Typically, this rank is not achieved before at least 20 years in the service.
An Air Force lieutenant general commands a large numbered air force consisting of several wings.
Wings are the basic organizational unit of the U.S. Air Force. Four or more squadrons make up a wing of 1,000 to 5,000 people in a single type of aircraft. There are currently 16 numbered air forces.
Lieutenant generals also serve as high-level staff officers at various major command headquarters and the Pentagon.
Promotions take place as vacancies occur within commissioned officer ranks. Boards composed of senior officers determine which candidates are promoted based on their service records. The Secretary of Defense convenes the selection boards every year to make decisions for ranks higher than O-2 (first lieutenant). Most senior officer promotions also require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
In addition to achievement, promotions are dictated by the number of years of service and how many positions are open in each pay grade.
There were only 38 active-duty lieutenant generals, including one woman, in the U.S. Air Force in September 2005. Fewer than 0.5 percent of commissioned officers make it to the top three ranks.
The president nominates officers for the rank of lieutenant general, and the U.S. Senate must confirm the appointment. When a lieutenant general retires or loses the rank for some other reason, the president suggests a replacement to be promoted from the list of nominees. The mandatory retirement age is 62, but it can be pushed to 64 in some cases.
The title of lieutenant general in the U.S. military was first bestowed in more than a ceremonial manner on Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War.
Demotion can result from conduct unbecoming an officer.