Artistic License – Military

"Do all that stuff we have to do to shoot at him and then FIRE TORPEDOES!"
Submarine Captain, The Adventures of Dr. McNinja

An artistic license trope that pertains to depictions of the military in film and television. This ranges from minutiae (forgetting which branch of the military uses which ranks) to flat-out cases of They Just Didn't Care and Rule of Funny (having a character all but assault superior officers with no consequences).

The most common errors in depictions of the U.S. military:

  • Failing to distinguish between the military and other government (CIA, FBI, Police) and non-government (mercenaries) entities.
  • Failing to distinguish between different branches of the military (e.g., using "army" to refer to any military unit.), or mixing and matching different military branch ranks into one service (e.g., sergeants in the Navy or admirals in the Army).
  • Incorrect use of service-specific jargon (e.g., army privates regularly saying "aye, aye" without being ironic.)
  • Failing to understand the fundamental concept of the chain of command (e.g., having regular privates taking orders directly from the President in the field, or having a private appealing directly to the President to overrule his company commander's orders.)
  • Getting the ranks wrong, either in form of address, or in who outranks whom.
  • Having people performing jobs with either a too high or low rank (e.g. having a colonel leading a platoon in the field).
  • Getting saluting protocol wrong.
  • Getting patches, rank insignia, and uniforms wrong.
  • Having medals and ribbons inconsistent with the setting, the characters age and experiences (e.g. having Gulf War veterans wearing WWI medals).
  • Having characters with an unlikely or downright impossible professional Back Story (e.g. an Air Force fighter pilot and an Air Force Special Tactics operator at the same time).
  • Using incorrect weapons or incorrect models. Very common in media as it's cheaper and easier to use older weapons as stand-ins for more advanced hardware that might be difficult or impossible to obtain, and vice versa.
  • Using incorrect radio or communication protocol (e.g., nobody says "over and out" "Over" means "Done talking, awaiting response" while "out" means "Done talking, no response needed").
  • Tanks, but No Tanks
  • Handling weapons incorrectly or dangerously.
  • Getting promotion/demotion procedures wrong.
  • Making Boot camp either more extreme or much milder than it really is. It's not unrelenting torture, but it's not summer camp, either. Depicting ordinary Boot Camp as if it were Special Forces Training, or vice versa.
  • Making the military justice system appear far more brutal (e.g. having a company commander summarily execute insufficiently enthusiastic soldiers at whim without any pretension to justice) or ineffectual (e.g. characters openly disobeying orders or insulting superiors to their faces and getting no more than a slap on the wrist) than it is.
  • Failing to understand the basic organisational setup of the Department of Defense and the roles and functions of its various leaders and component organizations (e.g. jointness and collaboration at the top is unheard of: the military services are fighting their own separate wars and the service chiefs report directly to no one but the President). Though this changes depending on the era (and depending on which nation you're talking about). In World War 2, for instance, the Department of Defense had not yet been established, and the branches of the U.S. military were more independent than they are today.
  • Being unjustifiably useless. When not just plain evil.
  • At military funerals, confusing a three-volley salute with a Twenty One Gun Salute (generally a mistake in dialogue). The former is done by a team of riflemen (ranging from three soldiers to nineteen, depending on the rank of the deceased), while the other is performed by artillery pieces ("guns" in military parlance) and is reserved for presidents' funerals.

There can be various reasons for this. Sometimes mistakes are made intentionally in order to facilitate the storytelling medium. Most often, though, Hollywood simply doesn't know or care about the particulars of the military.

Most current and former members of the military find this more funny than annoying, and military films that make countless errors are still more popular with members of the military than with the general public.

It should also be noted that since media portrayal tends to influence public perception, there are a few myths many people believe about the military thanks to movies.

Related to Hollywood Tactics and Mildly Military. Subtropes include The Squadette. Often averted by works that are Backed by the Pentagon.
Since military customs, rules, and traditions vary from country to country and in some cases, branch to branch within the same country, many times what is seen as "wrong" by an audience in one country is actually correct for the military force being shown (because of this, please check that any examples are actually incorrect for the military service depicted before adding them to the page.)


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  • There actually a story behind the whole "Getting patches, medals, rank insignia, and uniforms wrong." It was believed for a long time that movies and television were doing this deliberately to avoid getting in trouble for impersonating an officer (they believed similar things applied to police officers, by the way.) However, the only law that was even close to doing anything similar to that was shot down in 1970. If they still do it wrong, it's not because they have to be "out of uniform," but whether it's out of respect, habit (if the costumer got their start before the 70s, or was an apprentice of same), or just goofing up, usually depends on the movie in question. It's explained on the "Goofs" page of the Charlie's Angels movie.
  • Often, soldiers in fiction will have a Badass Beard or Perma Stubble. Most army regulations would strictly forbid this for both cosmetic reasons and practical reasons (gas masks don't seal very well on facial hair.)
  • Referring to service members as "G.I.s" in any time past the Vietnam War is pretty anachronistic, but still pops up, thanks to its popularity in WWII. A bit of Truth in Television, as some media outlets still use that term on occasion.
  • Salutes are often done wrong.
    • In the US Navy, US Marines, and all branches of the British military, salutes are only given while wearing a cover (hat, helmet, etc.) and saluting indoors is only done when someone is covered and under arms or under very formal circumstances. Superior officers saluting lower-ranked officers (as opposed to returning a salute) is only regularly done during special circumstances to honor the recipient, such soldiers being promoted or Medal of Honor recipients (it's not even a formal statute, just a tradition that became an unwritten rule that all officers salute a Medal of Honor recipient, regardless of rank). Civilians, including the American President, are not required to return the salutes that they are rendered by active-duty military personnel.
    • A common error is the left-handed salute: Saluting is done with the right hand. A left-handed salute is permissible only very occasionally. In the US Army and Air Force, you might get away with it if you lost your right arm in combat, but best not to try it otherwise. In the US Navy and Marines, it's allowed if your right hand is occupied in some way, such as carrying something heavy, or stuck in a bear's mouth.
      • In the US Army, it's generally expected that work-occupied personnel will continue working while the least engaged soldier (usually the supervisor) will salute, or, if working alone, the bear will salute on their behalf.
  • Pronouncing the rank "Lieutenant".
    • A general example that tends to crop up when British personnel feature in US media. In the UK, the rank of Lieutenant is pronounced "leff-tenant," not "loo-tenant." It can also happen with Canadian personnel, with Canadians pronouncing it the same way as the British. Historically, it was pronounced differently in the Royal Navy to both the British Army and US Forces, being rendered "letenant" or "l'tenant"; this pronunciation is in desuetude nowadays, but is often ballsed up in WWII films (even in the era), like In Which We Serve.
