Major generals are classified as O-8 on the military pay scale, which means a salary ranging from about $8,500 to $13,000 per month, depending on years of service.
Major generals serve as commanders of divisions, which consist of 10,000 to 16,000 soldiers. They perform major tactical operations and conduct sustained battles and engagements. There are 10 divisions in the active Army and eight in the Reserves/National Guard. Two-star generals also serve as high-level officers at major commands and the Pentagon.
There are 99 major 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 major general, and the U.S. Senate must confirm the appointment. When a major 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. An Army major general must retire from the position 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, such as adultery, or infractions such as dereliction of duty. It is rare for general officers to be stripped of their stars; such a punishment is usually meted out only to those facing serious charges. For example, Maj. Gen. Samuel W. Koster, the most senior official implicated in the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, lost his rank.