Typically, this rank is not achieved before 20 years in the service.
Army lieutenant generals command units of 20,000 to 40,000 soldiers, called corps, that provide the framework for multinational operations. There are four corps in the active Army. Three have headquarters in the continental United States: I Corps, known as America’s Corps, at Fort Lewis in Washington state; III Corps, known as the Phantom Corps, at Fort Hood in Texas; and the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The fourth corps, the V Corps, serves the European Command from Hiedelberg, Germany.
Lieutenant generals also serve as high-level officers at the Pentagon.
President George W. Bush named a lieutenant general to the newly created position of war czar in May 2007. Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute accepted the position -- reporting directly to the president and responsible for overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- after several retired generals demurred.
There are only 43 lieutenant generals on active duty in the U.S. Army. Fewer than one-half percent of commissioned officers make it to the top three ranks.
Promotions occur as vacancies open up within commissioned-officer ranks. Boards composed of senior officers determine which officers are promoted based on achievement, years of service and number of open positions. The Secretary of Defense convenes the selection boards every year to make decisions for ranks higher than O-2 (first lieutenant).
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 from a 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. Army was bestowed for the first time in more than a ceremonial manner on Ulysses S. Grant, during the Civil War.
Army lieutenant generals have been demoted in the past for a range of infractions, including adultery or misuse of government funds. Lt. Gen. Walter Campbell Short, the commander of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was demoted for dereliction of duty within days of the Japanese attack there on Dec. 7, 1941.
There are allegations that some demotions have been politically motivated. In 2005, for instance, Lt. Gen. John Riggs was forced to retire and demoted to major general because, according to the Pentagon, he allowed outside contractors to perform unauthorized work. However, critics of the demotion claimed Riggs was being punished for publicly stating -- in contradiction to official Washington pronouncements -- that more ground troops were needed in Iraq.