    • The same thing happens in Spanish-speaking media between Mexican Spanish (the dialect commonly used in both Latin American dubs and Mexican-made media) and the rest of Latin American and Spaniard dialects: In Mexico, a Lieutenant is translated as Teniente, while in almost every Spanish-speaking country, the same rank is translated as Alferez.
  • There seems to be some confusion over the names of the British armed forces. There's a Royal Air Force and a Royal Navy, but the Royal Army hasn't existed since the Civil War. The eldest surviving regiments can trace themselves back that far, but the oldest was actually founded under Cromwell and the Protectorate. It's further confused by the fact that some individual regiments or corps in the Army do have a royal warrant, e.g. the Royal Army Medical Corps. In this case it is the Royal Medical Corps of the Army, not the Medical Corps of the Royal Army.
  • The spelling of "sergeant" in the British armed forces: prior to 1953 it was "serjeant" (It still is in the Rifles.) A surprisingly large number of works forget this.
  • Also from the Brits: an OR 7 in the British Army is a Colour-Sergeant in the Infantry and Royal Marines, and a Staff Sergeant elsewhere. Referring to such individuals as "Colour"/"Staff" (As in "Colour Johnson", or "Staff Smith") or by full title is acceptable, but using the unadorned "Sergeant" will get your arse chewed out royally.
  • The addressal of Sailors is usually simplified for story sake. In reality, most people address the middle enlisted ranks (E-4 to E-6) in the rating/rank style (ET 1, BM 3, etc) with the last name. While simply calling someone "Petty Oficer So-and-So" is acceptable, it's not very common.
    • On the other hand, sometimes Chief Petty Officers and above are simply called "Petty Officer" which is incorrect. Additionally, in more modern times calling a Senior Chief or Master Chief simply "Chief" is unacceptable.
  • One from the Russians. Frequently in media, Russian Special Forces are frequently called "The Spetsnaz", as if "spetsnaz" was an organization in and of itself. Spetsnaz are not an organization, but the term used in Russian for "special forces" note , and several branches of the Russian military (and even the police) have their own "spetsnaz" organizations. While some of them may include "spetsnaz" in their name, none of them are The Spetsnaz. It would be sort of like calling Navy SEALs, U.S Army Delta Force and Marine Force Recon "The Special Operations Forces".
  • A rather common mistake, especially in live action, is for soldiers to wear their caps cocked to the side. It's done for stylistic reasons, usually to denote a more easy going character who likes to play by his or her own rules. This is actually a violation of military dress code—with the exception of Air Force flight caps, which are supposed to be "slightly cocked" to the right.note 
  • Military are often shown living in 40-60 man "open bay" style barracks, which were increasingly rare even by the 80s in favor of 2-4 man style dorm rooms (other than Naval ships, which the junior enlisted still do this for space purposes). This usually comes from the iconic boot camp look of barracks, where this is still true. Even deployed military in combat zones aren't quite as crowded up. Related to the perpetual boot camp trope mentioned above.
  • Bit of a Discredited Trope, US military members are often seen wearing their dress uniform everywhere off duty in modern times in a lot of media. Until the late 20th century, the owning and wearing of "civvies" was a special privilege for lower ranks and it was a more common sight. Nowadays it's a lot more rare. While a Justified Trope if it's someone fresh out of boot camp home for the first time, most military rarely just throw on their dress uniform just to go out on the town. Dress uniforms aren't that comfortable, and most aren't eager to get them dirty, and many just find it gauche. This is especially prevalent with the Navy, with the iconic image of the sailor on shore leave in dress blues/whites. In reality, the Navy has discontinued allowing the wear of uniforms in most foreign ports for security and diplomatic reasons, (special events like Fleet Week in San Francisco and New York City being exceptions, where it's required).
  • Showing outdated uniforms for media set in modern times. The US Navy again gets this more than others, as most wardrobe fitters/artists seem to prefer the classic dungarees with the white cover ("dixie cup") look as opposed to its replacement, the similar looking utilities and now the new blue camo-like NWUs. Same goes for showing sailors with beards, which the US Navy stopped allowing in 1986.
  • A common theme is for creators who actually do have a military background depicting a fairly realistic potrayal of the military from the time they were in, even though a lot of the details are now out of date (when set in modern times). This can be for just not knowing or caring how the services have changed, plus its easier to go with what you know.
  • Since the Iron Cross is the most iconic German military decoration of the 19th and 20th century, German officers, monarchs etc. are frequently show wearing one in historical films etc. However these Iron Crosses are often shown at the wrong time and sometimes worn incorrectly. The Iron Cross was only awarded by Prussia (but also to non-Prussians) in the Wars of Liberation (1813-1815), the Franco-German War (1870-1871) and the First World War (1914-1918) and, in a modified form by Nazi Germany in World War 2 (this last version e. g. included an entirely new class, the Knight's Cross). Examples:
    • In the British television series Edward VII, Otto von Bismarck was shown wearing an Iron Cross in the 1860s. But being too young to have served in 1813-1815, he only got an Iron Cross during the war of 1870/71. (Bismarck's monarch, King Wilhelm I, did have an Iron Cross at that time. It had been awarded to him when he was serving in the French campaign of 1814 as sixteen-year-old).
    • In Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, Colonel von Holstein and Captain Rumpelstoss wear Iron Crosses a few years before World War I, even though the former most likely and the latter undoubtedly is too young to have served in 1870/71. To make matters worse, von Holstein is wearing his cross around his neck. The only class of the Prussian Iron Cross to be worn around the neck was the Grand Cross, which was reserved exclusively for commanding generals for winning an important battle or for taking or defending an important fortress.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Universal for many anime that feature military ranks: Japan has historically used a unified rank structure: i.e. all branches of the military use the same rank names and structure (Sho-i for Second Lieutenant/Ensign/Pilot Officer, Chu-i for First Lieutenant/Lieutenant Junior Grade/Flying Officer, Tai-i for Captain/Lieutenant/Flight Lieutenant, and so on). This can cause problems for translators in trying to determine whether fictional military units (such as the UN Spacy/RDF below or the EFSF of Mobile Suit Gundam) should go with a naval naming convention or an army naming convention.
