In the 2009 film Star Trek, we see a young Kirk enter StarFleet Academy. A few years pass, and he takes the Kobayashi Maru test. Shortly afterwards, Nero attacks, and he ends up on the Enterprise. What rank (if any) was he at this point? Shortly afterwards, Pike promotes him, and through his cunning he manages to get promoted to Captain. I'd hope he wasn't just a rank-less cadet at the start of this, but the movie never makes it obvious.

  • I had always been a little curious about this myself. I was under the impression that he had graduated already, along with the others, and he was going through some additional Officer's training just prior to the attack.
    – Xantec
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 3:30

3 Answers 3


When Chekov is trying to lock on to Kirk and Sulu (to beam them up) as they were falling from the black hole device, you can see on the screen that Chekov is using the names Lt, J. Kirk and Lt, H. Sulu. So I assume then that he was holding the rank of Lieutenant.

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Obviously this raises another question about how quickly he went from Lieutenant to Captain (an extremely short period of time) but I suppose in wartime they did promote fast through 'battlefield promotions'. Maybe that's what happened to Kirk.

  • screenshot of this? Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 19:49

Kirk was a suspended cadet when the attack happens.

This was due to his questionable behavior regarding the Kobiyashi Maru test.


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    Wait, so he goes from Cadette to Captain in just *guess* three days?!
    – Bobby
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 19:49
  • 2
    He was temporary first-officer and when Spock was promoted to captain and became emotionally unstable, Kirk was then promoted to temporary Captain. As far as I understand it, anyone can be captain at any rank, but their pips or "official" rank stays the same until officially promoted (like at end of the first movie). Think of ensign Harry Kim, who was "captain" on the night shift in Star Trek Voyager. However his rank was still ensign.
    – Jared
    Commented May 27, 2013 at 0:30
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    @Jared: There's a difference between being called captain and holding the rank of captain. It's customary to refer to whomever is commanding the ship as "captain". I think this was explained in one of the series. This isn't related to rank and isn't a temporary promotion (just as calling an admiral "captain" isn't a temporary demotion). Kirk would have had to receive multiple field promotions to attain the rank of captain. Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 5:05

He was a cadet. Cadet is a rank in and of itself; the various cadet grades are usually not considered outside the cadet hierarchy.

That he was suspended doesn't change his rank (tho' he was apparently seconds away from being an ex-cadet).

We also do not know the canonical cadet grades, but, we presume to use the same system of cadet grades as the USNA at Anapolis does, he's a Cadet 1st Class (4th year cadet), possibly holding the positional grade of Cadet Lieutenant.

A Note on Midshipman

In the US, at least, a Midshipman is a Cadet or officer candidate in a naval officer training program, including the US Naval Academy at Annapolis and NROTC. It is also used for the cadets at the US Merchant Marine Academy. They hold authority just below that of a Chief Warrant Officer (W2), according to Naval manuals (such as Naval Orientation - Military manual for administrative purposes). Historically, there was a rank called "Passed Midshipman," but it was replaced with Ensign in the late 19th C.

Various non-canon sources (especially the various Role-playing games) make an artificial distinction between Midshipman and Cadet, with Cadets being in the 4 year undergraduate program, and Midshipmen being in later training prior to assignment as an Ensign or Lieutenant JG. This distinction was introduced to this author in FASA's Star Trek The Role-Playing Game, and may be based upon prior fanon; the use of Midshipman in Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan may have contributed to this.

Such a distinction would make Star Fleet less like the US Navy ranks-wise; A US Navy Midshipman is an academy cadet; upon completion of the undergraduate portion, they are commissioned as ensigns, exactly as USMA West Point cadets are graduated as Second Lieutenants. Post graduation schooling at the USNA does occur; attendees are not cadets nor midshipmen, retaining full commissioned rank, even as some privileges are suspended for persons assigned to take training.

In either case, Kirk was a 4th year, and the mode of address in the film is "Cadet," so by either mode for midshipman, Mr. Kirk was not one. Starfleet either doesn't use "Midshipman" during that era, or reserves it for some other use.

  • Cadet ranks are not considered to be military ranks in all services. In Starship Troopers (the novel, not that monstrously stupid movie), the main character goes to the equivalent of OCS and while there, he has no rank. Graduates receive a temporary rank of "third lieutenant" for the purposes of getting them into the chain of command. Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 18:07
  • @Donald.McLean Starship Troopers shows a profound lack of understanding of the military in general. One of RAH's fatal flaws. Cadet as a military rank is near universal, tho' its placement in the US military below warrant and above enlisted men is a historical artifact, where in some others, it ranks identically to either incoming enlisted or junior NCO's.
    – aramis
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 18:24
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    I find it hard to believe that RAH could have a "profound lack of understanding of the military in general". As a West Point graduate plus 5 years as a naval officer, he would pretty much have lived the military for about 9 years. Unless you're making some kind of insinuation about either naval officers or West Point graduates. Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 18:31
  • It is a mistake to think that RAH meant the structure of the Mobile Infantry to mirror the US forces that he served in. He was fully equipped to have done that if he wanted to. I presume that he borrowed liberally from stuff that struck his fancy and may have made up bit outright. He was after all writing a fictional polemic, not a documentary. Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 21:42
  • West Pointers seldom go navy... West Point prepares men for the Army, not the Navy. (Still, some Westies do go navy. A few more go USMC. But it leaves them less than fully prepared for the real navy.) So citing him as a Naval officer and West Point grad is, shall we say, less that evidence of credibility. Moreover, Heinlein's own notes about it are that it's intentionally UNrealistic.
    – aramis
    Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 7:09

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