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In all other Star Trek series the chief engineer is a Lieutenant or higher

Lieutenant commander Montgomery Scott
Lieutenant commander Geordi La Forge
Lieutenant junior grade B'Elanna Torres
Commander Charles Tucker

And yet in DS9; a huge installation, the most senior engineer is a Senior Chief Petty Officer, seemingly outranked by everyone, even Nog once he stops being a cadet and receives the rank of ensign.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Miles O'Brien

Why is this? I know that O'Brien's rank is a little unclear through 'The Next Generation' but by the time he arrives at Deep space 9 that seems to be fully cleared up and the chain of command is clear; O'Brien is outranked by anyone with a name.

Is this because Deep Space 9 is a space station? But in that case why aren't all the ranks lower?

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Not an answer, but in real life the difference between the lieutenant/commander grades and the warrant/petty officer ones isn't (solely) a matter of level. Chief Petty Officer is an enlisted grade: in other words, he didn't go to officer school (presumably, Starfleet Academy). In the army, he'd be a sergeant-major. –  Daniel Roseman Dec 10 '13 at 14:28
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@DanielRoseman - the point is, as an enlisted, he'd be not the part of the chain of command. A random 3d Lt could order him to do stuff, legally. –  DVK Dec 10 '13 at 14:34
    
The real question now is: why was O'Brien wearing command red in "Encounter at Farpoint"? –  Xantec Dec 10 '13 at 14:40
    
And O'Brien presumably has a huge staff of engineers to command; the skills taught to an officer at Starfleet Academy would presumably come in handy for such a position –  user20310 Dec 10 '13 at 14:41
    
Related (but not duplicate): scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/31524/…. @Xantec - that should answer your Q –  DVK Dec 10 '13 at 14:44

3 Answers 3

O'Brien isn't low ranked. He's simply an enlisted NCO rather than a commissioned officer.

On the enlisted ranks, he's second from the top, with only a Master Chief Petty Officer outranking him.

While any random officer does outrank him and can give him orders, only a very stupid one would ignore what he says. At the end of DS9, he has been in Starfleet for 29 years, longer than most random lieutenants have been alive. He is the voice of experience and someone who knows his job very, very well.

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Of course it's all a matter of perpsective; I suppose I mean "lower rank than usual for the highest ranking engineering 'person'" –  user20310 Dec 10 '13 at 16:00
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In that case, it's that either Roddenberry changed his mind or other people just simply adjusted things without him noticing. Originally, Roddenberry had the idea for TNG that Starfleet would be all commissioned officers who went through the Academy. This later changed somewhat (e.g. the enlisted rank of Crewman sneaks in in season 4) and goes further in DS9 and Voyager, the latter of which has many Crewmen, going closer to a real life enlisted/commissioned mix. –  Compro01 Dec 10 '13 at 16:20
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The Captain may command the boat (or the space station), but the Chiefs run it. O'Brien is basically chief of the boat on DS9, meaning he has the final say in how things are done. –  John Bode Dec 10 '13 at 16:33
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@Compro01 There were Crewmen present in The Original Series very early on. TNG also had Crewmen mentioned early in the series run. And according to the listing of military ranks a Crewman's equivalent rank in the Army would be Private First Class. So despite any intentions Roddenberry may have had there is a precedent for enlisted men in Star Fleet going back to the beginning of Trek. –  22nd Century Fza Dec 11 '13 at 4:59
    
@22ndCenturyFza - That's why I said "Roddenberry had this idea for TNG" rather than "idea for trek". Probably aimed at increasing the perception of a more egalitarian system than he could get away with portraying in the 60s. –  Compro01 Dec 11 '13 at 5:08

could be that O'Brien is a warrant officer and not an enlisted NCO rank. Warrant officers often are technical specialist, at least in the US Army.

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I can see this as an answer; two routes to a similar position - the Starfleet academy route and the (seemly much longer) technical specialist route –  user20310 Dec 13 '13 at 11:16

O'Brien's rank is essentially irrelevant as long as there's always someone who outranks everybody else who can appoint O'Brien in charge. You might as well ask how Major Kira and Constable Odo can be part of the station's command structure, but not part of Starfleet's chain of command, or how Seven of Nine can have all the responsibilities she has aboard Voyager.

At any moment on DS9 Sisko can give anyone he wants a field commission, including O'Brien and later Kira. He can also take it away. The rules for field rank assignments are very liberal in any highly functioning military, requiring only obedience to a commanding officer and no ceremony at all. If Sisko says a noncommissioned officer is chief engineer and orders his commissioned officers to report to the chief engineer, that's exactly what they'll do.

Picard even makes an 8-year-old girl his first officer in the TNG episode "Disaster," and just in case you think that wasn't serious, recall that he also assigned a teenage boy with no prior experience to pilot the fleet's flagship.

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Militaries involved in joint operations happen in real life and a command structure is negotiated. But you are right, Sisko could give O'Brien that position and order people to obey him. This would even make some sense as O'Brien stated that he had no interest in being an officer. But this would require Sisko to specifically want O'Brien rather than him being assigned in the usual fashion; but I can't find any common postings between the two –  user20310 Dec 18 '13 at 16:55
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Sisko: USS Livingston, USS Okinawa, USS Saratoga, DS9. O'Brien: USS Rutledge, USS Enterprise, DS9 –  user20310 Dec 18 '13 at 16:57

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