  • The official subtitled version of Strike Witches calls Mio a Major (an Army/Air Force rank) in the subtitles. It's the right grade, but as a naval officer she should technically be a Lieutenant Commander. They also call Shirley a Lieutenant in episode 5, but since she's an officer in her country's Army, she should technically be a Captain. What makes this error more unusual is that the subtitles correctly referred to her as a First Lieutenant in episode 3 (she was promoted off-screen between the two episodes). The actual dialogue averts this, since the characters use the all-forces rank structure of the Imperial Japanese forces ('shousa' being used to refer to both army majors and navy lieutenant commanders, for instance).
    • To add to the confusion, the Witches in Joint Fighter Wing holds TWO rank. One is for her native country and branch of service she originally is from, which should be addressed by whatever the appropriate title it is for the serving country/branch. And the other is for the League of Nations Air Force (LNAF), which is generally addressed in British Royal Air Force ranks. For example, in a drama CD, Barkhorn states that she is a Shousa (Major) in Karlsland Luftwaffe, but holds the rank of Taii (Captain/Flight Lieutenant) in 501st due to command structure and such.
  • Ghost in the Shell is well known for being Broad Strokes of any thing military:
    • The original Ghost in the Shell (1995) film. During Major Kusanagi's battle with the tank, just before the helicopter pilot covering her departs he says "Over and out" to her.
    • The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode "Jungle Cruise" has Section 9 tracking down a serial killer who is implied to be an ex-US Navy SEAL. The dialogue mentions he was a petty officer (an enlisted rank) while his photo shows him wearing a very good officer uniform.
    • While Ghost in the Shell: Arise manga follows the established canon of Batou being a Ranger during his JSDF days, it nevertheless makes him a JMSDF Commander,note  but the only Ranger unit in the modern JSDF, the Western Army Infantry Regiment, explicitly falls under a JGSDF command, even though its soldiers are essentially Marines.
  • Mostly averted in Marine Corps Yumi, thanks to the experiences of writer and translator Moreno.
    • Happens during the Marine Corp graduation when the Eagle, Globe and Anchor is not depicted properly. This is justified as that symbol is a trademark of the USMC and the authors opt to not use the actual one in the comics.
    • Moreno also points out any flaw in the depiction of the military in the summary below each page. Such as DIs not being as touchy as depicted and etc.
  • In the ending credits of the second volume of Hellsing Ultimate, the survivors of the attack on the Hellsing manor salute the dead at their funeral. Despite being a British organization, they use the American salute. An American-style salute given to Seras by the surviving Wild Geese in volume seven may or may not qualify - The Wild Geese are mercenaries, and said soldiers may have been trained to salute according to American traditions long before taking a job in England.

    Comic Books 
  • The French-language Belgian comic Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats), set during The American Civil War, occasionally shows American soldiers saluting French-style, or presenting arms in the French way.
  • Larry Hama's run on the original G.I. Joe comic had some very realistic depictions of the military, (you know, given the nature of Joe), but was also about a decade behind on a lot of the smaller details. He strived to keep up to date, but he was mostly writing with what he knew from his time in the Army.
  • Incredible Hulk: General Ross pretty much embodies the Armies Are Evil Trope in one man. It not only takes Artistic License but a lot of Suspension of Disbelief on the part of Marvel fans to assume the U.S. Air Force wouldn't have court marshaled him, reduced him in rank, and sentenced him to life in Leavenworth after the property damage and civilian casualties his obsession with the Hulk has caused.
  • For that matter, the military is rarely ever competent in Marvel Comics at all, unless you count S.H.I.E.L.D. (who are competent when Nick Fury is running them and utterly incompetent otherwise).
    • Speaking of Fury, his rank is often given as Colonel while as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. when in reality, he'd probably at least be a General to command a military organization that large. Fixed in The Ultimates where he is in fact a general.
  • Commented on In-Universe in the Kev miniseries of The Authority. Kev, a black ops veteran for the British government, is headed to a booksigning by one of his buddies, and reads it to the others as they go, pointing out such details as a timeline that would have made him pass selection at the age of twelve, among others. When they met, the author cheerfully admits it's all BS (except what he and the rest of the squad went through), since what the audience wants is "fucking Rambo".

    Comic Strips 
  • Beetle Bailey has numerous examples.
    • The outdated uniforms, weapons, open-bay style barracks, etc. usually stand out to most, and nowadays 1st Sgt. Snorkel would be NJP'd and removed from command of Beetle's platoon for striking a subordinate, if not outright put in the brig for how severely he beats him. Oddly enough, there have been a few strips where Snorkel is thrown in the brig with his stripes ripped off after he does something really stupid (like wreck General Halftrack's car in a fit of rage) but this only lasts a day at most.
    • Almost everyone calls Beetle by his nickname (1st Sgt. Snorkel does almost exclusively). While not completely unheard of, it's essentially his first name (he had the nickname prior to the service) and most nicknames a superior would call you would be something you earned in service. Gen. Halftrack and a few of the Lieutenants do occasionally call him Private Bailey, however.

    Films — Live Action 
  • At one point in the Stargate movie, Colonel O'Neil calls Kawalski, his second in command, "Lieutenant". Not only that, he's credited as "Lieutenant Kawalski" in the credits. The problem? He's wearing silver oak leaves throughout the entire movie, making him a Lieutenant Colonel. While the film's treatment of the military is far from accurate or flattering, that's actually a pretty easy mistake to make. After all, he's a "lieutenant colonel." It can be presumed that Emmerich and Devlin were simply unaware that the appropriate abbreviation of the rank "lieutenant colonel" is not "lieutenant" but rather "colonel." On the other hand, they did get a detail right that even some people in the actual military forget: with the single exception of the sitting President, you do not salute civilians. After the final battle, the Abydonian boys salute O'Neil. You can tell he wants to salute back, but instead he waits until his own men join in so he can salute them.
  • Many characters in Top Gun are wearing patches from every branch of the military except the Navy.
    • The most famous instance laughed at by real Navy pilots is the buzzing of the control tower. A real pilot doing this would be grounded (most likely permanently) and up on disciplinary charges. That's an INCREDIBLY reckless and dangerous thing to do.
    • A pilot who turns in his wings is permanently disqualified from ever flying again.
    • Minor, but pilots (officers) would have their own private quarters for showering and not the open bay locker rooms shown in the movie.
    • Instances of 1st class petty officers in dress whites serving coffee to officers while underway onboard a carrier border between the strange and the ridiculous. One, wardroom personnel on "cranking" duty would be very junior personnel. Two, they would almost never be required to wear dress uniforms in such duties; since they're working in the wardrooms and the galleys, they'd only get dirty for no good reason. Three, they're serving coffee. Every Navy man from admiral on down knows to get his own goddamn coffee.
