Created By: DannyVElAcme on December 1, 2010 Last Edited By: DannyVElAcme on December 5, 2010
Troped

Over-ranked Soldier

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Launching this Sunday(I have an Army drill, so it'll take a while :p Thanks for the examples, please give a few more if you can

Creators often like to emphasize the importance of a military character by giving him a high rank. This is understandable, since one's first thought when seeing a character of high rank is that he must have gotten that far because of his merits, and there's a certain amount of Truth in Television to it. Since, for example, battlefield commissions and promotions have been given to soldiers who've distinguished themselves for great deeds and exemplary service, giving a character a high rank means they must have done something to earn it, right?

However, writers can take this too far. WAY too far.

Over-ranked Soldier refers to a character whose rank is, quite simply, impossible for him to possess. The character's rank is so high, it breaks the audience's suspension of disbelief. While the creator might just mean to use the character's rank to show his importance to the work, it shows the creator did not do the research the plausibility of the character possessing said rank.

This trope manifests in certain ways:
  • The character is too young: Improbable Age as it applies to the military. Quite simply, it'd be impossible for the character to possess the rank at such a young age. Even the most prodigious soldier still needs a certain time in service to possess certain ranks, and some ranks are only attainable after a lifetime of service and excellence. Oh, and the character being an Ensign Newbie does NOT justify this. After all, it's ENSIGN Newbie, not ADMIRAL Newbie.
  • The character is too disruptive: The Military Maverick will always be an attractive character archetype to audiences, since we tend to root for guys with guts and attitude. However, this works best with characters who are, at best, in the low officer ranks, where he spends more time in the battlefield than in the war room. The armed forces frown on disrespect to the chain of command, and would not give a high rank to such a disruptive soldier, no matter how much of a badass he is. In fact, the soldier's antics would more realistically result in a demotion instead of a promotion.
  • The character is too incompetent: Another character type that is common in military media is a soldier who is high-ranked, yet is actually quite sucky at being a soldier or leader. Think of it as the military version of a Pointy-Haired Boss. In humorous media, this is all well and good, since it's just part of the absurdity of the setting, but in more serious fare, it makes the viewer wonder how the hell he got that far. This is aggravated by the fact that rank is partly merit-based, so a soldier that sucks at a low rank will STAY at a low rank.
  • The character is actively dangerous/insane: This is a tricky one to deal with, because a character's lack of stability could be a sign of post-traumatic stress, which is completely plausible and sadly all too common, but this refers to a character who's obviously unstable and the chain of command doesn't do anything about it. If the character develops instability throughout the course of the story, it's completely plausible as long as it is addressed. If the character's instability is a regular part of the character and it is not specifically addressed in the work, it's this trope.
  • The character is not respected by his subordinates: Any soldier who attains a high rank gets there both by his merits and the merits of the soldiers under him. A soldier whose subordinates subvert his authority at every chance they get will not reach a high rank, because not being able to lead limits his advancement. Common in humorous media, and animosity between high-ranked soldiers and subordinates does happen, but when it is to an extent that the higher-ranked soldier is disrespected and made to look a fool, it breaks plausibility.

One thing to note: this trope does not refer to rank outside of the traditional structure followed by most of the world's armed forces. Honorary ranks, ranks based on privilege or self-granted ranks do not count. A nobleman given a high military rank because of his high status, as unfortunate as it might be, is completely plausible, as is a 33 year-old revolutionary leader who is granted the rank of General by his fellow rebels(i.e. Fidel Castro). This trope is specifically about characters in fiction, within traditional military structure, that have a rank way beyond the realm of logic and possibility.

Examples:
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3, Ocelot is a Major. At 19 years old. If one charitably assumes that he rose in rank in the least amount of time required to hold said rank, he would have enlisted at around 4 years old.
  • Jeanne Francoix/Dana Sterling of Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross/Robotech: The Masters Saga begins the series aged 17 and ranked a Sergeant Major, later being promoted to Lieutenant. While the promotion to Lieutenant based on merit is plausible, her initial rank of Sergeant Major is most definitely not, and is even more outrageous than Ocelot's rank. Both because of her age AND her attitude to authority, it'd be totally impossible for her to hold this rank.
  • Sergeant Ernie Bilko is a Master Sergeant, which is plausible according to his age and responsibilities, but the fact he keeps this rank without being demoted because of his antics borders on divine intervention.
  • Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell from Top Gun. The stunts he pulls during training make it a miracle he even gets to fly in combat, let alone not be demoted.
  • Miranda Keyes of the Halo series is a Lieutenant-Commander. She is competent, she does her job to the letter, the soldiers under her trust her explicitly, and she always keeps a level head on her shoulders. At the time of her death, she was twenty-seven years old.
  • Stargate Universe gives us Ronald Greer, a Master Sergeant in the US Air Force at the age of 20. For reference, he can't have enlisted until he was 18 and Master Sergeant requires a minimum of 16 years of service.
Community Feedback Replies: 45
  • December 1, 2010
    DannyVElAcme
    Shameless self bump.
  • December 1, 2010
    ZombieAladdin
    Averted in One Piece with Commodore Smoker. He is said by other characters to have the skills of a vice admiral or even an admiral, and he has been able to back it up in the past. However, he was stuck at the rank of Captain for a very long time due to his insubordination with his superiors in the Marines. The only reason he was promoted to Commodore at all was in part of a conspiracy by the World Government--he just happened to be in the area.

