Up Through the Ranks
A veteran enlisted soldier was made into an officer.
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(permanent link) added: 2013-10-21 12:42:51 sponsor: StarSword (last reply: 2014-01-14 21:20:08)

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An idea I've had kicking around for a while. I could use a hand writing an introductory paragraph for the description, and coming up with a compare/contrast list.

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"I was still in the jungle green of the Far East, which, judging by their reactions, nobody here had ever seen before. The colonel, a wise kindly old man with the face of a benevolent vulture, looked me up and down and said:
"'You've been in the ranks. Good. And you've seen action. That...' he pointed to my Burma Star 'and that should spare you some of the more obvious try-ons from the Jocks.'"
Lieutenant, formerly Lance-Corporal Dand McNeill, The General Danced at Dawn

The result of turning a Sergeant Rock into a Colonel Badass (or other officer rank), without having to pass through Ensign Newbie. The starting point is important here, the character must have several years of experience as an enlisted soldier, before they are made an officer.

Most military forces that make a delineation between enlisted ranks and commissioned officers have mechanisms in place for having an enlisted soldier become an officer. These people are sometimes referred to as "prior enlisted" or "mustangs". How they became so varies. Sometimes they got a field commission, but other times they applied for and were accepted to officer candidate school or equivalent. However, an officer that went up through the ranks is usually the exception among the officers—older, less formal education, and with a very different background.

Prior enlisted are often characterized as being more blue-collar and down-to-earth than those who started as officers, and in many cases are trusted more by the rank-and-file because of it. This is frequently helped along by the character having seen some action, unlike an Ensign Newbie who is usually straight from the Military Academy.

Closely related to Rank Up. The distinction is twofold: First, someone who came up through the ranks may have done it offscreen, and second, this is specifically promotion from enlisted man to commissioned officer.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Implied in One Piece. In one colorspread page, there are a shot of many of the current (and some ex) high ranking Marines' younger selves as foot soldiers.
  • Rukia Kuchiki, one of the female leads of Bleach, spent decades as a rank-and-file Shinigami, despite the fact that the Protection Squads are ranked based on merit, and she had more than enough credentials to be promoted. This is because her adopted big brother (one of the highest ranking officers in said military, and a nobleman), arranged for her to never be promoted and thus kept from dangerous assignments. It didn't work. So, after a year-and-a-half timeskip, we see she's been promoted to position only one rung lower than her brother holds.

    Fan Works 
  • Captain Kanril Eleya of Bait and Switch (STO) spent four years as a noncom in the Bajoran Militia and saw combat, then attended Starfleet Academy after the Militia decommissioned the last of its starships.

    Film 
  • In Starship Troopers Johnny Rico is given a Klingon Promotion from the enlisted ranks so he can take command of the Roughnecks after Lieutenant Raczak is killed.
  • The Blue Max: Bruno Stachel begins as an ordinary grunt in the German Army, who one day looks up from the Western Front mud, sees a plane overhead, and has an epiphany. Accepted for the Imperial Air Service, he is commissioned as an officer pilot, and learns to his disillusionment that an ex-private who cannot put a "von" in front of his name is the lowest form of life in the Kaiser's armed forces.

    Literature 
  • The title character of the Sharpe novels began as a sergeant. The Duke of Wellington gave him a field commission in return for saving his life. Richard Sharpe is a commoner and is a lot more coarse than the otherwise mostly aristocratic officer corps, but he makes up for it with sheer skill.
  • In Starship Troopers the Terran Federation military only has these. Everyone starts as a grunt or crewman and if they do well, they're allowed to apply to officer candidate school, as protagonist Johnny Rico eventually does. The sky marshal, the overall commander of the military, is required to start at the bottom rank in both the Army and the Navy and work his way up to the top rank of both services.
  • The Ciaphas Cain series has Sergeant Lustig, who started off as the "the upper ranks don't care about us rank and file!" sort of soldier. He was given a Field Promotion to Sergeant at Cain's suggestion. His superior officer, Jenit Sulla, is an exaggerated example: She was promoted to Captain (having already moved from Quartermaster to Sergeant), by Cain's (accidental) suggestion (opening the way for Lustig's promotion). Cain expected her Leeroy Jenkins habits to eventually get her killed, but she ultimately reached the rank of Lady General.
  • George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman books, fought as a private soldier in India and the Burma campaign. He wrote an autobiography of his wartime service as a private soldier, and fictionalized his later commissioning and officer service in the Gordon Highlanders as the McAuslan stories.
  • John Foley served as a private soldier and tank driver in the Royal Tank Regiment between the wars. As with McDonald Fraser's "Lieutenant Dand McNeill", he wrote a slightly embellished account of his officer service in the same regiment in World War II. Mailed Fist covers his active service between D-Day and Berlin.
  • In the Rogue Warrior books, Richard Marcinko talks about his time as an enlisted sailor, earning a GED (in The Fifties dropouts were allowed in the military) then going UDT. He earned a college degree and then went to OCS (a cakewalk for the now SEAL Marcinko).
  • Trail of Glory: Sergent Patrick Driscoll had served more than a decade in Napoleon's army when he enlisted in the US army and participated in the War of 1812. When he lost his left arm in the battle at the Chippewa, Winfield Scott promoted him to first lieutenant. He ended up as a founder of the Arkansas Chiefdom and the general of its army, but never lost the way of thinking like a sergeant.
  • 1632: Frank Jackson had served as a grunt in the Vietnam war and then worked as a miner, when he was called to organise and lead the defense of first Grantville and then the United States of Europe.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series, Sam Carsten starts out as an enlisted man in the US Navy. During the period between the Great War and the Second Great War, he takes a test to become an officer, passes, and eventually gets his own command in the later books.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is how Tau Empire rank progression works in Warhammer 40,000. To reach Shas'O (commander) rank, you have to start as a basic Fire Warrior and pass through multiple trials of fire (usually surviving a dangerous mission or passing a difficult combat exercise) to progress through the ranks. There are no shortcuts, so every commander has started out as a basic infantryman.

    Real Life 
  • Ernst Juenger, German author and philosopher, joined World War I as enlisted soldier. He later became a lieutenant. He wrote a book about his experiences, Storm Of Steel.
  • In the Soviet and then Russian army officer training is conducted in voyennoe uchilische (military training facilities), the conditions in which are very similar to the conditions the enlisted men live in, but longer (5 years instead of just one). However, an enlisted man who served his mandatory term and stayed in the army by contract can undergo officer training in a much more lenient way.

    There is also a reserve officer training system called voyennaya kafedra (military school within civilian universities). The career military doesn't consider the reserve cadets and officers as "real", since they didn't serve either as enlisted men or true 5-year cadets, but if some one of them actually did, or, even better, fought in a conflict, he's instantly a "real" cadet or officer.
  • In the Singaporean military, this is how one makes it as an commissioned officer since they have no officer's school and potential candidates are sent off to Officer Candidate School on the recommendation of their commanding officers.
  • The majority of the Israeli Defense Force's officer corps is this, since they do not have officer candidate schools.
  • Elisha Hunt Rhodes enlisted at the beginning of The American Civil War as a private on the Union side, and was a Colonel by the end. His war diaries were used heavily in Ken Burns' PBS documentary The Civil War.

Indexes: Characters as Device, Military and Warfare Tropes

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