    • The Top Gun trophy is an admitted artistic license by the writers. As their technical consultant says on the special features documentary that if there really was a Top Gun trophy nobody would graduate because they'd all die trying to get it.
    • Tom Cruz's character rides his motorcycle on base without wearing a helmet. No one on a military installation would get fifty feet like that without getting stopped. A pilot would be in special trouble; it takes a lot of money to train one, and the Navy (and Air Force) doesn't want to have wasted that money just because the pilot didn't want to wear a helmet.
  • Basic, a film starring Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen and John Travolta featured several errors, including:
    • A female soldier wearing a Ranger tab. There were no Ranger-qualified females at the time (or female Rangers, for that matter).
    • The rank of Samuel L. Jackson's character changed (up and down) depending on the scene.
  • Damn Wayans is much too young to have served in Vietnam in Major Payne, and also would been at least a colonel by the mid 90s, if not retired.
  • Rolling Thunder:
    • When Major Rane puts his Air Force uniform on, his U.S. lapel insignia not only are in the wrong location, but are the insignia used by enlisted personnel, not officers. Similarly, despite the character supposedly being a Vietnam War veteran, his uniform lacks the Vietnam Campaign Medal (an award given out to every single soldier who served in that war).
    • Master Sergeant Vohden's uniform has a Fifth Army patch on the right sleeve. A patch on the right sleeve indicates that the wearer served with that unit in combat during a previous war or campaign. The Fifth Army last served in battle during World War II. Vohden, as a returning Vietnam War veteran in 1973, would have been only a year or two old during World War II, if he had been born at all.
    • The hair of most of the military personnel shown in the film, including that of Major Rane and Master Sergeant Vohden, is too long for military standards.
  • Iron Eagle II features rather rotund actor Maury Chaykin as a sarcastic, back-talking sergeant who wanders through the entire movie with his uniform unbuttoned, his hair uncombed (and too long for the military), and generally looking like a slob. However, the higher-ranking General who assembled the ragtag bunch of misfits of which the sergeant was a member had handpicked them because he wanted their mission to fail.
  • Pearl Harbor:
    • Rafe wears an Eagle Squadron badge, as do the Spitfires. The squadron code 'RF' is for No. 303 Squadron, which was a Polish unit - a very famous one at that. The only Hurricane seen in the film has the correct codes for an Eagle Squadron, 'XR-T' for No. 71 Squadron.
    • Rafe claims that he was assigned to an RAF Eagle Squadron prior to American involvement by order of Jimmy Doolittle, but he's lying. In reality, active duty personnel could not be assigned to serve with a belligerent nation while the US was neutral. They would have to resign their USAAF commission, swear allegiance to the British Crown, and enlist in the RAF (usually via Canada). The problem is why Danny believed this excuse.
    • The Doolittle Raiders scene is "how not to be the military".
  • The Hunt for Red October:
    • The main sonar technician wears the "crow" of a Petty Officer but is addressed as "Seaman Jones" more than once. The proper forms of address would be either "Petty Officer Jones" or "Petty Officer" by those unfamiliar with his rate, or "STS2" by those who know, by rate being vastly more likely. Possibly "Jones" either by superiors or less formally. Even odder is the fact that, in the book and the movie, he's supposed to be a Sonarman 2nd (later 1st) Class.
    • The film depicts the eponymous sub's "caterpillar" propulsion system as a revolutionary technological advance because it is much quieter than a traditional screw-propeller system. The problem is that the loudest thing on a nuclear submarine, and thus the one most likely to be picked by opposing passive sonar systems, is the reactor. The reactors on Soviet subs were particularly loud as compared to those on American subs. So it really wouldn't matter how quiet the Red October's propulsion system is, as long as it's being powered by a nuclear reactor, American subs would have been able to hear it. In Real Life, the real concern over stealthy (well, stealthier) submarines comes from an older technology: diesel-electrics. Since diesel-electric submarines only use their diesel motors when on the surface and rely solely on battery power, which is extremely quiet because there are no moving parts, when submerged, they are much stealthier than a nuclear submarine. They are also much slower when submerged and can only stay submerged for limited periods of time, which is why nuclear power has generally been considered a big advance.
    • This may or may not be true, but Ramius probably would not tell his officers that they "are dismissed" after eating a meal, since that would be insulting to a Soviet naval officer. Instead, he would say something like "gentlemen officers", which would be a hint to get up and leave.
    • The officers of a Russian sub would probably not walk around in parade uniform all the time. In fact, they certainly wouldn't: when the sub is deployed, the regulations require all personnel on the boat, both the officers and the ratings, to wear the same fatigues, distinguished only by their position pip on the left shirt pocket.
    • The whole reason for Ramius to be dissatisfied with the Soviet system is pretty dumb as well. While the Soviet brass was more dismissive of their personnel than the US one, the nuclear submarine COs (moreover, a full captain, that is, a colonel equivalent, is a pretty high rank anyway) most empatically weren't a resourse they have had reserves of, and thus they were treated much more carefully than the other soldiers. Another matter is that he simply wouldn't be approved for the position had his superiors had even the slightest doubt in his loyalty.
  • In the film Below, the ghost story is set on a submarine and an incredible amount of artistic license is taken with how roomy the submarine is. Few movies can accurately portray how cramped, crowded, and claustrophobic a submarine is, but this particular submarine is shown to have fairly large rooms, multiple decks, and corridors wide enough for two people to walk comfortably side by side. This was mainly done to allow characters enough room to wander off by themselves so that spooky events could ensue. Both modern and World War II era submarines are so cramped that all off duty personnel are usually expected to be in their racks so as to stay out of the way of the people on duty. Only the largest "boomers" could even try to approach having this much space.
  • In An Officer and a Gentleman, officer candidates continually refer to Gunnery Sergeant Foley as "Sergeant". Navy OCS candidates refer to their Marine drill instructors as "Sergeant Instructor" (followed by proper rank and last name if referring to a specific instructor rather than the one yelling in your face). In addition, while the United States Army allows the use of "Sergeant" for any NCO from E-5 to E-8, Marine Corps etiquette insists on referring to non-commissioned officers by proper rank, and even though the Army doesn't require them to be called anything by sergeant, E-8s are often referred to as "Master Sergeant" anyway.
