There are three division in Starfleet as evidenced by the three uniform colors:

Command Red (Gold in TOS era): Command decides what to do

Operations Gold (Red in TOS era): includes security, operations and engineering. In the greater sense Operations means accomplishing that which Command decides, so it includes scheduling, and keeping things safe, running, and working.

Science Blue: includes medical. Science is science. It means acquiring and using knowledge.

So (TNG-era) red for commanders, captains and admirals makes sense: their job is to decide what the missions are and what the crew should do to accomplish the mission.

Helmsmen and "the conn" are generally manned by junior officers in red (TNG era). This makes sense because they are carrying out orders and "commanding the ship".

But there are junior officers all over the place in red (TNG). They are obviously not making decisions and giving orders all day long. And there clearly don't need to be very many helmspeople on the ship.

What jobs do all these officers in red have? (TNG era -- for TOS era, read as gold)

Everyone seems to be pointing out the things they have seen them do. Helm, escorts, bridge relief. Possibly, 'lesser management tasks'. But none of these assertions explain how there can be so many of them. It would require only a few officers out of a crew of a thousand -- maybe a hundred -- especially since we know that most management personnel in ops and science are wearing gold or blue uniforms. If it was like people are saying, you would expect the sight of extras in red to be relatively rare. If we have no in-universe explanation, okay -- that's an answer.

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    In TOS, their job was to die in unique and interesting ways. Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 18:59
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    @Wikis: Yes, yes, the inevitable redshirt remark. Except the question is really about yellowshirts in TOS. Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 19:05
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    @Wikis: Read the question again. I'm explaining that I'm phrasing it is terms of TNG era colors, but I'm asking about command division officers, which are wearing red in TNG era (and gold in TOS era). I can make this more explicit, but I think it's already there. Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 20:19
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    I for one think this is an interesting question!
    – ThruGog
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 20:22
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    @Wikis: I'm baffled that you're baffled, but I'll improve it anyway Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 20:26

7 Answers 7


From TNG:Lonely Among Us:

LAFORGE: So, Worf, why the interest in this? It's just routine maintenance on the sensor assemblies.

WORF: Simple, Geordi. Our Captain wants his junior officers to learn, learn, learn.

At least under Picard, the junior officers are charged with increasing their knowledge, presumably to make better senior officers of them one day. At this point, Worf is learning to command. One aspect of command is a highly generalized knowledge of ships systems and procedures; command may be the "default" track for a junior officer who hasn't yet developed a specialization.

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    OK, but how can the 25-50% of officers walking around in the hallways with red shirts all be learning stuff on the bridge like La Forge? This is the crux of my question. They can't all be relief officers on the bridge or taking the conn, so what are they doing? Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 19:14
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    The example there is Worf in sensor maintenance, not Geordi on the bridge: it seems to me that they are doing rotations throughout the ship, learning how everything works in hopes of qualifying to get to the bridge and/or finding a specialization for which they show a talent. They may also be getting the opportunity to command enlisted personnel in assorted tasks.
    – Politank-Z
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 19:25
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    @ThePopMachine, these command officers in the hallways have nothing to do at all, that's why they are just wandering around the ship. Mystery solved. :) Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 6:29
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    "The captain's coming! Quick, open that panel and look like you're scanning something!" Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 14:55

Memory Alpha suggests that some command staff are adjutants, whose job is to help carry out the orders of more senior commanders. This could involve all sorts of tasks, but in crews of hundreds commanded by a small group of ten or so on the bridge that makes sense. Sort of behind the scenes staff.

Also from Memory Alpha:

During the original series, command gold... was also seen on phaser room ordnance crews, with some exceptions.

I think this illustrates that they were given somewhat lesser organisational tasks. This does not sound like a tactical role as much as an almost clerical task.

It also, on a side note, says:

An officer who belonged to the command division sometimes wore the division color of another department in which they specialized if said command officer became a security chief, engineer, or commanded a science department.

So perhaps personnel such as Tuvok, La Forge and Bashir (for example) are actually command staff wearing the uniform that shows what it is they command. (This doesn't really answer your question, but it intrigued me).

