A Marine Corps lieutenant general, equal in rank to an Army or Air Force lieutenant general or a naval vice admiral, wears three five-pointed silver stars on their uniform to indicate their rank. A lieutenant general ranks between a major general and a full general and is referred to conversationally as “general.”
Commissioned in writing by the president, flag officers are sometimes compared to top corporate executives in terms of their level of responsibility and authority.
The Corps’ revered Lt. Gen. John A. Lejeune, whose service spanned 40-plus years, was major general commandant of the Marine Corps from 1920 until his retirement in 1929, and he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general on the Marine Corps retired list shortly before his death in 1942. The Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune in North Carolina was named in his honor.
Another well-known lieutenant general from a different branch of service was George Washington, who became the first in the nation to wear three stars as a three-star Army general in 1798. Following his death in 1799 there was not another lieutenant general until Winfield Scott in 1855 and then Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 — both in the Army.
U.S. law specifically limits the total number of flag officers on active duty at any given time, with different quotas for each branch of service. The total number of active-duty flag officers is capped at 80 for the Marine Corps, with three slots allocated to four-star generals, about a dozen for three-star generals, two dozen for two-star generals and around 40 for one-star generals.
The Corps’ promotion system is based on service record strength, but it’s also vacancy-driven and for flag officers is a highly political process. Each year, promotion planners anticipate the need for officers in each grade. This selections board then recommends officers to the president, who will choose from this list whenever a vacancy occurs in the appropriate rank due to another officer’s promotion or retirement. The president makes this decision with input from the secretary of defense and others, and the Senate must then confirm the president’s pick.
Officers recommended for promotion will have their service records thoroughly analyzed and be vetted both professionally and for strength of character before they are deemed qualified by the selections board.
By virtue of their O-9 pay grade, lieutenant generals with 20 years invested earn $11,946 per month, while those with more than 38 years in service are paid $14,819 per month.