  • A Few Good Men: As he is leaving after questioning his client, Tom Cruise's Lt. Kaffee turns and says, "Whatever happened to saluting an officer when he leaves the room?" whereupon Dawson stands up and pointedly shoves his hands in his pockets. Great moment, great scene... except that Marines don't salute indoors, while Navy officers would not expect a salute indoors. (Specifically, in the Navy and USMC, covers (i.e. hats) are not to be worn indoors except for a few rare occasions...and in those branches, you are not supposed to salute without your cover. Therefore, there is a very small chance of saluting indoors for members of those branches of the US military.)
    • Dawson does finally manage to salute Kaffee (again, indoors) at the end of the film. At this point, he is a prisoner whose sentence includes discharge from the service; such individuals are not permitted to salute or return a salute.
    • The premise for the entire plot edges on the unfeasible, if only because the personnel details of a junior enlisted Marine would be so far below the paygrade of a full-bird colonel running an entire base that it wouldn't be worth his time and effort to get involved in them directlynote . Indeed, his insistence in getting involved in what should have been a very straightforward matter of discipline easily handled by subordinates is what ended up costing him his job and freedom.
    • Additionally, Lt. Kendrick admits on the stand that he had a subordinate punished by depriving him of food for a week. He's not the one on trial, so nothing happens to him. In reality, he would've been immediately arrested and, probably, drummed out for violating the Marine code of conduct.
  • Not that Hobgoblins was a bastion of reality in film, but Nick salutes his sergeant at Club Scum. He also has insanely long hair for a soldier fresh out of basic training.
  • In Full Metal Jacket, the Marines saluted officers while in Vietnam. This is a big no-no. You do not salute officers in a war zone because it immediately identifies the officer to the enemy, making them a target. Another error: in the scene with Joker explaining his "Born to Kill" graffito, the officer initiates (just barely, but still) the salute. Wrong: the junior rank initiates the salute, always, in every branch.
    • In the original novel (The Short-Timers, by Gustav Hasford, himself a Vietnam veteran) Joker, being Joker and GenreSavvy, was saluting the officer in a combat zone on purpose - and when explicitly ordered to.
      "Corporal, don't you know how to execute a hand salute?" "Yes, sir." I salute. I hold the salute until the poge colonel snaps his hand to his starched barracks cover and I hold the salute for an extra couple of second before cutting it away sharply. Now the poge colonel has been identified as an officer to any enemy snipers in the area."
      • In reference to this, saluting in the field is known as a "Sniper Check", and lampshaded by saying it while doing it in an attempt to either discourage newer officers or hasten their replacement.
  • The Four Feathers: Well a British campaign was fought in the Sudan in 1884. That's about all it gets right. Major points include: the British wore grey not red in the Sudan, the force sent was much larger and comprised several regiments not just one and the most egregious flaw, the Battle of Abu Klea was a British victory.
  • Down Periscope: There's plenty of stuff that has those actually familiar with the Real Life US Submarine Service laughing not only at the intentional comedy, but the unintentional variety as well. While some of the inaccuracies are due to writer ignorance, and some are due to Rule of Cool or convenience to the plot, some of the issues surrounding the USS Orlando can be chalked up to the film production staff not having access to classified USN information.
    • To say nothing of the fact that Nitro is apparently both the ship's electrician and a radio operator. In any Real Life Navy, they are separate rates.
    • Command of any submarine, even a derelict rustbucket like the Stingray, would be below the paygrade of a lieutenant commander. Dodge also makes a very fair point when first presented with said rustbucket when he points out that it's a diesel submarine, where he has been trained and operated almost exclusively in nuclear submarine operations, which are very very different.
      • Actually, command of a submarine would not be below the paygrade of a lieutenant commander. If anything, having that position would somewhat above his paygrade. Most submarine, frigate, and destroyers are commanded by a full commander, while a lieutenant commander would be acting as the second-in-command/executive officer. However, during World War II most submarine commanders were lieutenant commanders, and one of the points of the movie was the Admiral who liked Dodge giving him command of the sub so that he could succeed in a damned difficult mission and thereby earn a more prestigious command.
    • While it's possible that the Stingray's initial crew might have been dredged up from whatever layabouts could be found to fill the necessary billets, however ineptly, for the purpose of a temporary exercise, it's ridiculously unlikely the entire same crew would be allowed to transfer to a completely new submarine with entirely new systems and protocols.
  • Battleship abandons all attempts at nautical terminology from the start. ("Hard left"? Really?)
  • In The Blue Max the costume design department perhaps attempted to show off their work - only to fail miserably, dressing each one German pilot into the uniform of the Prussian 1st Uhlan Regiment - which Manfred von Richthofen (a.k.a. The Red Baron) usually wore, but which was certainly not a general issue in the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte). Also, the German aircraft are depicted sporting the curve-sided crosses (cross pattée) insignia, which is incorrect for the period post March 1918; also using armament without any ammo feed. Apparently Rule of Cool reigned supreme.
  • Lord of War
    • The Soviet Union phased out the AKM note  in 1974, replacing it with the similar-looking-yet-very-different AK-74, in 5.45x39mm. Further, Soviet troops (including Nicholas Cage's son Weston) in 1991 are shown using Norinco Type 56-1, Chinese copies of the AKMS, despite Soviet troops never using Chinese equipment, especially after the withdrawal of 7.62x39mm weapons from service, and Czech SA Vz. 58 rifles, in the background of the Ukrainian armoury. The majority of rifles given to guerilla troops, however, are, in fact Soviet AKM rifles and East German AKMS rifles, as well as the occasional real, very rare AK-47.
    • Yuri tells Uncle Dimitri to flub his numbers so that instead of 40,000 AK-47s, he has 10,000 and thus is "severely depleted," needing to order more from the factory. Yuri says that this number is low for a battalion, which has only 500 riflemen, and so 10,000 assault rifles is a ridiculously high amount of guns. In addition, as a major general, Uncle Dimitri would be in command of a division, of which 10,000 AK-47s is a bit more understandable.
  • Under Siege probably has dozens upon dozens. One that would probably go unnoticed to most though is that it's stated Steven Segal's character lost his SEAL standing and clearance and only had the options of becoming (cross-rating) to Yeoman or a cook (Mess Management Specialist at the time). It's never stated what his source rate was (back then SEALS were one of 8 regular ratings), so assuming it was one that required a clearance (for instance, if he was a Boatswain's Mate, he could have stayed as one, but not a Photographer's Mate), he still couldn't become a Yeoman, as it requires a secret clearance.
