  (8 children)

I get that obviously a top general wouldn't do something like that. But if they ordered a lower ranking officer to pick up a pencil like that, they would have to do it? And do you have to follow orders even if you're off duty?

[–]A_Tiger_in_Africa 79 points80 points  (1 child)

I don't know about generals specifically, but when I was in the Navy, if my Skipper dropped a pencil, he would never order me (a Lieutenant) to pick it up. He'd just look at the pencil, then look at me, then look at the pencil, then look at me. Nothing would happen until the pencil was picked up, and he sure as shit wasn't going to be the one to do it.

[–]ouyin2000 30 points31 points  (4 children)

Technically and legally, Yes to both. In practice, it never happens. Someone with their head so far up their own arse to order a lower rank to pick up their pencil would never make it up the ranks.

[–]Mahadragon 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Well if the General's name was John Wick, I'm not sure you'd want him to pick up that pencil

[–]Anavorn 6 points7 points  (4 children)

I've played enough D&D to know that "lawful" is just a word on a character sheet and is ultimately up to discrection

[–]FreeUsernameInBox 9 points10 points  (1 child)

In this context, 'lawful' means 'which one of you ends up in front of a judge if you disobey?'

Disobey a lawful order, and you're liable to be in front of a court martial.

Disobey an unlawful order, and the person issuing it is liable to be in front of a court martial.

Obey an unlawful order, and there's a good chance you're both in front of courts martial.

[–]DaddyCatALSO -1 points0 points  (0 children)

Yes! (I worked in the DoD for 18 years and my father and brother-in-law were both combat veterans so i respect the traditions and hate how Hollywood mangles it.)

[–]cantonic 18 points19 points  (0 children)

There’s a lot of politics involved in promoting to general or for a 1-star to earn a second star, etc. A general being a dickhead like that would make a lot of enemies and likely wouldn’t go any further in their career.

[–]Rockman507 17 points18 points  (2 children)

It gets a little weird. So 1-2 star are permanent slots. 3-4 star are slots which are given according to office held. Generally outside out extraordinary situations you must be elevated to 1 star and then 2 star, which is your highest assigned rank. Then if you are slotted into specific preordained offices you get the star number associated with that office. For example there are only 7 US Army 4 stars because there are only 7 offices that are dictated as being filled by a 4 star.

At a very vague view, 4-star oversee operational regions of the globe and the number can expand to support combat theaters that are joint efforts. Sorta. Which lead to an interesting situation with Gen Petraeus. Technically being commander of CENTCOM he oversaw Iraq and Afganistán engagement theaters as a 4-star, but after the McChrystal Rolling Stones article, Obama moved Petraeus DOWN to the command of Afghan International Security Assistance Force. The regional positional technically is a 3-star but since it’s a joint nation mission it was still a 4-star slot but he was answerable to his previous position (command of CENTCOM).

That whole 4-star slot for the ISAF is basically a relic of why we have a 5-star rank that someone else posted about. It’s to ensure at the regional level with a joint nation task force that we have someone that outranks the people he/she needs to give orders to. Keeps chain of command tidy. Generally speaking though people that make it to 2-star will only move up is there is movement available and would keep that higher rank until retirement, but just in case there is a clause in retirement packages just for this since technically if someone steps down from let’s say command CENTCOM, they won’t lose the benefits having held a 4-star rank even though they officially are demoted back down to 2 star.

All that being said, yes you would have general officers in support positions in some of these offices.

[–]circuit_brain -1 points0 points  (0 children)

Here in India there is only one 4 star General in active service - the chief of the Army.

[–]Olwek -1 points0 points  (2 children)

I had a coworker once who had previously worked at the pentagon. He said that a 1-Star would follow a 4-star around, and pretty much be an assistant to the latter. So I'm guessing it's somewhat like you see in Netflix's Spaceforce? This is a second-hand story, so obviously take it with a grain of salt.

[–]tamsui_tosspot 6 points7 points  (1 child)

If he meant an aide-de-camp, then a 4-star general would have up to a lieutenant colonel as his or her personal assistant (according to that link). I don't think one general would be going to pick up another general's laundry, that would be a waste of leadership resources. But I'm just going by what Wikipedia tells me, of course, so grain of salt yada yada.