    One Piece does have a number of examples played straight, most notably Vice Admiral Garp, who actively and openly helps pirates, laughs at top-ranked Marines for their mistakes, and recruits from questionable places. He has been offered several promotions to Admiral. However, Admiral of the Fleet Sengoku does sometimes wonders to himself how Garp managed to climb up the ranks with the attitude he has.
  • December 1, 2010
    alfredo094
    The picture is Just A Face And A Caption. We need a better one.
  • December 1, 2010
    DannyVElAcme
    Well, I can't really find any picture that really illustrates the concept, and the caption mentions her rank, which together with the picture shows you she's WAY too young. I think pretty much any picture I used would just be a face and a caption. Would you prefer it not feature a picture at all?
  • December 1, 2010
    arromdee
    Well, she obviously looks young; if any of those markings are rank symbols, then it's a legitimate illustration.
  • December 1, 2010
    DannyVElAcme
    @arromdee: The uniform itself is an officer's uniform, but that would only be known to people familiar to the series. What I wanted to go for is contrast the picture to the caption, the picture showing her youth while the caption mentions her ludicrously high rank.
  • December 1, 2010
    PaulA
    For the "too young to have that rank" side of this, we already have Improbable Age.
  • December 1, 2010
    rodneyAnonymous
    Could still mention it in this article and link to Improbable Age. Cross-references are good.
  • December 1, 2010
    sgamer82
    It should be noted that in some military organizations, particularly those from monarchies, members of the nobility frequently have high ranking positions and at times fit this trope.

    • In the Safehold series, the Corisandian Baron of Barcor is a leader of his own troops despite noticed incompetence. However, he can't be removed without a certain level of political bru ha ha being raised, and so isn't removed until he performs a colossal screw-up.
  • December 1, 2010
    foxley
    In the Doc Savage novels, four of Doc's aides had high military rank during World War One: Major, Lt-Colonel, Colonel and Brigader General. Given how late the US enetered the war, it seems unlikely that they could have achieved these ranks if they enlisted when the US entered the war. Fanon, as used by Philip Jose Farmer in his 'biographry' of Doc Savage, has them enlisting in other nations armies at the start of the war and transferring to the US Army when the US joined. Even then, Ham's Brigader Generalship is stretching credibility.
  • December 1, 2010
    DannyVElAcme
    @sgamer: I think I should clear up this trope: this is when the character is a member of a traditional military organization based on merit and time in service. Being given the rank because of social status is not this trope, since that is completely plausible, as unfortunate as it is. This trope refers to a character who has a high rank against all logic of how a traditional military organization works. A nobleman, no matter how young, who has a high rank because of his status as nobility, is not this trope. A 17 year-old girl who has the rank of Sergeant Major, which is a rank that would take an EXCELLENT soldier over 25 years, countless deployments, constant schooling and recommendations from commanders to reach, is definitely this trope.
  • December 2, 2010
    Koveras
    From Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Hayate Yagami is a Lieutenant Colonel in command of her own regiment in StrikerS (age: 19) and the commander of the naval forces of an entire planet in Force (age: 25), placing her rank close to Admiral. Nanoha herself and Fate were Captains at the age of 19. StrikerS actually attempted to justify that by explaining that TSAB (where all serve) is more of a Mildly Military Space Police than regular army and that its members are promoted according to their magical power rather than field experience.
  • December 2, 2010
    Xzenu
    The illustration is good, but the description need to be tweaked a bit.
    • Many of these settings rely on premises different from our world.
    • Real Life armies are far from perfect, and there are Real Life examples of all these kinds of things that are here claimed to be impossible in real life.
  • December 2, 2010
    CrypticMirror
    Sub-Lieutenant Phillips in The Navy Lark, is both improbably old for a Sub-Lieutenant (which is the lowest active service officer rank) and improbably incompetent to hold a rank at all having done more damage to Naval property than both world wars.
  • December 2, 2010
    dotchan
    How improbable is Misato's rank in Neon Genesis Evangelion? Granted, she only gets promoted to Major after saving Tokyo-3, but she's still only, what, 28 years old?
  • December 2, 2010
    CrypticMirror
    @dotchan

    Not as improbable as Asuka being a commissioned captain in the rebuild.

