Created By: StarSword on October 21, 2013 Last Edited By: StarSword on January 14, 2014
Troped

Up Through the Ranks

A veteran enlisted soldier was made into an officer.

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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

Community Feedback Replies: 41
  • October 21, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    • MASH: Col. Potter started as an enlisted man in World War One, by the time of the Korean War he's a Colonel and surgeon.
    • In the substory "The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail" from Time Enough For Love the protagonist goes from enlisting as a cadet to four star admiral in the US Navy through "constructive laziness" - basically, by taking the training option at every opportunity instead of utilizing the training he just got. The only reason he joined the Navy in the first place was because he thought it was less work than plowing fields on his father's farm.
  • October 22, 2013
    Koveras
    • All new recruits in XCOM Enemy Unknown start at the Rookie (equivalent of Private) or Squaddie (Corporal) rank, depending on your upgrades. This is contrasted by the ones who join your team as a reward for certain missions and usually start at an officer rank immediately.
  • October 22, 2013
    StarSword
    Thoughts on the description?
  • October 22, 2013
    kjnoren
    Not sure about the tropability of this.

    I think there are at least three different tropes here, really, and I don't think there is that much more than superficial similarity between them.

    The first is an army where everyone has to start as enlisted, there are very few if any routes going straight to officer. Most conscript armies work like this. One might be set up for becoming a sergeant as a conscript, but you still have to do a year or two as a grunt before going to officer school. Examples of such systems are Israel and most likely Finland; Sweden used to have such a system before we quit conscription. There might have been volunteer armies that followed a similar system.

    Fictional examples: Starship Troopers

    Then second is people who get promoted due to valour, showing leadership on the battlefield and so on (this is likely the first way to become an officer invented).

    Fictional examples: Sheff Parker in 1824: The Arkansas War

    The third is when an army has two distinct recruitment "pools", for lack of a better word. It might be based on class, education (, or schools (like in USA nowadays). Eg, in many countries with an aristocracy becoming an officer was limited to the aristocracy. Those individual aristocrats might still have to start as simple privates (or troopers, or what have you), but they were expected to be promoted onto the officer track once they had gained some experience. A real-world example of this is the Swedish army of the 18th century. Then this trope would be likely not apply to them, but only those that were not expected to follow the officer path.

    Fictional examples: Ginger Lewis in [1]

    Another way to look at this would be to go from the age of the new officer. If he or she is over a certain age, or have gained X years of prior military experience of the line, then it's this trope, otherwise not.
  • November 17, 2013
    StarSword
    ^That's ... interesting. Not really sure what to do with it. Thoughts?
  • November 17, 2013
    Bisected8
    ^^^ I think that might be overcomplicating things a bit. This isn't a Useful Notes page, so all we really need are what's relevant to the character (i.e. they used to be one of the rank and file, got promoted for being awesome and now they're a officer who knows what it's like to be "one of the lads"). There's no need to focus on the specific structures of military ranks and promotions outside of what's needed for a clear example.

    Speaking of examples;

    • The Ciaphas Cain series has a 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.
  • November 17, 2013
    zarpaulus
    The Starship Troopers (book) example isn't so much a belief that Asskicking Equals Authority as a belief that officers should go through the same crap as their men. So there are no commissioned officers and enlisted men. If a man shows leadership ability after going through basic training and several combat drops they are recommended for officer training.
  • November 17, 2013
    kjnoren
    ^^ I don't think of it as overcomplicating, more as identifying that the current trope as envisioned is ambigious.
  • November 17, 2013
    Ominae
    I guess I can't add the Singaporean national service system as an RL example.
  • November 18, 2013
    AgProv
    Real Life:
    • Happens more often than you would think, especially in wartime.
    • Britain's best fighting general of WW 2, Field Marshal William Slim, started his career before WW 1 as a private soldier. He survived WW 1 with an officer's commission, and gradually rose up the ranks. He fought the Italians in East Africa as a brigade and then divisional commander, and, posted to the Far East, managed the thousand-mile retreat out of Burma, keeping the British Army largely intact. He then held and destroyed in detail the Japanese invasion of India, then went on the offensive and recaptured Burma. If the British Army did not allow for the possibility a private soldier could rise this far up the ranks, this great general would never have been.

    Literature:
    • George Mac Donald 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 fictionalised 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 WW 2: Mailed Fist covers his active service between D-Day and Berlin.

      • A possible page-quote if this makes it to a full tropes page might be this dialogue from McDonald Fraser's The General Danced At Dawn. Lieutenant, formerly Lance-Corporal, Dand McNeill has just arrived with the Gordon Highlanders for the first time, and is being interviewed by the Colonel.