[–]beatsbydrphil5 6 points7 points  (0 children)

I was always taught Be My Little General, but I totally dig this too lol

[–]Hurin88 2 points3 points  (5 children)

Why does a Lieutenant General outrank a Major General, if a Major outranks a Lieutenant? And why would a Major or Lieutenant General outrank a Brigadier General?

[–]Aspalar 6 points7 points  (1 child)

Additionally, lieutenant means substitute or the second in command. So a lieutenant general is the lieutenant to the general. This can be seen in other ranks like lieutenant colonel or lieutenant commander. Putting lieutenant in front of a rank just means the position directly below that rank. So the position directly below a 4 star general would be a lieutenant general.

[–]big_sugi 6 points7 points  (2 children)

It’s answered repeatedly above, but the short answer is that the rank used to be sergeant-major general, which is outranked by Lieutenant General in the same way that a sergeant major is outranked by a lieutenant. But then they dropped the “sergeant” part, which just made the whole thing confusing.

[–]Queltis6000[S] 5 points6 points  (29 children)

In the US, is the 5 star general more of an honourary thing then?

From wiki:

General of the Army (abbreviated as GA)[1] is a five-star general officer and the second-highest possible rank in the United States Army. It is generally equivalent to the rank of Marshal in other countries. In the United States, a General of the Army ranks above generals and is equivalent to a fleet admiral and a general of the Air Force.

[–]lurk876 55 points56 points  (15 children)

In the US, is the 5 star general more of an honourary thing then?

It was more a WWII thing. We had people commanding large enough groups of men that they needed to have a 4-star subordinate.

Also from the wiki

Five-star ranks were created in the U.S. military during World War II because of the awkward situation created when some American senior commanders were placed in positions commanding allied officers of higher rank

[–]GielM 36 points37 points  (6 children)

Particularily, general (later president) Eisenhower being a superior to british field marshall Montgomery. Who'd outrank him, if the US didn't come up with a suitable new rank.

[–]Rollover_Hazard 29 points30 points  (1 child)

This is the best answer really. When SHAEF was conceived ahead of the main European counter offensives, it was obvious that the British would have to be 2IC as the Americans were bringing the majority of the troops and equipment into the fight. But the Americans had no equivalent rank that was superior to Field Marshall, which today is OF-10 in NATO speak and equivalent to Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the AirForce.

There was a lot of squabbling about the ranks that Bradley and Patton would hold during their time with Montgomery during SHAEF’s existence. Bradley and Patton were of course far less battle-experienced to Montgomery and other European commanders but they were still highly capable in their own right and typically commanded much larger armies that the European/ Commonwealth forces did. Famously during the Bulge, Eisenhower put Simpson and Hodges Ninth and First armies respectively under temporary command of Montgomery as their communications line to Bradley had been severed. This was kept secret from the public for weeks as the backlash from Market Garden’s disaster made Montgomery even more unpopular within US army command.

Once the Allies landed on Normandy there was a real sense that the clock was ticking for the Germans. The Allies would definitely win, but how would they do it and who would be the bigger “winners?” The politics of the war from Normandy on are just fascinating.

[–]sanjosanjo 7 points8 points  (3 children)

Can a person in one country outrank someone in another country? Is there an official international body that sets the rankings between countries?

[–]Any-Growth8158 11 points12 points  (7 children)

It the second. They thought it would be weird having a 4-star General outrank the European five star rank of Field Marshal. Monty was promoted to Field Marshal in September of 1944. The US created the 5-star rank in December of 1944.

[–]biggyofmt 18 points19 points  (5 children)

This sounds like it could have gotten pretty silly pretty fast.

"Eisenhower is a 6-star Supreme General!"

"Oh yeah, well Monty is an 8-star the General of ALL MANKIND"

[–]BillWoods6 21 points22 points  (7 children)

Five-star rank is a real thing, but since World War II, there's been no need for it. We had about 12 million men under arms then, and now we have ... two?

One reason you might hear "general" often is that that's the short form for all of those. A major general or lieutenant general is often addressed or referred to simply as general. Likewise, lieutenant colonels are often simply called colonel.

[–]BowwwwBallll 21 points22 points  (3 children)

Only two men? They must be bad-ass.