    Actually, given the world Eva is set in with all the political upheavel, nuclear exchanges, mass deaths (upwards of 3Billion), etc and so on I don't find Misato's rank improbable. In times of extreme crisis those with talent and determination (and while Misato's command ability is more an Informed Ability her determination isn't) can advance upwards quite quickly. There were younger officers in high ranks in both world wars because of this.

    Oh, and Star Trek examples of Janeway (while it is forgiveable in that the Voyager is her first true command so her suckyness as a Captain is explainable in that there are no senior officers to reel her back in and smack her down, her being promoted to admiral can only be as a result of the greatest single instance of mass perjury in history) and of course Archer and Tucker from Enterprise. Both are utterly incompetent in their positions, and Tucker as chief engineer canonically cannot do basic algebra (episode Shuttlepod One for source of that).
  • December 2, 2010
    highcastle
    Another facet of this is a rank being assigned to a character who may have earned it, (such as when Kirk was made an Admiral), but none of the duties they perform reflect that position. For instance, Kirk, whether as an Admiral or a Captain, consistently insisted on leaving the Enterprise and making first contact with a variety of aliens, something that a lower ranked officer would likely be responsible for. Officers command, after all, and their subordinates are the ones out there risking their lives and going on missions.
  • December 2, 2010
    CrypticMirror
    And in Discworld we have Colon and Nobbs who are a sergeant and a corporal and are spectacularly incompetent being lazy cowards (and in the case of Nobby Nobbs a petty thief as well).
  • December 2, 2010
    CannonGerbil
    In the discworld Sergeant and Corporal are the third and second rank from the bottom respectively, so I don't think that fits particularly well in this case. It's not a big organization in the first place, plus considering that they are one of the original people in the night watch plus how much it has grown since then, it isn't really that much of a stretch for them to achieve that rank.
  • December 2, 2010
    NativeJovian
    I would expand this into a general "wonky military rankings" trope, and include things like the Colonel Badass that command a single squad of troops (instead of thousands of men like he should be), or an elite infantry squad that conists entirely of commissioned officers. Simply being too young for a given rank is covered by Improbable Age, methinks.

    Also seconding that the image is Just A Face And A Caption. A good picture would be a child (like, a ten year old) in a military uniform, especially an officer's one. Maybe Mayor Macreedy from Fallout 3?
  • December 2, 2010
    0blivionmobile
    Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM probably fits this trope quite well, considering how damn lucky he gets despite his rather non-heroic look on life.
  • December 2, 2010
    CaoCao
    • Justified in the novel The Horseman on the Roof, in which the main character is a dashing romantic young man with the rank of Colonel. It's explained early on that his mother is a rich aristocrat who basically bought the rank on his behalf.
  • December 2, 2010
    ChimbleySweep
    James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) in Star Trek. He corresponds with the first, second and fifth bullet point. He's too young, too maverick-y and doesn't inspire the loyalty or respect of his peers subordinate... probably because they know him. Also there is General Han Solo and General Lando calrissian from Star Wars.

  • December 2, 2010
    Tulling
    Legend Of Galactic Heroes has quite a bit of this: Reinhard was made Fleet Admiral and placed in command of half the Imperial fleet at age 20. Though he had genuine battlefield accomplishments and his sister being a favourite of the Emperor explained his extremely rapid promotion, it is still ridiculously young. Then he creates his own admiralty from officers loyal to him, leading to a group of Vice Admirals in their mid- to late twenties being commanded by the twenty year old brother of the Emperor's favourite concubine.
  • December 2, 2010
    CrypticMirror
    I'd disagree on Lando and Han. Apart from anything else they are in a paramilitary organisation which is expected to be a bit irregular in terms of ranks and people holding them.
  • December 2, 2010
    GymQuirk
    Is Miles Vorkosigan a subversion? Or does a 17-year-old academy washout as admiral of a mercenary fleet -- several ships and about five thousand personnel -- and keeping the job until almost age 30 fit? (His youthful appearance is handwaved aside via a vague "rejuvenation treatment" claim.)
  • December 2, 2010
    elwoz
    Is General Jack D. Ripper from Dr Strangelove an example? Appropriate rank for the authority he holds, earned it, completely fucking insane.
  • December 2, 2010
    Jebedee
    It's worth noting that sometimes Reality Is Unrealistic when it comes to ages and military ranks, particularly during wartime. Average age of a U-boat commander during WW 2 was 25. Enoch Powell ended the war as a Brigadier (having begun it as a Private) aged 33. And the youngest ever sergeant major in the US Army (during the 70s, no less) was 19.
  • December 2, 2010
    Jebedee
    In general, a lot of this is already covered by Improbable Age (too young/old) and Ultimate Job Security (too dangerous/disobedient/incompetent).
  • December 2, 2010
    Stratadrake
    Thirding JFC. In fact, I'm going to call non picturable.
  • December 3, 2010
    HamburgerTime
    Does Lando Calrissian count? While he does prove he deserves it, making General in an organization you betrayed just a year prior seems a bit much.
  • December 3, 2010
    CrypticMirror
    Lando probably brought money and connections to the party. Its not hard to see him turning that into a pretty high rank in a paramilitary force like the rebellion. Also he was the administrator of Cloud City and Bespin, so he is used to command and has the skills required. Anyone can be a grunt with a blaster, but a general needs to know how to organise. The rag-tag nature of the rebellion means they are probably pretty well set for grunts, NC Os, and junior officers, but someone who can organise and command is probably a bit rare. Add all that together with his PR value and he's pretty much a shoe-in once he has proved his loyalty (which is pretty much exactly what the mission to rescue Han is. It's Lando's initiation.

