Major generals are classified as O-8 on the military pay scale, which means a salary ranging from $8,270 to $11,349 per month, depending on years of service. It is possible to achieve the rank of major general with less than two years of service.
Major generals serve as vice commanders of numbered air forces 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.
Two-star generals also serve as high-level staff officers at major commands and the Pentagon. The national commander of the Civil Air Patrol, an organization of about 60,000 also known as the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, is a major general.
Promotions occur as vacancies open within the ranks of commissioned officers. 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 number of years in service and how many positions are open in each pay grade.
There were 86 active-duty major generals in the U.S. Air Force, including five women, 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 that 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. A major general must retire five years after being promoted to that rank or after 35 years of service, whichever comes first.
Demotions can result from conduct unbecoming an officer.