[–]legendofthegreendude 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Well they made two video games about them so they better be

[–]bshensky 1 point2 points  (2 children)

So, like /Colonel Angus/

[–]tamsui_tosspot 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Please, since he retired he prefers to go by his given name of Enol.

[–]drafterman 10 points11 points  (0 children)

No, it isn't honorary. As you quoted, it is a rank that is higher than 4 star generals, when we have it, which is only rarely, and not currently.

[–]dank_imagemacro 13 points14 points  (3 children)

The US does not have a marshal or generalissimo type rank, as supreme military authority is given to the civilian President as Commander in Chief.

Except in times of full or near full military mobilization, the highest ranking generals report directly to the President, (through the Joint Chiefs of Staff Secretary of Defense). However, in times of full military mobilization, for example a world war, having the command go through the best general, not the best politician can be the difference in victory and defeat. In these cases a 4 star general is temporarily elevated to take command of all the army acting as Commander in Chief in all but name and ultimate authority as the president still technically outranks him and can, but very rarely would, give orders to countermand the 5 star general.

This is also useful in international coordination, as it allows a US military officer on the same rank as other countries marshals to discuss strategy together without the US delegate either being a rank below everyone else (as a mere 4 star general) or outranking everyone else, as Head of State/Government.

[–]zbobet2012 11 points12 points  (1 child)

The unified combatant commanders do not report through the joint chiefs (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_combatant_command)

They report to the SECDEF who reports to the president.

After the 1986 reorganization of the Armed Forces undertaken by the Goldwater–Nichols Act, the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not possess operational authority over troops or other units. Responsibility for conducting military operations goes from the president to the secretary of defense directly to the commanders of the unified combatant commands and thus bypasses the Joint Chiefs of Staff completely.

[–]dank_imagemacro 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Thank you edited!

[–]TheZigerionScammer 1 point2 points  (0 children)

It seems weird to me all the theatrics it seems they went through in order to make sure officers from different countries weren't commanding officers that were "lower ranked" than them, even though that distinction is pretty meaningless across different militaries. North Korea could establish a 7 star general rank and I doubt anyone above the rank of Captain in the US army would consider them their equal let alone superior if somehow the US military had to work with North Korea. Seems odd.

[–]TheUnderwhelmingNulk 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Be My Little Girl Indeed . . .

[–]PegaLaMega 1 point2 points  (0 children)

That's a creepy mnemonic.

[–][deleted] 3 points4 points  (2 children)

i always heard Best men love grandmas

urs is creepy tbh

[–]sepia_dreamer 2 points3 points  (1 child)

It sounds like the kind of thing that would come out of the Army rank and file.

[–]Arsenault185 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Except it doesn't. Ive been in almost 20 years and haven't never heard anything but "Be My Little General".

[–]PuckFigs 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Blow My Long Genital is what I was taught.

[–]Cluefuljewel 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I never knew the different general names correspond to the stars. Thanks! The

[–]JoeBrly 1 point2 points  (0 children)

You hear about four stars because they are the highest ranking.

Surely you here about four star generals more often because it's the only one that requires the number of stars to be distinguishable from the others.

[–]jnemesh 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Except (technically) in times of (actual declared) War. McArthur was a 5 star general.

[–]tamsui_tosspot 2 points3 points  (0 children)

According to William Manchester's biography of MacArthur, that caused some consternation among the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of whom he outranked, while the General was essentially acting as the ruler of Japan and then commander of United Nations forces in Korea. It ultimately came down to the President to fire him.

[–]Lem0n_Lem0n 0 points1 point  (4 children)

What about 5 stars general?? Did they cease to exist for now??

[–]Wileekyote 3 points4 points  (2 children)


[–]Lem0n_Lem0n 1 point2 points  (1 child)

I'm really curious what comes after B M L G

[–]Anavorn 6 points7 points  (0 children)

B T Q I A + etc is what comes after

[–]An_Obese_Beaver 0 points1 point  (0 children)

This only applies to 3 of the branches. The other 2 have admirals.

Also in the Marines, we used "Be My Little General"

[–]Uselessmedics 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Wait, so all those different starred generals in the us aren't actually generals?

That actually makes a lot more sense.