  • In the TNG Episode "The Measure of a Man," JAG officers appear to wear command red, but the JAG officer in the show is also a captain...
    – miltonaut
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 4:43

But there are junior officers all over the place in red (TNG). They are obviously not making decisions and giving orders all day long. And there clearly don't need to be very many helmspeople on the ship.

First, are you sure all those people are officers? As I remember, the TNG uniforms didn't distinguish between officer and enlisted ranks all that well (unlike TOS). O'Brien wore the same style uniform as everyone else and had two pips on his collar, even after they started referring to him as "Chief".

However, it must be acknowledged that Starfleet is lousy with officers, way, way, way more than are necessary to manage any boat (inspiring a joke in ST:There Be Whales Here). Many of the tasks we see officers doing in Star Trek (like actually driving the boat) would be done by enlisted personnel in the Navy. Even a ship as big as the D shouldn't need more than a few dozen officers to manage1

So, this is speculation, not an authoritative answer, but I think it's reasonable: all those juniors are rotating through different departments for on-the-job training, and for administrative purposes they're all in the "command" division until they receive their permanent assignment (which may not even be on the Enterprise), at which point they wear the color of the division to which their department belongs.

To make this clearer, this is not an authoritative answer, just speculation going by what I understand about shipboard organization in the present-day US Navy:

  1. Shipboard organization is broken down into multiple departments - Engineering, Medical, Deck (maintenance of non-engineering systems), Operations, Administration (even the 24th century needs paper pushers), Supply & Logistics, Weapons & Tactical, Communications, etc.;

  2. Each department has a department head that's a senior officer (Lt Cdr, Lt), and they report directly to the CO (or XO - depends on circumstances, I think);

  3. Each department head would have at least one assistant (Lt or Lt jg), plus maybe a couple of junior officer direct reports;

  4. Rounding out the department would be chiefs, petty officers, and crew who do the actual work2.

Junior officers would rotate through various departments over time, picking up OJT by shadowing officers permanently assigned to that department. They would probably spend most of their time writing status reports and doing other administrative scut work. They may have a couple of enlisted direct reports that they get to boss around.

So, who are all the damned redshirts running around the D? I suspect the majority of them are enlisted (who work in the departments that would logically fall under Command like Navigation, Operations, etc.). Again, the TNG uniforms don't distinguish between officers and crew all that clearly. You'd have the Command department heads and their assistants.

The rest are a gaggle of ensigns and lieutenants jg who are picking up training in various departments, but for administrative purposes are assigned to Command (maybe so the XO can review their performance and decide on their permanent assignment).

Again, pure speculation, not based on canon.

1. When I take over the franchise, the majority of major characters will be chiefs and petty officers

2. All those times you see Scotty climbing around the Jeffries tube, or Spock rewiring his own console, or Kirk helping bring the Constellation back to life? Yeah, doesn't usually happen that way. Officers give orders; enlisted execute orders.

  • If I understand your answer, you are suggesting all the people in red are those who don't have permanent assignments yet? Or are not officers? So you think there is a core of essentially unskilled hands around and they are in red? (I'm not questioning the possibility, but clarifying the intent.) Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 21:44
  • @ThePopMachine: Again, this is only speculation. I suspect the majority of people we see in uniform (in any division) are enlisted, who are the skilled labor on any naval vessel. Officers are management, and it makes sense for them to rotate through various departments to learn how to manage various ship's functions. Again, for administrative purposes, they're all in "command", even though they may not be performing "command" functions.
    – John Bode
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 1:14
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    There is a big thing to remember about the Enterprise that might make the amount of people in Red understandable. Its not just a ship in the fleet, its the flagship of the fleet. This means that it is the best and the one where you really want to get stationed. What this means is that its possible that all those red shirts are there because Enterprise offers a better place to learn command function than any other ship. This can sort of be inferred from various references to how certain personnel really want to get posted there in various canon scenes.
    – Prof. Bear
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 17:16
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    Prof. Bear - calling the Enterprise a flagship is meaningless. In naval terms a flagship is an Admiral's command ship. But the Enterprise is called a flagship in a much broader and looser way indicating it is the best or most prominent or must visible to the public ship. And thus we have no way of knowing exactly what that means or how it effects personnel assignments. Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 19:55

They have number of roles

Memory Alpha explains some of this (emphasis mine):

The command division was the corps of officers within Starfleet who specialized in command and control functions on starbases, aboard starships, and at Starfleet Command. Members of the command division were trained in leadership and had tactical training allowing them to decisively take action in organizing and mobilizing Starfleet crews to perform missions.