      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."
  • November 18, 2013
    Frank75
  • November 18, 2013
    Jaqen
    FILM
  • November 19, 2013
    aurora369
    Real Life: 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.
  • November 24, 2013
    StarSword
    Examples? Hats?
  • November 24, 2013
    Bisected8
    It might be worth adding a bit about the sorts of personalities these characters have/what they do in a story.
  • December 11, 2013
    TairaMai
    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).
  • December 11, 2013
    Dalillama
    Land services in the Anglophone world often refer to such people as "Mustangs"
  • December 11, 2013
    Ominae
    Real Life: 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.
  • December 12, 2013
    Koveras
    • Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series started off as a rank-and-file Space Marine before promotion to his/her current rank. Granted, s/he was an elite N7 marine, but still took orders like everyone else before taking the commission him/herself.
  • December 12, 2013
    StarSword
    ^I was under the impression Shepard started as an officer. Where did they say she was prior enlisted?
  • December 12, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    Real Life: 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.
  • December 13, 2013
    kjnoren
    The description mentions only veteran soldiers being made officers, but the name implies every officer who once was a private/trooper, and we have several such examples offered.
  • December 24, 2013
    StarSword
    To whomever flagged this with "Better Name", prior enlisted is a preexisting term.
  • December 25, 2013
    kjnoren
    I flagged it thus, and I've explained why I think Prior Enlisted is ambigious earlier.

    Prior Enlisted might be a preexisting term in the American army (though there I understand "mustang" is more commonly used), but it's not necessarily so in other English-speaking armies, or it might have a different meaning there.
  • December 25, 2013
    Lakija
  • December 25, 2013
    kjnoren
    Both of those have the same trouble: no clarity of what the earlier enlistment entailed. Both can also be misinterpreted as having mustered out of the military earlier, and then joining again.

    One idea, making clear this is a Sergeant Rock to officer transition, is to use Veteran Ensign as the trope name (since we have Ensign Newbie). I'm not really a fan of the rank-based trope names we have, but ensign is commonly understood at being at the lowest on the officer totem pole.
  • December 25, 2013
    Dalillama
    Up From The Ranks might be a good name for this one. Up Through the Hawsehole is the naval version. Contrast with Officer And A Gentleman. I was going to say that it could also be contrasted with Gentlemen Rankers, which would be when aristocrats serve as enlisted troops, but it looks like there isn't such a trope listed.
  • December 25, 2013
    Lakija
    ^^Oh... hmm... ^Up From The Ranks or Up Through The Ranks is nice and seems clear.
  • January 11, 2014
    Ominae
    This is how a major of the officers in the Israeli Defense Forced are made since they have no officer candidate schools.
  • January 11, 2014
    StarSword
    I can work with Up From The Ranks.

    Rewrote the Laconic for clarity and did some description tweaking.
  • January 12, 2014
    kjnoren
    Up From The Ranks still includes every former enlisted who becomes an officer, no matter how long they spent there.

    Up Through The Ranks gives the implication that they spent some non-trivial time as enlisted before they become an officer, so is more concise with no loss of clarity, if you go for the Sergeant Rock becoming an officer definition.
  • January 12, 2014
    StarSword
    ^All right, that makes sense.

    Added a "Related to" line with Rank Up.
  • January 12, 2014
    kjnoren
    Some ideas on improving the description, provided you're going that way. (Note that the examples need some pruning too.)


    Laconic: A veteran enlisted soldier is made into an officer

    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.
  • January 12, 2014
    kjnoren
    Any thoughts on how to handle real-life examples? This is such a common thing in wartime that we can get no end of examples there, and at the same time the most famous real-life examples are different from the really famous ones (most mustangs top out before they become colonels, but the famous ones become generals).

    Some examples:

    Literature:

    • 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.
    • Sixteen Thirty Two: 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.
  • January 12, 2014
    Nomic
    • This is how Tau Empire rank progression works in Warhammer40k. 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.
  • January 12, 2014
    MaxWest
    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.
  • January 13, 2014
    DAN004
    • 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.
  • January 13, 2014
    AgProv
    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.
  • January 14, 2014
    StarSword
    Launching at midnight EST. Last call for examples.
  • January 14, 2014
    StarSword
    • 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.
  • January 14, 2014
    StarSword
    ^Dang, I null-edited your post by accident. Sorry, King Zeal.

    As for the content, eh, close enough.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=e2786ilbcphneyd1zpwubste&trope=UpThroughTheRanks