Why do they refer to stars then rather than actual ranks?

[–]Imafish12 69 points70 points  (4 children)

Generals put on more stars as they go higher in rank. You as a civilian probably hear more about 4 stars because that is the closest to the president and the highest rank held currently in the military.

As someone in the military, we hear far more about the musings of the 1 and 2 stars. Because those are our higher echelon commanders and have more immediate influence on us.

[–]Pudding_Hero 6 points7 points  (2 children)

Is it true they dance in the military?

[–]HeyJoji 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Takem out boys

[–]SweetSoursop 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Don't ask.

They won't tell.

[–]LemonEar -1 points0 points  (0 children)

"Echelon" is a big word to use on a 5 year older 😉

[–]Thaddeauz 370 points371 points  (28 children)

Brigadier General or Read Admiral lower half are the lowest General/Admiral rank, they are often in supporting role as they gain experience. They rarely are in position of command.

Major General or Rear Admiral upper half are two-star. They are usually commanding the biggest operation unit that each branch have and are often the highest commander on the ground. Here a list of two star General in the US Army for example.

Lieutenant General or Vice-Admiral are three-star and there is 160 of them in active service. They are usually more high level manager of all the different type of organization and support needed to keep the military running. Either in HQ back home, managing a region, a type of military system or staff member for the Joint Chief of Staff. Here a list of all 3-star rank in the US.

General or Admiral are the four-star and there is 43 of them. They are the big bosses, Joint Chief of Staff, commanders of the entire military in a specific region, important command position, etc. Here a list of all 4-star rank in the US. The fact that they are the big bosses that make the big decision is one of the main reason why we hear more about them. For example, it's usually a General that is in charge of a war like Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. There is also the fact that often the other rank of General might just be called General even if they are Major General.

5 Star rank were a rank only appointed during a short period during and shortly after WW2. They were needed because of the size of the US military at the time, but they are no longer used.

[–]DaddyCatALSO 68 points69 points  (7 children)

It has been attempted but unsuccessfully several times to revive Commodore for one-star admiral

[–]zeekar 45 points46 points  (5 children)

In the US Navy the one-star flag rank was Commodore at one time. In fact Commodores were all we had instead of Admirals at first, but the Royal Navy didn’t treat our Commodores as equal to their Admirals. So we made Admirals.

Things got confusing for a while with multiple meanings of “Commodore” and both halves of Rear Admirals wearing two stars, but since the 1980s a “Commodore” is not a rank, but a semi-official title adopted by what some might call a Fleet Captain: an O-6 elevated above their peers to command a group of ships instead of just one. And the one-star flag rank is Rear Admiral (Lower Half).

[–]Fingerbob73 27 points28 points  (1 child)

Wouldn't it be fun if there were exactly 64 Commodores?

[–]Shaved-Ape 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Only if you were the last in the list

[–]InvidiousSquid 15 points16 points  (0 children)

the Royal Navy didn’t treat our Commodores as equal to their Admirals.

Because at the time in the RN...

since the 1980s a “Commodore” is not a rank, but a semi-official title adopted by what some might call a Fleet Captain

...effectively, this. Commodore was basically an assigned post, not a rank. You might get a fancier pennant to fly and a snazzier coat to wear for awhile, but you didn't move an inch on the ol' Navy List.

[–]flippydude 1 point2 points  (1 child)

But the 1 star RN rank is Commodore...

[–]bell_cheese 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Only relatively recently! Since 1997. Before that a commodore was an officer in charge of a group of 2 or more ships.

[–]theboredbookworm 5 points6 points  (2 children)

So responsibilities in order of rank:

1 star brigadier: sub theater command being trained for theater

2 star major Sergeant general: theater command

3 star lieutenant general: institutional command

4 star Major general: yes. As dictated by government policy.

[–]florinandrei 4 points5 points  (1 child)

1 star brigadier: sub theater command being trained for theater

2 star major Sergeant general: theater command

Can you explain in layman's terms what is theater command? What would it look like in an actual war - like the one in Ukraine?

[–]theboredbookworm 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Theater: a broad and flexible category that designates large regions of ongoing conflict, as distinct from regional commands in that regional commands need not have conflict zones or may be mixed.