  • In Courage Under Fire, a female army officer is being vetted as the first female recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The problem is, the first female army officer to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor was Captain Mary Edwards Walker, an army surgeon, who received the award for her heroic actions during the US Civil War, 135 years prior to the time Courage Under Fire is set.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger:
    • Steve is promoted to the rank of Captain incredibly fast; the film appears to show him as just a private fresh out of boot camp before his heroics cause him to officially become "Captain" America, including his fellow soldiers referring to him as Captain Rogersnote .
    • Despite being awarded the Medal of Honor, Steve never wears the appropriate ribbon - possibly justified, since the USO arranged his exemption from the usual regulations regarding his uniform. He also wears an American Defense Medal ribbon which he would not (as an active member of the US Army) have been eligible for.
    • Steve salutes Phillips and then lowers his hand without Phillips ever saluting him back. Military etiquette is that the junior salutes first but holds the salute until it is returned.
    • The Red Skull, when he was still a member of the Nazi Party, wears an Allgemeine SS uniform with SS-Obergruppenführer (3-star General rank) collar tabs, but a SS NCO peaked cap (black chinstrap, not the silver-braid chinstrap of officers) and no visible shoulder boards. This would be an unacceptable breach of uniform regulations and etiquette for a German officer, but given his attitude towards his fellow Nazis (which got him Reassigned to Antarctica), one assumes that he didn't give a damn whether his uniform was correct or not.
    • Two aversions, though: Steve addresses his drill sergeant as 'Sir' which is correct for that era in the US Army, and after pulling a Military Maverick maneuver he submits himself for military discipline. Of course, who's going to court-martial someone who single-handedly rescued 400 POWs?
    • Another case that would be anachronistic is justified: while military units were not fully racially integrated until 1948, the Howling Commandos are shown to be a special case, since Steve has more than enough authority to demand these specific men be on his team, regardless of race.
  • The Incredible Hulk has Ross legally justifying his obsessive manhunt for Banner by claiming that he's trying to bring him in for the murder of some people who were killed during the Hulk's initial rampages. Unfortunately, the Posse Comitatus Act makes it illegal for the US Army to enforce the laws of the state unless specifically authorized to do so by an Act of Congress or an Executive Order. So Ross' attempt to make his actions legal should have gotten him two years in prison (Plus whatever the court-martial tacks on to his sentence for misappropriation of Army resources, sending an unauthorized commando mission into a friendly country which has had an active extradition treaty with the US for forty years to capture a fugitive instead of using standard channels and any of the death and destruction brought about by the manhunt that he would be considered responsible for).
  • The 2013 film Phantom, starring Ed Harris and David Duchovny, is mostly set inside a Soviet submarine. Duchovny's character is portrayed as a member of Osnaz, an allegedly radical faction within the KGB. Radical or not, this is a big factual error. Osnaz was a generic designation given to the special forces of the Soviet Police (Osnaz short for Osobogo Naznacheniya, meaning Special Forces), while the KGB had its own special forces, namely the Spetsnaz (short for Spetsiyalnogo Naznacheniya, meaning the same as the above).

  • Tom Clancy messed up in Clear and Present Danger with a conversation between an officer and a "Seaman First" in the United States Coast Guard. "Seaman First Class" was a World War II rank, not a contemporary one.
    • In the same book, the Coast Guard cutter Panache has as part of it's crew two separate Master Chiefs. For a ship of that size, which would have barely one hundred crew members, one Master Chief would be too many. Justified in that the Coast Guard gave the captain the pick of the litter as far as a strong team of enlisted experts, but still.
  • The Legends of Dune prequels take place tens of thousands of years in the future, which means that the authors were free to create whatever ranks they wish. The idea of a starship commander leading ground troops is still completely ridiculous.
  • S.M. Stirling and James Doohan got the Navy and Marines entry-level officer ranks mixed up in the Flight Engineer trilogy. Second Lieutenant Cynthia Robbins should be an ensign, and the two Marine pilots assigned to Commander Raeder's command in The Privateer are ensigns when they should be second lieutenants.
  • In The Magicians, it's stated that one of the students at Brakebills was the son of a five-star general. The United States Army hasn't promoted anybody to that rank since 1950, and the last one (Omar Bradley) died in 1981.
  • Avalon Hill's The General magazine Volume 25 #3, article "Riding With The Best". In a fictional account of a U.S. Army Sherman tank crew on a mission the recon platoon leader ends a radio conversation with "Roger, over and out".
  • There is no way a real military academy would be run like the Battle School from Ender’s Game. The faculty deliberately ignores discipline problems, even when they escalate to the point of attempted murder (In most real military academies, Bonzo would have been thrown out years earlier for striking a cadet under his command). There are regular training exercises between the various training companies, but no mention is ever made of after-action reports or anyone making any real analysis of how the exercise went before undergoing more exercises (The point of a military training exercise is not to establish relative win-loss-draw ratios between teams like in a sporting league. It is to try out various tactical evolutions and teach the officers involved what works, what doesn't work, and why, so that they are better prepared if they ever have to face a similar situation in real life). But the most ridiculous was the basic premise that the faculty could figure out who would make ideal Navy Admirals by their skills in training exercises that, given the nature of the exercises and the size of the units involved, are designed for Marine Lieutenants. IRL, skill at executing platoon-scale boarding actions says nothing about whether or not said officer could command a fleet.

    Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • We'll start with New!Who's 'saluting while not wearing hats' (if you are hatless, you can come to attention, or a version of it if sitting down, when wishing to show respect to a superior officer within most Commonwealth countries). Yes, it means that the Doctor can do his 'no don't salute' bit, but would it cost them too much to borrow the hats?
    • In The Day of the Moon Rory, dressed in civilian clothes, salutes the NASA personal in 1969 with the British-styled salute. The NASA personnel are explicitly confused by his usage of the British salute, so is certainly an in universe example.
  • Torchwood. Captain Jack Harkness' greatcoats all bear the rank insignia of "Group Captain", which is a full title in itself, is never referred to as "Captain", and has the equivalent of "Colonel" in the armed forces. Not to mention the fact that in his first appearance, his uniform is that of a "Squadron Leader".
  • Stargate SG-1, Stargate and Stargate Universe
    • Mostly averted, although there were some uniform oddities that popped up now and then, most notably an airman in the pilot wearing the insignia for both a Staff Sergeant and a Major. It was officially endorsed by the U.S. Air Force, and had military advisers on board to avoid most flagrant mistakes.
    • The Stargate SG-1 pilot episode also saw such flagrant errors as salutes given while indoors (you don't salute a superior while indoors), and a Captain reporting to a Colonel while in the same room as a General. (The Captain would have reported to the General, as he was the highest ranking officer in the room.)
