Admiral (United States)

Admiral (United States)

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In the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

, the United States Coast Guard
United States Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven U.S. uniformed services. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency...

 and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, admiral (ADM) is a four-star flag officer
Flag Officer
A flag officer is a commissioned officer in a nation's armed forces senior enough to be entitled to fly a flag to mark where the officer exercises command. The term usually refers to the senior officers in an English-speaking nation's navy, specifically those who hold any of the admiral ranks; in...

 rank, with the pay grade of O-10. Admiral ranks above vice admiral
Vice admiral (United States)
In the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, and the United States Maritime Service, vice admiral is a three-star flag officer, with the pay grade of...

 and below Fleet Admiral in the Navy; the Coast Guard and the Public Health Service do not have an established grade above admiral. Admiral is equivalent to the rank of general
General (United States)
In the United States Army, United States Air Force, and United States Marine Corps, general is a four-star general officer rank, with the pay grade of O-10. General ranks above lieutenant general and below General of the Army or General of the Air Force; the Marine Corps does not have an...

 in the other uniformed services
Uniformed services of the United States
The United States has seven federal uniformed services that commission officers as defined by Title 10, and subsequently structured and organized by Title 10, Title 14, Title 33 and Title 42 of the United States Code.-Uniformed services:...

. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, historically to date, has never had an officer hold the grade of admiral. However, of the U.S. Code
United States Code
The Code of Laws of the United States of America is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States...

 establishes the grade for the NOAA Corps in the case a position is created, temporarily or indefinitely, that merits the four-star grade.

Since the five-star grade of Fleet Admiral is reserved for war-time use only, the grade of admiral is considered to be the highest appointment an officer can achieve in these three services.

History


The United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 did not have any admirals until 1862 because many people felt the title too reminiscent of royalty, such as the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

, to be used in the country's navy. Others saw the need for ranks above Captain, among them John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones was a Scottish sailor and the United States' first well-known naval fighter in the American Revolutionary War. Although he made enemies among America's political elites, his actions in British waters during the Revolution earned him an international reputation which persists to...

, who pointed out that the Navy had to have officers who "ranked" with Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 generals. He also felt there must be ranks above captain to avoid disputes among senior captains. The various secretaries of the Navy repeatedly recommended to Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 that admiral ranks be created because the other navies of the world used them and American senior officers were "often subjected to serious difficulties and embarrassments in the interchange of civilities with those of other nations." Congress finally authorized nine rear admirals
Rear admiral (United States)
Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. The uniformed services of the United States are unique in having two grades of rear admirals.- Rear admiral :...

 on July 16, 1862, although that was probably more for the needs of the rapidly expanding Navy during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 than any international considerations. Two years later Congress authorized the appointment of a vice admiral from among the nine rear admirals: David Farragut
David Farragut
David Glasgow Farragut was a flag officer of the United States Navy during the American Civil War. He was the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the United States Navy. He is remembered in popular culture for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay, usually paraphrased: "Damn the...

. Another bill allowed the President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 to appoint Farragut to admiral on July 25, 1866, and David Dixon Porter
David Dixon Porter
David Dixon Porter was a member of one of the most distinguished families in the history of the United States Navy. Promoted as the second man to the rank of admiral, after his adoptive brother David G...

 to vice admiral. When Farragut died in 1870, Porter became admiral and Stephen C. Rowan was promoted to vice admiral. Even after they died, Congress did not allow the promotion of any of the rear admirals to succeed them, so there were no more admirals or vice admirals by promotion until 1915 when Congress authorized an admiral and a vice admiral each for the Atlantic, Pacific and Asiatic fleets.

There was one admiral in the interim, however. In 1899, Congress recognized George Dewey
George Dewey
George Dewey was an admiral of the United States Navy. He is best known for his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War...

's accomplishments during the Spanish-American War
Spanish-American War
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence...

 by authorizing the President to appoint him Admiral of the Navy
Admiral of the Navy (United States)
Admiral of the Navy is a rank in the United States Navy that has only been held once in history, by George Dewey. In recognition of his victory at Manila Bay in 1898, Congress authorized a single officer to hold the rank of Admiral, and promoted Dewey to this rank in March 1899...