So, we know that we've got backups in case the chain of command collapses for some reason. The rest of the excerpt it much more important regarding this question though:

Command officers included most all of the admiralty, captains, executive officers, adjutants, pilots, and flight controller (or helmsman). Command division personnel also filled posts as tactical officers and sometimes in ordnance departments.

Remember that Tom Paris wore the red uniform, as did all helmsmen (and women) aboard the Enterprise-D. So that confirms at least one other role for command division officers.

As for those in ordnance departments, I take it that the question is referring to TOS onwards and, according to the previously linked Memory Alpha page, this department no longer existed on starships from the 22nd century onwards.

Looking at this page on Memory Alpha, in TOS, some of these roles, not already mentioned, included:

  • Communications Officer
  • Assorted Bridge functions
  • Being present at Kirk's memorial service or weddings (some literally aren't seen apart from then!)
  • Submitting reports to senior officers (presumably they were the head of a certain department)
  • Escorting bridge crew to sickbay
  • Shuttle pilots
  • Trainees

The rest get probably get transferred

This still isn't a huge number of roles, so I would expect that the lower-ranking command division personnel are frequently transferred. Think about the changing helmsman aboard the Enterprise-D: they frequently change. In TOS aboard the Enterprise under Kirk we also see that the navigator's position changes regularly (there were at least 7 other than Checkhov).


Command division is like an officer corps. So they're similar to commissioned officers in the military (though most analogous to the unrestricted line officers). In the civilian world, they might be akin to people who've chosen a management track instead of an engineering or other technical career tracks.

For example, in the software industry you might have technical and creative leads in charge of various engineering and creative teams, but they often report to a project manager who has some familiarity with these various departments but specializes in management and is in charge of reporting to stakeholders and higher ups. A starship would need similar glue personnel to manage cross-functional units/operations.

In canon, command division officers don't actually wear red all of the time. E.g. if they're assigned to head up security or engineering, then they'd wear a gold uniform; or if they're leading a medical or science unit, then they'd wear blue.

I question whether 50% of the crew on a starship wears red. It seemed to me like operations gold was the most common uniform color. Red might feel more common simply because it's an eye-drawing color and there's an overrepresentation of command division personnel in senior ranks, who are more likely to be involved in key events or show up in frequently depicted key locations like the bridge.

As opposed to simply spending all of their time "learning," most would likely be handling administrative tasks and other command-related support tasks as they work their way up to the captain's chair and, hopefully, one day the admiralty. Some of the lower ranking officers might be administrative aides, serve as bridge personnel (duty officer, conn officer and man other command support consoles), support command activities like drills and crew evaluations, plan/lead away missions, provide support for diplomatic missions, serve as envoys in side missions to other civilizations/powers, help coordinate with other ships and non-Starfleet entities, serve as liasons for visiting dignitaries/VIPs, etc.


Just thought I'd point out few things to help answer this question.

First off we 90% of the time see the same flag crew e.g. Janeway, Tuvok, Chakotay, Paris or Picard, Riker, Worf, Data, etc. However this is a ship that aside from refits is going to be operating 24/7 365 days a year. Now at a minimum you're probably going to be looking at 3 people per position day shift, night shift and relief for if someone's sick, on leave, on an away mission etc. You can probably have the relief cover a number of positions as they'd only be working when someone isn't able to fulfil their normal role for a reason.

It's quite probable that a ship operates on a 6 or 8 hour shift role rather than a 12 hour one e.g. 8 on shift, 8 off duty for personal interests and 8 hours for sleep. It may even as I said be 6 or some other futuristic value to reduce fatigue however that's another topic. So you need to take every single position we see and double/triple that for number of normal operational crew then assign a relief to ensure that those roles are covered at all times barring a massive incident that takes out multiple crew.