    Fridge Logic: A PR win if nothing else, because in an insurgency campaign it isn't enough to be the good guys ya gotta make others believe you are the good guys and more importantly people they can do business with. The Empire was probably pissing off all the movers and shakers as Palpatine hoarded more and more power and got more and more capricious so the more of the middle classes the Rebellion can get on side the better. General Calrission is someone that not only can the movers and shakers empathise with, they probably have done business with him at some point. You can just picture how the rebellion framed this:

    Here is the owner/administrator of a highly respectable mining and entertainment complex who did everything the Empire asked him to and then some, and the Empire still screwed him over. We the New Republic embrace and welcome this honest citizen to our ranks and to lead our proud patriotic struggle...Do You Want To Know More?
  • December 3, 2010
    ccoa
    • Stargate Universe gives us Ronald Greer, a Master Sergeant in the US Air Force at the age of 20. For reference, he can't have enlisted until he was 18 and Master Sergeant requires a minimum of 16 years of service.
  • December 3, 2010
    nrjxll
    I think the third qualifier (incompetence) should probably be limited to characters presented in the work itself as incompetent. Otherwise this could turn into character bashing very fast.

  • December 3, 2010
    noblesix
    • Miranda Keyes of the Halo series is a Lieutenant-Commander. She is competent, she does her job to the letter, the soldiers under her trust her explicitly, and she always keeps a level head on her shoulders. At the time of her death, she was twenty-seven years old.
  • December 3, 2010
    elwoz
    I wish to second nrjxll's suggestion two comments above.
  • December 4, 2010
    Cuchulainn
    Celes Chere is a General in the Imperial Army, despite being only eighteen years old.
  • December 4, 2010
    JoeG
    • In an episode of F Troop, the Hekawi Indian chief is disguised as a trooper so that he can be taken to the fort and treated by the Army dentist. A visiting general takes a liking to "Private Howe" and quickly promotes him through the ranks all the way to Captain!
  • December 4, 2010
    AlexThePrettyGood
    The general staff in Les Tuniques Bleues are all Armchair Military who treat their men with a brazen A Million Is A Statistic mentality. Especially General Stilman is horribly incompetent.
  • December 4, 2010
    Blork
    @ccoa Is Greer's age ever stated on the show? I've heard that claim before on this wiki, but his page on the Stargate Wiki says "mid 20's" and his actor is 28.
  • December 4, 2010
    ShadowPantherRakuen
    Noel Vermillion of Blaz Blue is rather incomptent to be a lieutenant in the NOL, though it ends up justified seeing as Noel is Mu-12, and due to her importance got a higher rank than she really deserved.
  • December 4, 2010
    Micah
    @Blork: Even if he's in his mid-20s, surely he didn't enlist at the age of 8...
  • December 4, 2010
    sainatsukino
    Lampshaded several time in Tokyo Babylon. Subaru Sumeragi is the best medium in all of Japan and the Sumeragi family head, and he's sixteen. Most people don't believe him.
  • December 4, 2010
    deuxhero
    Correction on the Stargate Universe example, the US military lets you join at 17 with parental approval. It's still completely wrong though.

    On the same note, either John Sheppard or Cameron Mitchell (forget which of the two) would have had to get promoted as soon as they were eligible every single time to achieve their rank at their age.
  • December 5, 2010
    CrypticMirror
    @Deuxhero

    Yeah, but the SG teams are really special forces, with a really special remit. They probably cherry picked high-flyers in Mitchell's case. In Sheppard's, well he got command of SG Atlantis's forces while still a major on the good old You Are In Command Now and was promoted due to services rendered.
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