. He held that rank until he died in 1917. Nobody has since held that title. In 1944, Congress approved the five-star grade of Fleet Admiral. The first to hold it were William D. Leahy
William D. Leahy
Fleet Admiral William Daniel Leahy was an American naval officer, building his reputation through administration and staff work. As Chief of Naval Operations he was the senior officer in Navy, overseeing the preparations for war. After retiring from the Navy he was appointed by his close friend...

, Ernest J. King, and Chester W. Nimitz
Chester Nimitz
Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz, GCB, USN was a five-star admiral in the United States Navy. He held the dual command of Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet , for U.S. naval forces and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas , for U.S...

. The Senate confirmed their appointments December 15, 1944. The fourth Fleet Admiral, William F. Halsey, got his fifth star in December 1945. None has been appointed since.

The sleeve stripes now used by admirals and vice admirals in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 date from March 11, 1869, when the Secretary of the Navy's General Order Number 90 specified that for their "undress" uniforms admirals would wear a two-inch stripe with three half-inch stripes above it and vice admirals the two-inch stripe with two half-inch stripes above it. The rear admiral got his two-inch stripe and one half-inch stripe in 1866.

The sleeve stripes had been more elaborate. When the rear admiral rank started in 1862 the sleeve arrangement was three stripes of three-quarter-inch lace alternating with three stripes of quarter-inch lace. It was some ten inches from top to bottom. The vice admiral, of course, had even more stripes and when Farragut became admiral in 1866, he had so many stripes they reached from his cuffs almost to his elbow. On their dress uniforms the admirals wore bands of gold embroidery of live oak leaves and acorns.

The admirals of the 1860s wore the same number of stars on their shoulders as admirals of corresponding grades do today. In 1899, the Navy's one admiral (Dewey) and 18 rear admirals put on the new shoulder marks, as did the other officers when wearing their white uniforms, but kept their stars instead of repeating the sleeve cuff stripes.

During the 20th century, the ranks of the modern U.S. Admiralty were firmly established. An oddity that did exist was that the Navy did not have a one-star rank except briefly during the Second World War when Congress established a temporary war rank of commodore. The one-star rank was later established permanently in 1986.

Statutory limits


U.S. Code of law explicitly limits the total number of four-star admirals that may be on active duty at any given time. The total number of active duty flag officers is capped at 160 for the Navy. For the Army, Navy, and Air Force, no more than about 25% of the service's active duty general or flag officers may have more than two stars, and statute sets the total number of four-star officers allowed in each service. This is set at 6 four-star Navy admirals.

Some of these slots are reserved by statute. For the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations
Chief of Naval Operations
The Chief of Naval Operations is a statutory office held by a four-star admiral in the United States Navy, and is the most senior uniformed officer assigned to serve in the Department of the Navy. The office is a military adviser and deputy to the Secretary of the Navy...

 and the Vice Chief of Naval Operations
Vice Chief of Naval Operations
The Vice Chief of Naval Operations is the second highest ranking officer in the United States Navy. In the event that the Chief of Naval Operations is absent or is unable to perform his duties, the VCNO assumes the duties and responsibilities of the CNO. The VCNO may also perform other duties...

 are both admirals. In addition, the Commandant of the Coast Guard
Commandant of the Coast Guard
The Commandant of the United States Coast Guard is the highest ranking member of the United States Coast Guard. The Commandant is normally the only four-star Admiral in the Coast Guard and is appointed for a four-year term by the President of the United States upon confirmation by the United...

  is an admiral; for the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the Assistant Secretary for Health  is an admiral if he or she holds an appointment to the regular corps.

There are several exceptions to these limits allowing more than allotted within the statute. A navy admiral serving as Chairman
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is by law the highest ranking military officer in the United States Armed Forces, and is the principal military adviser to the President of the United States, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council and the Secretary of Defense...

 or Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is by law the second highest ranking military officer in the United States Armed Forces ranking just below the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff...

 does not count against the navy's flag officer cap. A navy admiral serving in one of several joint positions does not count against his service's four-star limit; these positions include the commander of a unified combatant command
Unified Combatant Command
A Unified Combatant Command is a United States Department of Defense command that is composed of forces from at least two Military Departments and has a broad and continuing mission. These commands are established to provide effective command and control of U.S. military forces, regardless of...

, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea
United States Forces Korea
United States Forces Korea refers to the ground, air and naval divisions of the United States armed forces stationed in South Korea....