Now I think that starts to account for the number of red shirt (command) position staff we see wandering around they need those numbers because every single position on a fully staffed ship is going to have 3 people for that position (assuming an 8 hour shift) and a floating pool to draw on in case of one of those 3 being unavailable. Which brings us to point 2.

This is sort of a meta one in that this is a TV show so they want us to identify and care about their characters so they will have a core set of actors and extras for special situations (usually dying horribly in their red or gold shirt). The point here is a ship especially one of the size we see in Star Trek is going to have a lot of roles that need crew to man them for example shuttle pilots. You aren't going to take your Ace pilot qualified on a dozen ship classes and have him fly the shuttle down to the surface every single time. No he's going to be on the main ship to fly it unless this is his shore leave or its an extremely dangerous mission/shuttling an important figure. However in a show if we got a regular changing crew of pilots many dying when the shuttle blows up we aren't really going to care about them so instead we get the same actor flying the shuttle to make us identify with him unless they want the shuttle destroyed. So in a lot of these situations where we see the same character in real life that would be one of those background red/gold shirts.

Similarly we see emergency situations where they want their A crew on the bridge and we do on occasion see an extra being relieved of their spot in favour of a named actor. This is a Beta or Gamma shift red shirt taking the midnight to 8 am shift surrendering control of their station to the senior and more experienced crew member. We don't see the 8 hour "All ahead full Jackson, All Ahead full Jackson, All Ahead full Jackson." "I get it sir we're just flying ahead and doing nothing." "Look Jackson all I get to do is tell you to keep flying on the captains path and wake him if something interesting happens so excuse me if I take the chance to do the ONE JOB that . . . brilliant, insightful and dashing captain of ours lets me do." "He's not standing behind you sir." "Right, good, All Ahead full Jackson." because it wouldn't be interesting.

Then we get the one mentioned before that this people are on the ship for experience so they're shadowing and reporting on various departments in non-emergency situations to gain experience. However when the episode starts and things start going wrong they move away from these vital stations to escape pods, secured quarters and other areas as their emergency station. Because until they have moved from apprentice learning on the job about a working starship to qualified and merely improving their skills you don't want them bumping or trying to overrule a fully experienced and trained crew member because they're command and he's just an engineer ensign. They're their for normal on the job experience under direct supervision then as they move up the start doing indirect supervision and then actually taking command in junior positions where they are still learning but now they remain at that station in an emergency.

Finally there are a huge number of areas on the ship that we don't normally see. We see engineering at the warp core, the bridge, ten forward in TNG, transporters, sick bay and so on. However we also often hear these places referred to as Place X e.g. holodeck 2, transporter bay 3. So on these large ships there's probably a lot of duplicated places to allow for servicing the needs of hundreds of crew members. Kirk's Enterprise which was the smallest had 430 crew and 14 science labs. The Enterprise D could have up to 6 THOUSAND crew on board. That's going to need an awful lot of duplicated areas and thus a lot of command staff as well as engineering and science ones to cover those areas.

So we have multiple people for the same position, named actors we're meant to identify with being the same person each time on a job whereas on a ship you'd normally have different ones, people on the ship for training but who's emergency position is in a safe location and a large number of jobs/positions we simply never see because they aren't of interest for a show to television producers.

I hope these can help explain why we might see so many red shirts walking around in the background but not normally coming forward and taking command or doing things.


By the time of Star Trek, there will be no more "jobs". All will be done by robots and ai software. Everyone else will just be looking for entertainment and personal development. So, by and large, they are all just rotating through to see if they like what they see. The only "jobs" will be scientists, trying to extend knowledge.

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    This doesn't answer the question, at all! In fact, this is little more than a theory and doesn't truly answer anything. Please refrain from writing answers which are not helpful... If you wish, you may make comments instead (once you've racked up 50 reputation).
    – user112267
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 16:00
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    and it isn't accurate in terms of what is actually shown in the series. When "Ensign" Picard expresses a desire to leave the science division to move to a command track, he's pretty well shut down hard because he doesn't have what it takes (Tapestry)
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 17:27
  • @NKCampbell: That's Lieutenant JG Picard. Please. Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 20:05

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