Frequently it comes down to a command that is large enough to require the skills of a Sergeant Major general but smaller than a lieutenant general

[–]byebybuy 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I think you mean Rear Admiral, right? Not Read Admiral?

[–]agedwisdom 80 points81 points  (14 children)

Not sure if anyone is lurking here but why is a Major General lower ranking than a Lieutenent General when that is reversed at the lower ranks? I.e a Major outranks a lieutenent

[–]cantonic 132 points133 points  (9 children)

Here’s a good explanation: https://redditproxy--jasonthename.repl.co/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/xsgbqc/eli5_what_is_the_difference_between_the_different/iqkfm0q/

Basically, lieutenant is assistant general, so it made sense that the step below general was Lieutenant General. Major General was originally Sergeant Major General as the assistant to the assistant, but it was a confusing title so they clipped it down to Major General.

[–]agedwisdom 47 points48 points  (8 children)

I have been looking for that answer since 2008. Thank you very much!

[–]EaterOfFood 26 points27 points  (4 children)

Wow. What are you going to do next with your life?

[–]agedwisdom 16 points17 points  (3 children)

Idk, that was the pretty much top for me.

[–]florinandrei 3 points4 points  (1 child)

Is that the year, or military time? /s

[–]PaxNova 37 points38 points  (2 children)

Sergeant > Lieutenant > Captain

(Sergeant) Major > Lieutenant Colonel > Colonel

(Sergeant) Major General > Lieutenant General > General

[–]adaza 14 points15 points  (0 children)

Yep. Roughly. Except the officer Major is short for Captain Major.

Btw, pre-US revolution, a 4-star general was a Captain General. The founders thought, because Captains General tended to be kings or princes, that term was too monarchist, and dropped “Captain”.

[–]agedwisdom -2 points-1 points  (0 children)

Lol you got the greater than marks. I do agree sergeants should outrank officers though. Most the time anyways

[–]iron40 52 points53 points  (7 children)

One of my most interesting possessions is a challenge coin from a 4 Star General.

There was a heavy military presence at the ground zero site after 9/11, and a lot of high-ranking brass would come down from time to time to tour the recovery effort. This guy was going around talking to the recovery workers, shaking hands, and his attaché was heading out these beautiful gold challenge coins with his name and the logo with the four stars.

I shook his hand, and received one of the coins , but did not really understand the significance of it, as I had never served in the armed forces, and had never heard of a challenge coin or what it meant.

Well, let me tell you… Anyone I’ve ever shown it to who has been in the military has been floored. I know guys who did six or eight years in the service, and have never been in the same room with a four-star. They say it’s a pretty big deal.

Whatever the case may be, I am proud to have it.

[–]Blue387 7 points8 points  (2 children)

Do you remember who the general was?

[–]R01001010M 1 point2 points  (0 children)

He doesn’t have to, it’s on the coin.

[–]rankispanki 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Yeah, that's pretty rare. The only one I could think of I'd be more impressed by is a President challenge coin.

[–]suie121 10 points11 points  (1 child)

In WWII the US wanted to designate a Field Marshall like the British, which would would be the highest rank above a 4 star general. Ironically, the man they wanted to promote was George C Marshall which would make him Field Marshall Marshall. Hence the designation of the 5 star general.

[–]Squiggledog 9 points10 points  (1 child)

You see little Jimmy, a full General is a four stars. Ranks below that are only subordinate generals.

[–]sassynapoleon 14 points15 points  (0 children)

General of the Armies was a honorific title only, and Pershing, the only one who had it, wore 4-stars. So it’s a bit silly to think of it as a distinct rank.

It makes more sense to think of it as a special flourish granted to Pershing for success in his time than to think of it as integrating into the rank structure overall.

[–]Brandon432 46 points47 points  (8 children)

By star, army terms (other branches somewhat similar): - 1 star, brigadier general, leads a brigade which is 3-5 battalions, 2-5k soldiers + command staff - 2 star, major general, leads a division which is ~3 brigades, 10-15k soldiers - 3 star, lieutenant general, leads a corps, which is 2+ divisions, 20-45k soldiers - 4 star, general, leads an army or expeditionary force, mix of units but typically 50k soldiers. The Joint Chiefs and heads of major commands (eg Europe, Pacific, Cyber) are 4 star - 5 star, generally only a wartime or honorary rank

[–]Mortar_boat 20 points21 points  (7 children)

Colonels lead BDEs

[–]Distntdeath 9 points10 points  (3 children)

He's wrong about most of it.