  • Stargate Universe:
    • A character is consistently identified as a Sergeant despite wearing the rank insignia of a Senior Airman. This is sort-of understandable, as modern-day Senior Airmen in the USAF wear the same rank insignia that Sergeants did back when the Air Force rank of "Sergeant" existed. That USAF rank was eliminated in 1991 (it was at the same paygrade as a Senior Airman anyways) and the insignia repurposed.
    • The 20-year old Master Sergeant Ronald Greer. Master Sergeant is a rank that requires at least 16 years prior experience, meaning Greer could not possibly have reached that rank at his age, unless we assume some kind of Applied Phlebotinum or time dilation plot went on behind the scenes. This being both Stargate and a more serial show than even SG-1 was in later seasons, this seems unlikely... note 
  • Seven Periods With Mr Gormsby has a very minor one; Gormsby's medals are upside-down (making them appear in reverse order). But it's enough to make most watchers from a military background flinch.
  • In Bones:
    • A Ranger Colonel shows up to recruit Booth to train soldiers in Afghanistan. He immediately recognizes the Colonel as an army ranger, presumably due to the 75th Ranger patch on his right shoulder. Instead of a flag (argh!). Also, the Colonel is wearing a (deformed) black beret instead of the Ranger tan.
    • Agent Booth himself at the end of the same episode counts as well. Wearing a presumably new uniform that looks like it came from the "reject" pile of the local CIF. Would be an aversion except that Booth has been reinstated to the rank of Sergeant Major and would at least ensure his uniform was presentable.
  • In Star Trek: The Original Series, costumes often did not match stated ranks, and there would be some confusion over what rank a character held. The only character to receive a promotion during the run of the series is Spock, who starts out as a Lieutenant Commander and is promoted to full Commander at some indeterminate point in the first season. However, he wears the two-braided shirt, denoting a full Commander, throughout. Many other characters described in dialogue as a Lieutenant Commander also wear the two braids of a full Commander. There is also no real distinction in costuming between junior officers and enlisted crewmen.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Usually averted. DS9 does manage to keep everyone's ranks straight, even the Army style ranks of the Bajoran military. The only gray area is Chief O'Brien, but even he is consistently recognized as a specialist officer (NCO/Warrant) rather than a commissioned Starfleet officer, allowing him to, among other things, avoid getting in dress uniform and going to formal occasions a few times.
    • Occasionally you see the Chief chew out an Ensign for screwing up an engineering task (he's still respectful about it), which some people complain about. If you were an Ensign Newbie and your commanding officer has placed you on work detail with a decorated CPO whose job designation is Chief Operations Officer, he's allowed to chew you out over your failures with the engineering. Indeed, in some military services, mentoring inexperienced officers was one of the duties of senior NCOs, given their experience. Another point about his rank was actually brought up by the character: when Nog is accepted to Starfleet Academy, O'Brien muses that if Nog ever makes ensign he's going to have to start calling the kid sir.
    • One interesting problem with Chief O'Brien. For several years (including during his days as an engineer on the Enterprise in TNG) the writers and costumers apparently couldn't decide what rank he was (he wore an Ensign's insignia in his first appearance and went all over the chart from there). Memory Alpha has the full list. By '95 they finally decided he was a Senior Chief Petty Officer, where he stayed (and he was eventually even given a unique noncom's rank patch instead of the gold pins worn by officers, clearly based on real-life petty officers' insignia).
    • Season seven's "Field of Fire" has Ezri Dax refer to a bit character as "not the first drunken ensign I've escorted home".note  However, the character's rank insignia, one gold pin and one black pin, is that of a junior grade lieutenant (and he's correctly referred to as a lieutenant in the preceding scene).
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Crusher and Troi each end up in command on separate occasions, despite being in departments that would put them far down the chain of command, if they were in it at all — Crusher when the captain was alive, well, and (at the time she was placed in command) available. Oh yeah, and the ship was in Borg space. The problem is that the show often confuses 'being in command' with 'having the conn' or being the command duty officer or officer of the deck. For obvious reasons, the bridge of a ship cannot be left unattended at any time while the ship is under way, but the captain himself cannot be on the bridge and in the captain's chair 24-7 (if nothing else, the man does need to sleep sometime). Therefore, while Captain Picard remains the Commanding Officer of the Enterprise so long as he is medically eligible to perform his duties and Starfleet HQ doesn't relieve him of command or issue him Permanent Change of Station orders to somewhere else, he is not actually 'in command' of navigating the ship on an immediate basis unless he's actually on the bridge. To solve the problem of 'Picard cannot operate forever without rest, nor can he be in two places at once', other officers are left in charge of the bridge watch (usually on a rotating schedule), and they act in the captain's name and with his authority for anything that comes up, if Picard can't be there to handle it himself/there's no time to get him on the comm and ask him what he wants done about something. This is likely why, when leaving the bridge, Picard says "You have the bridge" rather than "You're in command now."
  • Arrested Development is a serious offender. Buster seems to be in and out of boot camp whenever it's plot convenient, and the uniforms (when not grossly inaccurate) were out of date by about seven years. Not to mention you wouldn't get a medal for getting injured from a non combat accident, and tricking someone into reenlisting is highly illegal. Given the show lives by the Rule of Funny, most of the inaccuracies are probably intentional.
  • Sons of Anarchy had an episode where several sailors can be seen in the escort services house in dress whites. Where exactly their ship pulled in is never really explained. Given they're in uniform it would imply it's Fleet Week, which would be in San Francisco. Seems like a long way to go for a whore house...
  • An episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. showed a wedding of a young Navy ensign. He and all his buddies were in choker whites, sporting impossible ribbon racks full of awards they couldn't have earned, some for wars they were infants for, along with warfare devices they couldn't have gotten yet (dual Surface AND Subsurface Warfare Pins)...not bad for being in the Navy less than two years!
  • Blackadder Goes Forth, whilst generally fairly accurate on many uniform and insignia aspects (excepting the fact they are dressed perfectly accurately for 1914, not 1917!), has an easily missed error in the form of Brigadier-General Sir Bernard Proudfoot-Smith. The rank title is in fact correct for the era (it's currently just Brigadier, without the hyphened General, in the British Army). His insignia is, however, incorrect: Brigadier-General during WWI wore a crossed baton and sword (similar to other generals, but without any crowns or stars above).
