5 Stars?

DB Grady, writing at The Atlantic, proposes promoting GEN David Petraeus to 5 star rank:

For that reason, and because President Obama has recommitted this nation to war in Afghanistan and the continued campaign in Iraq, General Petraeus should be promoted to General of the Army, and given a fifth star.

He would be the first man to hold that rank since the revered Omar Bradley in 1950. It would require authorization by the president and confirmation by the Senate. In practice it wouldn’t change the job of General Petraeus. But it would not only show that President Obama believes in Petraeus — that he’s not simply throwing America’s best general into the arena for political expediency — but would also reassure soldiers and civilians alike that this White House expects this man to win. This man’s plan to work.

Um… how can I put this politely?


There’s currently about 95,000 troops in A-stan. Let’s call it the functional equivalent of a field army ( a field army is the higher headquarters of two or more corps in a theater). By all rights, that should be a 3-star job. Heck, Bradley fought almost all of the war in Europe as a LTG (3-stars), and was only promoted to GEN at the very end of the campaign, in spite of commanding a force larger than today’s US Army. Indeed, the only real reason Bradley received a 5th star was to ensure that as Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff he outranked MacArthur, his subordinate in the Far East commanding the troops in Korea.

Normally, the 4-star commander would be CENTCOM, the combatant commander for the region. But due to the fact that CENTCOM is fighting two different wars in its area of responsibility, the US has taken the unusual step of appointing two intermediate theater commanders, one for Afghanistan, and one for Iraq, as the immediate subordinates for CENTCOM. Promoting Petraeus to General of the Army would be a serious case of grade inflation.

Further, one of the problems the services all face right now is grade inflation across the board. There have been increasing numbers of general and flag officers for the services since World War II, despite the fact that the services have shrunk to a fraction of their former size.

It was one thing to have 5-star generals (and admirals) when the armed forces were almost 10% of the population. But today’s army is less then 10% of the size it was in WWII. If I were in charge, there’d only be two 4-stars in each service. And none of the combatant commanders, with the possible exception of PACOM, would be 4 star billets.  I’d also probably bump back corps command to a two-star billet. And you wouldn’t believe the number of GO/FO slots on the institutional side I’d get rid of. Given that there’s only 10 division equivalents in the active force, I can’t really think of any reason we need more than about 20 Major Generals.

Mind you, I don’t want anyone to think this is any criticism of GEN Petraeus. It isn’t. But the bureaucratic bloat in the services is getting to be as bad as any other department of the government, and promoting officers to ever higher levels for no good reason isn’t going to help that situation.

8 thoughts on “5 Stars?”

  1. I agree.
    There would be far far fewer admirals than ships we have in the navy. As a matter of fact I would limit admirals to 10% of the amount of ships that we have. I bet that would increase the number of ships in the navy. (here is betting wellcraft would be getting shipbuilding contracts) (Bastids!)

  2. I agree with your comments, in general (pun intended). But Omar Bradley did NOT outrank MacArthur. Mac was appointed General of the Army (I think that’s the official rank) with his fifth star in 1944 if I recall correctly.

    The major reason to go to the five star rank was because Churchill was insistant on appointing Montgomery as Field Marshal which would have made him outrank Eisenhower. That would hardly do politically, so Eisenhower had to be promoted. But if he were promoted he would outrank George Marshall, his boss. So deals were cut to give Marshall, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Leahy, King, Nimitz, Halsey and Arnold with dates of rank in December of 44.

  3. While Mac had Bradley beat by date of rank, Bradley was senior by reason of his position in the chain of command (the legalities of the CoC were a little different under the original National Security Act of 1947 than they are now under Goldwater-Nichols. )

    In effect, Bradley was promoted to General of the Army for the same reason that Ike and all the others were.

    Incidentally, there was great discussion over what to call the 5-star rank. It was finally decided to name it General of the Army, which was a bit of a notch lower than General of the Armies, which was Pershing’s final rank.

    1. Story I heard was that George Marshall said no way he’d be referred to as Field Marshall Marshall.

  4. Butch, that reminds me of Grame Edge’s girlfriend (Edge is drummer for the Moody Blues). Her name is Susan and she won’t marry him because she refuses to be called Sue Edge.

    They can’t make Petraeus a Field Marshall because they would have to promote everyone above him.

    Brad, also right about their being to many GOFOs. The military has GOFOs today where they had LTCs and Cols in WW2. The military is ridiculously top heavy these days. Mattis deserves it. But people like Mullin and Roughead would command waste oil barges in 1945. IF they got that high.

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