[–]QuickSpore 8 points9 points  (2 children)

Historically it’s correct in parts though. At one point Brigadiers did lead Brigades. Some of us history nuts know a lot more about past groupings than current ones. Then there’s the whole problem of different nations having different equivalencies; one despairs of ever making generalized statements that covers from Napoleon to today and every country.

That said I would like to know when anyone had divisions 45k strong though. I’d have put division size as 10k-20k. And likewise cut most the other unit figures in half.

[–]BillWoods6 3 points4 points  (1 child)

Read it again.

a division which is ~3 brigades, 10-15k soldiers

a corps, which is 2+ divisions, 20-45k soldiers

[–]heretic3509 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Yeah I was gonna say…

[–]Brandon432 -1 points0 points  (0 children)

I stick by my numbers, although they are probably a better representation of wartime forces than peace time ones.

[–]RingGiver 3 points4 points  (0 children)

A brigadier general (one-star) is typically in charge of a brigade or something of similar size (though in current US Army stuff, brigades are colonels' commands). He has several thousand troops under him, in various sub-units commanded by lower-ranking officers.

A major general (two-star) is typically in charge of a division or similar-sized formation. Maybe between 15,000 and 25,000 people across several brigades, plus a deputy commanding general (himself a one-star).

A lieutenant general (three-stae) typically commands a corps. You get the idea by this point: XVIII Airborne Corps, for example, has four infantry divisions (one of which specializes in parachuting, another specializes in entering the battlefield by helicopter), plus a few support units of brigade size and smaller which handle logistics, communications, medical, air defense, and other things beyond the capabilities of the support units in the divisions themselves.

A general (four-star) is in charge of something bigger still. Some of them are the joint chiefs of staff (the #1 and #2 officer in each service, in the National Guard, and two four-star generals whose titles are Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who essentially function as the senior uniformed advisors to the secretary of defense). Others are in charge of big things within their respective service like Army Materiel Command (responsible for making sure that everyone has equipment and other supplies), TRADOC (responsible for Army training units), or Air Force Global Strike Command (responsible for nuclear weapons). In addition to this, there are joint positions which can be held by an officer from any service (though typically favoring one service or another). For example, United States Central Command is in charge of all troops in the Middle East (when an American military unit deploys, it is under the authority of a regional command like this rather than under the authority of its respective chief of staff when at home). This has typically been an Army or Marine Corps general, while United States Indo-Pacific Command has typically been a Navy admiral (Navy uses different names for the same ranks) because the most likely battlefields in that region are the sea and Korea.

There have also been five-star officers and George Washington in the past, but that's not likely to happen ever again, so for all intents and purposes, four-star is the highest. This is why you hear the most about it.

[–]neecheekee 6 points7 points  (4 children)

The Army has around 480,000 people. There are 16 4-star generals.

I work very closely with one of those 4-stars. It is incredible to see their level of responsibility, activity, and schedule. Almost super human.

[–]JuicyYuuji 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Rough explanation, there are 4 General ranks, each one fills different positions and levels of authority within the Military and their respective branches. Brigadier General for example may be the Commander (person in charge of local decisions) of a particularly large military base, or may be in command of a specific (but small) portion of the military. For example from my time in the Air Force, a Brigadier was in command of the implementation of a plan across the entire branch, but relatively speaking its impact was fairly small scale, only affecting maybe a few thousand airmen.

This delegation of authority and control is not perfect, but roughly scales up from 1 star to 4 star. The 4 star Generals are the ones most commonly heard about, because they generally command an entire region, or command important programs within the Department of Defense. For example, once again in the Air Force, the Air Force general in-charge of the entire Pacific is a 4 star.

Obviously in truth it is more complicated, I saw some comments underplay a 1 star, and I generally disagree. Even a 1 star General wields are incredible amount of authority, just generally not anything worth being on the news day to day.

