A Major General is a commissioned officer who ranks above a Brigadier General, and below a Lieutenant General. Numerous militaries around the world have a Major General rank among their general officers, with the naval equivalent being a Rear Admiral. The NATO ranking for Major Generals is OF-7. In regions where the rank of Brigadier General does not exist, the Major General is the lowest ranking general officer.
This military rank has its roots in the position of Sergeant Major General, which began to be phased out around the 17th century. Like other general officers, Major Generals must work their way up into this position, demonstrating exemplary performance and routinely meeting military standards during career reviews. As a general rule, only career officers reach the rank of Major General, because it requires years of service and commitment to military ideals. Because commissioned officers represent their nation and the President, they are expected to conform to very high standards of conduct whether they are in uniform or not.
Major Generals generally bear two stars on their uniform insignia, although various designs and insignia are used around the world. In the United States, Major Generals are at pay grade O8, and they are commissioned by the President and confirmed by the Senate, like other commissioned officers. Major Generals can work in a variety of settings, providing their expertise on the battlefield and in consultations about military policy and the future direction of the military.
In written communications, this rank may be abbreviated as Maj. Gen. for convenience. A Major General is usually addressed in person as “Major General Lastname,” unless someone is invited to do otherwise, and lower ranks are expected to salute Major Generals when they encounter them. While civilians are not required to render military salutes, they are expected to treat commissioned officers with respect and courtesy, and to give them priority in social introductions and seating arrangements, just as they would to people of high social rank.
Historically, the general ranks of armies around the world are filled by men, and these men are usually members of the dominant racial group in the nation they serve. In the United States, for example, a female or non-white Major General is a very unusual sight. Many militaries have made an active effort to promote diversity and to encourage women and ethnic or racial minorities to consider military service, but it is difficult to shake entrenched traditions.