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Major (United States)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Space Force insignia of the rank of Major. Style and method of wear vary between the services.
Shoulder boards
CountryUnited States
Service branch
AbbreviationMAJ (Army)
Rank groupField officer
NATO rank codeOF-3
Pay gradeO-4
Next higher rankLieutenant colonel
Next lower rankCaptain
Equivalent ranksLieutenant commander (U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard)

In the United States Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Force, major is a field officer above the rank of captain and below the rank of lieutenant colonel. It is equivalent to the naval rank of lieutenant commander in the other uniformed services. Although lieutenant commanders are considered junior officers by their services (Navy and Coast Guard), the rank of major is that of a senior officer in the United States Army, the United States Marine Corps, and the United States Air Force.

The pay grade for the rank of major is O-4. The insignia for the rank consists of a golden oak leaf, with slight stylized differences between the Army/Air Force version and the Marine Corps version. Promotion to major is governed by the Department of Defense policies derived from the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act of 1980.

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On October 4, 1957, the world watched in awe and fear as the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first man-made satellite, into space. This little metal ball, smaller than two feet in diameter, launched a space race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. that would last for eighteen years and change the world as we know it. Sputnik was actually not the first piece of human technology to enter space. That superlative goes to the V-2 rocket used by Germany in missile attacks against Allied cities as a last-ditch effort in the final years of World War II. It wasn't very effective, but, at the end of the war, both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. had captured the technology and the scientists that had developed it and began using them for their own projects. And by August 1957, the Soviet's successfully tested the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7, the same rocket that would be used to launch Sputnik two months later. So, the scary thing about Sputnik was not the orbiting ball itself, but the fact that the same technology could be used to launch a nuclear warhead at any city. Not wanting to fall too far behind, President Eisenhower ordered the Navy to speed up its own project and launch a satellite as soon as possible. So, on December 6, 1957, excited people across the nation tuned in to watch the live broadcast as the Vanguard TV3 satellite took off and crashed to the ground two seconds later. The Vanguard failure was a huge embarassment for the United States. Newspapers printed headlines like, "Flopnik" and "Kaputnik." And a Soviet delegate at the U.N. mockingly suggested that the U.S. should receive foreign aid for developing nations. Fortunately, the Army had been working on their own parallel project, The Explorer, which was successfully launched in January 1958, but the U.S. had barely managed to catch up before they were surpassed again as Yuri Gargarin became the first man in space in April 1961. Almost a year passed and several more Soviet astronauts completed their missions before Project Mercury succeeded in making John Glenn the first American in orbit in February 1962. By this time, President Kennedy had realized that simply catching up to each Soviet advance a few months later wasn't going to cut it. The U.S. had to do something first, and in May 1961, a month after Gargarin's flight, he announced the goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. They succeeded in this through the Apollo program with Neil Armstrong taking his famous step on July 20, 1969. With both countries' next turning their attention to orbital space stations, there's no telling how much longer the space race could have gone on. But because of improving relations negotiated by Soviet Premier Leonid Breshnev and U.S. President Nixon, the U.S.S.R. and U.S. moved toward cooperation rather than competition. The successful joint mission, known as Apollo-Soyuz, in which an American Apollo spacecraft docked with a Soviet Soyuz craft and the two crews met, shook hands, and exchanged gifts, marked the end of the space race in 1975. So, in the end, what was the point of this whole space race? Was it just a massive waste of time? Two major superpowers trying to outdo each other by pursuing symbolic projects that were both dangerous and expensive, using resources that could have been better spent elsewhere? Well, sure, sort of, but the biggest benefits of the space program had nothing to do with one country beating another. During the space race, funding for research and education, in general, increased dramatically, leading to many advances that may not have otherwise been made. Many NASA technologies developed for space are now widely used in civilian life, from memory foam in mattresses to freeze-dried food, to LEDs in cancer treatment. And, of course, the satellites that we rely on for our GPS and mobile phone signals would not have been there without the space program. All of which goes to show that the rewards of scientific research and advancement are often far more vast than even the people pursuing them can imagine.


A major in the U.S. Army typically serves as a battalion executive officer (XO) or as the battalion operations officer (S3). Majors can also serve as Company Commanding Officers, a major can also serve as a primary staff officer for a regiment, brigade or task force in the areas concerning personnel, logistics, intelligence, and operations. A major will also be a staff officer / action officer on higher staffs and headquarters. In addition, majors command augmented companies in Combat Service and Service Support units. U.S. Army majors also command Special operations companies, such as U.S. Army Special Forces companies, Civil Affairs companies, Military Information Support Operations companies, and certain types of separate, numbered vice lettered, Military Intelligence companies.

Selected majors in the United States Army attend the 10-month Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, with a greater number attending satellite schools administered by Fort Leavenworth at Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.[1] 960 graduated from the Leavenworth course in 2009, at the time the largest class in Army history.[2]

American Revolution

The Continental Army mostly followed the organization and rank structure of the British Army. A regiment consisted of eight companies with three officers (a captain, lieutenant and ensign) and about 60 enlisted men each. The field-grade officers of a regiment were the colonel, the lieutenant colonel and a major. The major was the regiment's third in command and, at least in theory, would command one of the regiment's two battalions if the regiment were divided for tactical purposes.

American Civil War

U.S. Army major rank insignia during the 1860s

During the American Civil War the Union Army continued to use the existing titles of rank and rank insignia established for the U.S. Army. After the Southern states seceded and became the Confederacy, the Confederate army retained the same titles of rank as its U.S. counterpart, but developed a new system of rank identification and insignia for its officers.

While U.S. officers continued to wear their rank insignia on their shoulder straps, Confederate officers wore their rank insignia on the collar (one, two, or three horizontal gold bars for lieutenants and captains; one, two, or three gold stars for field grade officers; and three gold stars surrounded by a wreath for all general officers), as well as rows of gold lace forming an Austrian knot pattern on each sleeve. The number of rows of gold lace increased with the rank of the officer.

Post-Civil War

1957 to 2015 U.S. Army major rank insignia

In the late 1800s the US Army changed from the traditional ten-company regiment to one of twelve companies organized into three four-company battalions, each commanded by a major. Prior to World War II, battalion commanders became lieutenant colonels. The basic regimental organization remained standard until after the Korean War, when regiments with organic battalions were no longer used as tactical units. Battalions attached to brigades replaced the regiment. Battalions commanded by lieutenant colonels became the US Army's basic tactical unit. As a result, there were only a limited number of command positions for majors although Medical, Special Forces and Aviation companies are usually commanded by majors.

Marine Corps

Air Force

A major in the Air Force typically has duties as a senior staff officer at the squadron and wing level. In flying squadrons majors are generally flight commanders or assistant directors of operations. In the mission support and maintenance groups majors may occasionally be squadron commanders. In the medical corps, a major may be the head of a clinic or flight.

Space Force

A major in the Space Force typically has duties as a senior staff officer at the squadron and delta levels.



  1. ^ CGSC (5 January 2011). "About the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College". Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  2. ^ Bower, Melissa (18 June 2009). "Largest CGSC-ILEAca,!E+class graduates". United States Army. Retrieved 11 August 2013.

External links

This page was last edited on 29 October 2023, at 14:41
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