Officers within the O-7 to O-10 range are considered “flag officers,” a status attained by fewer than 1 percent of career officers. Anyone eligible for the rank of major general must have at least two years in the service. The role of the major general is as commander of division-sized combat units.
Major generals are also referred to as two-star generals due to the two five-pointed silver stars they wear on their uniforms to indicate their rank. A major general is referred to conversationally as “general.”
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.
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-8 pay grade, major generals with two years invested earn $8,730 per month, those with 20 years earn $11,319 per month and those with more than 38 years in service are paid $12,186 per month.