I noticed that the rise in rank of some officers seemed very arbitrary. Thus, Chief O'Brien is still only a cadet (according to his heel on his uniform), but he has nevertheless achieved and experienced many things that deserved a promotion (during the war against the Cardassians, at exemplary work, against the Jemadars,...). He remains the head of operations, but why "cadet"?

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We can also note that Nog has been a cadet for just over a few days, and he occupies an important place in many of the missions. Like going to face the dominion, exchanging prisoners, and fetching equipment on a Cardassian trapped station.

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There is also Dr. Bashir who, upon graduation from the academy, obtained the rank of lieutenant and the position of chief doctor on Deep Space Nine. The same is true for Jadzia Dax.

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I am also thinking of B'Elanna Torres, who, barely outside the Maquis, is appoint chief engineer and given the rank of lieutenant.

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In short, I find that many of the positions held by the mains officers in the series are relatively arbitrary (I guess it's to fit with the scenarios). Am I right, or am I wrong all along?

I would be interested to receive your feedback.

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    O'Brien isn't a cadet. He's a Senior Chief Petty Officer, the highest rank that an enlisted man can hold and one that gives him authority over all other crewmen on board. He's also the head of his own dept and hence can order all engineering crew around.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 10:19
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    A cadet is a student. I assume you meant ensign, but yeah like Valorum said O'Brien isn't an ensign either. Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 10:23
  • 3
    I gave you a downvote for your claim that O’Brien is a cadet. The chief wanted to beam you onto a Romulan ship. Consider yourself fortunate. Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 2:22
  • @HamSandwich did you really downvote?
    – 1252748
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 15:23
  • 1
    Yes. It's a flawed question. Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 18:14

2 Answers 2


Several factors enter into this:

Rank vs. Position

In the real world, rank is somewhat tied to the position. For instance, infantry companies would usually be commanded by Captains (Army-style rank name, not Navy-style Captains). There were examples of Sergeants commanding companies after lots of casualties, but usually one would send at least a senior Lieutenant. And a company commander who gets promoted to Major could expect a reassignment soon, perhaps to the battalion or brigade staff.

In the series, characters hold the same position over many seasons. Promoting them to higher rank would have required an explanation why they are still at their old job. Note how Kirk's promotion in the movie series made it hard to explain why he was still running the Enterprise.

The Right Stuff

Back in the 60s, all astronauts in the Mercury and Gemini programs were officers. So one assumption in the original series was that all Starfleet crew are academy graduates and officers. The juniormost rank was Ensign.

Then came the next generation and Chief O'Brien. He was called Chief, he acted like a CPO, what was he? One option was to think of him as the Chief of the Transporter Department or something like that. He would have had officer rank. The other option was a messy retcon, and that was ultimately taken.

The assumption that almost everybody is an officer does not leave many ranks to promote in -- Ensign, Lieutenant J.G., Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, Commander, Captain. If dramatic necessity means there is just one Captain on the ship (to avoid confusing the viewers), then the others share just five ranks. How many Commanders can you have on a ship like the Enterprise?

Junior Promotions and Taking a Bus

While promotions of command staff would have messed with the established cast of characters, juniors could and did get promotions. Promoting a senior character would require an explanation why they were still on the ship, or them leaving the ship (and show, except for guest appearances).

  • Kira Nerys started the show as a major, two steps below Sisko, and ended as a colonel, the same rank as Sisko (but with less seniority in rank). Note that Bajor uses Army-style rank designations while Starfleet uses Navy-style ranks.
  • Geordi LaForge started the show as a lieutenant junior grade and got promoted to lieutenant and then lieutenant commander.

So summarized, dramatic necessity made the shows unrealistic in this regard.

  • Then you had that episode where Troi takes the command test and gets a rank of full commander (and that little joke about Data asking if he should call her "sir") and Worf being promoted to Lt Cmdr. in Generations Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 13:28
  • @JonClements, yes, a little bit of that happens. There is an improbably low (but not zero) number of reassignments to go with the improbably low number of promotions.
    – o.m.
    Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 14:31
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    Forever Ensign Kim. :( Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 15:17
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    @Z.Cochrane, just imagine they gave everybody, including Kim, a promotion. Everybody gets to replicate a new collar pip, but what else would change? There would be no new ensigns for him to boss around.
    – o.m.
    Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 15:47

The difference is derived from actual military ranking. The Army distinguishes commissioned and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) by their duties, their ranks, their authority and their pay. NCOs are enlisted soldiers with specific skills and duties such as training, recruiting, tech or military policing. Commissioned officers are management. For example, remember young mr. Crusher being given a field commission by Picard. They give NCOs and lower ranks their missions, their assignments and their orders. NCOs often supervise lower ranks to ensure the assignments are done properly.

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