What Is The Highest rank in the Army?


Understanding military ranks is like decoding a complex system—a vast hierarchy that dictates authority, responsibility, and an individual's place within the organization. For service members, veterans and those with a keen interest in the military, the pursuit for knowledge doesn't just end with understanding this structure; it often circles back to a simple, yet commonly asked question—what is the highest rank in the Army?

This blog post was written to provide not just the answer to this question but to also unravel the meaning and responsibilities associated with this pinnacle of military rank, while also addressing underlying queries that often accompany this topic.

What Does "Highest Rank" Mean in the Military?

Prior to revealing the highest rank in the Army, it’s important to first contextualize what "highest" truly means within this particular institution. Unlike many other professional settings, military ranks are not determined solely by skill, experience, or meritocracy—though these are important factors. Instead, they are intricately woven into the fabric of the military's tradition, reflecting a wide spectrum of qualities and achievements, such as leadership, knowledge, training, and service length.

The highest rank in the Army is not merely a personal accolade that is worn or another title to add to a resume; it embodies a lifetime of dedication and commitment to the country, as well as the core values of the military.

Determining the Apex Rank

In the U.S. Army, the highest attainable rank is General of the Army. This rank has only been held by a few individuals in the history of the United States, all of whom have made remarkable contributions to the nation and demonstrated unparalleled leadership. To reach the rank of General of the Army, a soldier must have served in a position of significant leadership, displaying the kind of strategic thinking and vision that is characteristic of those who achieve this rare distinction.

Those who were generals of the Army wore five stars on their uniform. Individuals like Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur were generals of the Army. The rank of General of the Army has had two incarnations. The first was introduced following the Civil War and the rank was held by Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan. The second time the General of the Army rank was revived was during World War II and five men held the rank including those previously mentioned and George C. Marshall, Henry H. Arnold, and Omar Bradley.

A special rank of General of the Armies, which ranks above general of the Army, exists, but has been conferred only three times to John J. Pershing in 1919, and posthumously to George Washington in 1976. In December 2022, Ulysses S. Grant was posthumously promoted to the rank, 137 years after his death

Responsibilities of a General of the Army

A General of the Army is the highest possible rank in the U.S. Army. Those who achieve this rank have reached a position of authority that few others will experience. They are charged with leading the entire branch of the Army and, by extension, play a crucial role in the nation's defense and military strategy. Generals of the Army are often key figures in shaping policy, advising government officials, and overseeing the welfare of the entire military community.

The Path to the Top

Climbing the ranks in the military is a rigorous and demanding process. Individuals must demonstrate excellence at each stage of their career, embodying the core values of their respective service. They must also continually seek out opportunities for growth and development, whether through advanced education, specialized training, or practical experience in their chosen field.

It is important to note that the five-star, General of the Army rank has not been used since the Korean War. Feeling that the Army did not need the rank of five-star general, the Army discontinued promoting people to this rank, however, it is still a part of the rank structure although it is not used.

The rank of General, or four-star general, is today’s highest rank in the Army. There are about 15 four-star generals in the U.S. Army.

Who’s really on top?

To confuse things even more, the U.S. Army has positions that are equal in rank, however, the positions are structured in such a way that four-star generals can out rank each other. How? Consider that each branch of service is led by a four-star general, including the Army. Now, the chairman of the joint chiefs is also a four-star general, but the highest rank in the Army, the Army’s chief of staff, works as part of a team under the guidance of the chairman of the joint chiefs, which is also a four-star general.

Add to that the fact that an Army corps commander is a four-star general, but he is the same rank as the chairman of the joint chiefs and also the chief of staff of the Army, two positions which are “higher” in levels of responsibility and authority. Some four-star generals out rank their peers because of the position they occupy. As mentioned, a four-star who is the Army’s chief of staff is subordinate to the chairman of the joint chiefs.

A Lasting Impression

The rank of General of the Army leaves an indelible mark on the history and future of the U.S. Army. Those who aspire to such heights—and those who study the path of those who have already reached them—understand the gravity of this achievement. It is not only about the recognition of an individual’s accomplishments but also the collective efforts of countless soldiers, each playing a vital role in the success of the army as a whole.

In closing, for veterans and those currently serving, the inquiry into the highest rank in the Army is not merely a matter of semantics; it is a question that unveils the heart of the military's structure and the values around which this institution revolves.

For those who have dedicated their lives to the service of their country, the true highest rank is the one that is conferred by their peers and followers—a rank grounded in respect, honor, and trust, and one that is earned through a lifetime of service and dedication to a cause greater than themselves.

The highest rank in the Army currently is General (four stars), but the Army has the capacity, if needed, to bring back the rank of General of the Army (five stars). Therefore, four-star general is the highest rank in the Army and the highest rank in the Army is the chief of staff of the Army, but it can also be the chairman of the joint chiefs if that billet is held by an Army general, which currently, it is not.

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.