, and the deputy commander of U.S. European Command
United States European Command
The United States European Command is one of ten Unified Combatant Commands of the United States military, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. Its area of focus covers and 51 countries and territories, including Europe, Russia, Iceland, Greenland, and Israel...

 but only if the commander of that command is also the Supreme Allied Commander
Supreme Allied Commander
Supreme Allied Commander is the title held by the most senior commander within certain multinational military alliances. It originated as a term used by the Western Allies during World War II, and is currently used only within NATO. Dwight Eisenhower served as Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary...

, Europe. Officers serving in certain intelligence positions are not counted against either limit, including the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency serves as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, which is part of the United States Intelligence Community. The Director reports to the Director of National Intelligence . The Director is assisted by the Deputy Director of the Central...

. The President may also add admirals to the navy if they are offset by removing an equivalent number of four stars from other services. Finally, all statutory limits may be waived at the President's discretion during time of war or national emergency.

Appointment and tour length


Four-star grades go hand-in-hand with the positions of office they are linked to, so these ranks are temporary. Officers may only achieve four-star grade if they are appointed to positions that require the officer to hold such a rank. Their rank expires with the expiration of their term of office, which is usually set by statute. Admirals are nominated for appointment by the President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 from any eligible officers holding the rank of rear admiral (lower half) or above, whom also meets the requirements for the position, under the advice and/or suggestion of their respective department secretary, service secretary, and if applicable the joint chiefs. For some specific positions, statute allows the President to waive those requirements for a nominee whom he deems would serve national interests. The nominee must be confirmed via majority vote by the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 before the appointee can take office and thus assume the rank. The standard tour length for most four-star positions is three years, bundled as a two-year term plus a one-year extension, with the following exceptions:
  • The Chief of Naval Operations
    Chief of Naval Operations
    The Chief of Naval Operations is a statutory office held by a four-star admiral in the United States Navy, and is the most senior uniformed officer assigned to serve in the Department of the Navy. The office is a military adviser and deputy to the Secretary of the Navy...

     serves for four years in one four-year term.
  • The Vice Chief of Naval Operations
    Vice Chief of Naval Operations
    The Vice Chief of Naval Operations is the second highest ranking officer in the United States Navy. In the event that the Chief of Naval Operations is absent or is unable to perform his duties, the VCNO assumes the duties and responsibilities of the CNO. The VCNO may also perform other duties...

     serves for a nominal four years, but is commonly reassigned after one or two years.
  • The Director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion serves for a nominal eight years.
  • The Commandant of the Coast Guard
    Commandant of the Coast Guard
    The Commandant of the United States Coast Guard is the highest ranking member of the United States Coast Guard. The Commandant is normally the only four-star Admiral in the Coast Guard and is appointed for a four-year term by the President of the United States upon confirmation by the United...

     serves for a nominal four years.
  • The Assistant Secretary for Health is a civilian appointee or a current serving member of the PHSCC who serves for a nominal four years at the pleasure of the President.


Note: Extensions of the standard tour length can be approved, within statutory limits, by their respective service secretaries, the Secretary of Defense, the President, and/or Congress but these are rare, as they block other officers from being promoted. Some statutory limits under the U.S. Code can be waived in times of national emergency or war. Admiral ranks may also be given by act of Congress but this is extremely rare.

Retirement


Other than voluntary retirement, statute sets a number of mandates for retirement. Four-star officers must retire after 40 years of service unless he or she is reappointed to grade to serve longer. Otherwise all flag officers must retire the month after their 64th birthday. However, the Secretary of Defense can defer a four-star officer's retirement until the officer's 66th birthday and the President can defer it until the officer's 68th birthday.

Flag officers typically retire well in advance of the statutory age and service limits, so as not to impede the upward career mobility of their juniors. Since there is a limited number of four-star slots available to each service, typically one officer must leave office before another can be promoted. Maintaining a four-star rank is a game of musical chairs; once an officer vacates a position bearing that rank, he or she has no more than 60 days to be appointed or reappointed to a position of equal importance before he or she must involuntarily retire. Historically, officers leaving four-star positions were allowed to revert to their permanent two-star ranks to mark time in lesser jobs until statutory retirement, but now such officers are expected to retire immediately to avoid obstructing the promotion flow.

See also