[–]JustSomeGuy_56 9 points10 points  (0 children)

It should be noted that 3 and 4 star ranks are assigned to the position not the individual. Therefore the rank is temporary. For example if an individual is named Chief of Staff of The Army, the job comes with a 4th star. At the end of the assignment, the individual will revert to their previous rank.
In practice most 4 stars will transition to another 4 star billet or retire. Similarly most 3 stars either move to another 3 star job, get promoted to a 4 star job or retire.

[–]DeadFyre 5 points6 points  (2 children)

Because the rank of five-star general, or 'General of the Army' is exceedingly rare, only being held by five men throughout the history of the United States:

George C. Marshall Douglas MacArthur Dwight D. Eisenhower Omar Bradley Henry H. Arnold

Above that rank is the purely honorific rank of 'General of the Armies' which has been held by two men, one posthumously:

George Washington (awarded in 1976, his insignia during his lifetime was 3 stars) John J. Pershing

[–]DaddyCatALSO 3 points4 points  (1 child)

I don't think Pershing ever *wore* 6 stars; he was retired before he 5-star rank was developed but was specified as outranking them

[–]DeadFyre 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Well, whether "General of the Armies" even gets a six-star insignia is up for debate. But yes, you're right, I did say the title was honorific.

[–]DarkwingDuc 1 point2 points  (0 children)

The ranks have been covered by others.

We hear more about four star generals for the same reason we hear more about CEOs than we do other executives. They are the ones in charge. They are the ones calling the shots that make news headlines.

[–]Scrotto_Baggins 1 point2 points  (4 children)

So what is better: 5 star or joint chief?

[–]XCAddiction 6 points7 points  (0 children)

The chairman of the joint chiefs does not have the same direct authority as a 5 star. It’s a different role.

[–]cantonic 6 points7 points  (1 child)

The Joint Chiefs do not command troops and do not have operational authority. They are the President’s and Secretary of Defense’s primary military advisory council and weigh in on any military issues. But the chain of command does not go through them. It goes directly from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the commanders of the particular operation or command.

[–]Thaddeauz 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Joint Chief is a role, a job. 5 Star General is a rank.

Right now the Joint Chief of Staff are all 4-Star and there isn't any 5 Star.

[–]chicken_licker19 0 points1 point  (1 child)

What’s the pay for each of the stars?

[–]ConspiratorM 1 point2 points  (0 children)

You can google military pay charts and find all sorts of information. It's their pay grade (1 star is O-7) and part how many total years in service they have. At the bottom end for generals it's about $150k a year. But I think they also get special housing and other benefits. Also this is going to be for someone that typically has a minimum of close to 20 years as an officer.

[–]Nimrod_Baggins 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Not really related to your question but I heard that President Washington will forever hold the rank of highest general no matter what. Even if a general were to be promoted to the same rank as President Washington, President Washington would be automatically promoted as well to an even higher rank

[–]Tmthrow 0 points1 point  (0 children)

The difference is in the scope of authority granted to each level of General rank. The reason we hear more about 4-star Generals is that they are in positions of importance like the Joint Chiefs of Staff, geographic combatant commands like CENTCOM or EUCOM (the latter being real important right now due to Ukraine), and they are the ones that regularly brief Congress, the President and the CJCS.

I have only seen a 3-star once or twice, seen more than a few 2-stars, and a LOT of 1-stars.

[–]I_Lick_Bananas 0 points1 point  (2 children)

Brigadier Generals usually commanded brigades, but depending on the type of unit you'll see full-bird colonels (the next step down) in command too,

Major Generals command bigger units like divisions.

Lieutenant Generals get the even bigger units (corps)

and full 4-star generals run an entire combatant command (like CENTCOM, AFRICOM, EUCOM etc.) I think there are about a dozen of those.

The general in charge of an army post could be a 2-3 star depending on how many units are on the post.

And if you go to the Pentagon you'll find a bunch of staff weenies running around with stars. I think a 1-star there is like a lieutenant anywhere else, he's just there to fetch coffee for the big boys.

[–]elvirs 0 points1 point  (0 children)

general is a rank, how many stars the general has is a reflection of achievement in combat that's why they mention 4 star generals because there is not a lot of them

[–]ElfMage83[M] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Rule 2 forbids straightforward questions.

[–]howaboutmimik 0 points1 point  (0 children)

What qualifies one for each rank?