  • In The Wire, the second half of the fifth season has some plot points that revolve around whether or not a reporter is making up details in his stories. As part of his stories, he interviews a former Marine who served in Iraq. When the reporter first meets the Marine, the Marine talks about an "M niner niner eight," which (he explains) is a Humvee. He also calls a .50 caliber machine gun an M50 (which is actually an M2). Later, the Marine's credibility is called into question. Even a fellow Marine is questioned on the subject. In the second interview, the Marine correctly identifies the machine gun as a .50 caliber machine gun, but the audience is supposed to be left with the notion that the former Marine is a credible source of information, despite a few mistakes in his story.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Initiative can't seem to figure out whether it's a special ops arm of a civilian agency or a unit in the military, and if so, it's not sure which agency or which branch. In one episode Riley refers to his colleagues as Soldiers, in the next they are Marines. (There are some implications the Initiative is a unit all its own, and that personnel from all branches have been transferred there due to being deemed suitable for the program, but noting definitive.) Others use the terms interchangeably to refer to Riley. They answer to a civilian at first, but then are taken over by a general. Insignia seems to have been chosen by grabbing stuff at random and pinning it on wherever it would fit. Though they do avert Mildly Military by being very well disciplined with a clear chain of command.
  • In the Disney Channel Original Movie Cadet Kelly, Hilary Duff and Christy Carlson Romano would have been discharged for what they did to each other if it had been military rather than a school.
  • An episode of Destroyed in Seconds had footage from a helicopter crash during a Russian airshow. The helicopters were Mi-2s, but the narrator continuously refers to them as "M1-2s". The narrator then calls them "state-of-the-art". They aren't, having been introduced in 1965 and phased out of front-line service in most armies which field them, including Russia's.
  • Sherlock contains several examples of details that were accurate in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's time, but are not accurate for the series' 21st century setting:
    • Watson's backstory in the British Army. He states on several occasions that he is from the "5th Northumberland Fusiliers". The unit name is a carryover from the original Doyle stories. Watson served with the 5th (Northumberland Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Maiwand in 1880. The regiment was renamed simply to 'Northumberland Fusiliers' in 1881, but was frequently referred to as the "5th Northumberland" for decades thereafter. The regiment became part of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in 1968, before the current John Watson was even born. Additionally, he was a surgeon - not a normal soldier - so he should really be saying he's from the Royal Army Medical Corps.
    • "The Hounds of Baskerville" features Major Barrymore, an officer with a full beard, which is not allowed by British Army regulations. Barrymore had a beard in the original story and in every other adaptation, which undoubtedly is the reason for his beard in Sherlock.
      • British Army regulations do allow the wearing of a beard if there is a serious medical or religious reason (e.g., skin condition prevents shaving or the soldier is a devout Sikh) or a 'operational reasons' as decided by a sufficiently high ranking officer (e.g., patrolling in the desert for weeks and there's not enough water for shaving). Of course none of these are mentioned or obvious in the episode so Artistic License is the most likely explanation.
    • The extras in "The Hounds of Baskerville" are also clearly overage, and do not wear uniforms correctly.
    • Sherlock refers to the soldier who asks him and Watson for help as a Grenadier. The problem is that the soldier is actually serving in the Scots Guard and all O R1s (typically called privates) in Foot Guard regiments are addressed as Guardsman.
  • In JAG the research and accuracy became better through the years the show was running, though inaccuracies could always be found. Having a Marine Corps veteran as its creator, executive producer, and show runner probably helped. Being Backed by the Pentagon probably helped a great deal too.
  • The West Wing:
    • The White House received weather forecasts from a Coast Guard 1st Lieutenant. The Coast Guard equivalent to this Army/Air Force/Marine Corps rank is Lieutenant (Junior Grade).
    • The Army Chief of Staff is portrayed as a three-star general. The job is always held by someone with at least four-star rank.
    • Aaron Sorkin in general seemed to have difficulty with military matters in The West Wing. He turned heat-seeking air-to-air missiles into radar-seeking air-to-ground missiles, and throughout West Wing's run talks about "Battle Carrier Groups" rather than "Carrier Battle Groups"... to name but a few. (This general ignorance is often expressed through the president, who typically plays The Watson to the Joint Chiefs.)
    • In the first season episode "The State Dinner" a carrier battle group is stuck in the path of a hurricane. The naval officer who briefs the president on it tells him that it consists of "the USS John Kennedy, two guided missile cruisers, two destroyers, and two battleships." This is pretty remarkable, considering the Navy retired its last battleships a few years before the start of The West Wing.
  • Jericho, in a rare in-universe example. U.S. Marines come to help rebuild and resupply the town. A former Army Ranger notices details that are wrong; one calls an NCO 'sir', they say 'hooah' (Army) rather than 'oorah' (Marines). They are simply civilians wearing uniforms and using the town's resources.
  • In the Fringe episode "The Arrival", a photo is shown of a Marine from an incident in 1987. Not only is he wearing digital camouflage, which was not introduced to the Marine Corps until the early 2000s, but it's ACU instead of MARPAT. What the Marine should be wearing are BDUs.
  • M*A*S*H has too many to count, but a few stand out above the others:
    • Frank demands and receives a Purple Heart for getting an eggshell in his eye during an artillery barrage. In real life, he would have been denied as the injury wasn't directly caused by enemy action. The episode actually addressed this point: Frank wouldn't have been eligible for the medal, but the injury was entered into his records as "shell fragment in eye", which happened during an artillery attack on the unit, which got the medal approved by I Corps, which presumed it was an artillery shell fragment instead of an eggshell. Note that Hawkeye was not amused at the trickery and how it cheated the value of the medal to injured soldiers that came through the 4077th. So, not an error on the writer's part; an error on the Army's part, In-Universe.
    • Potter is correct in stating that the Army Good Conduct Medal is only for enlisted soldiers. He's wrong in insisting that his status as a prior-service enlisted soldier entitles him to wear the medal, which he is seen wearing from time to time and he has his medal framed on his wall. What he (or the writers) failed to realize is that the medal was awarded long after Potter was an enlisted soldier and that the retroactive dates don't go back to when he was enlisted and eligible for the award.
    • At one point Hawkeye and BJ try to take Corporal O'Reilly into an officers-only area with them. Hawkeye plucks a pair of captain's bars from BJ's shoulder, attaches it to Radar's cap, and (inspired by the ranks of lieutenant-colonel and sergeant-major) declares him a "corporal-captain." And this works.
    • 1970s shaggy hair and sideburns is and was completely out of Army regulations, almost all CIVILIAN men at the time kept their hair much shorter than that. Now given, the writer of the original book said conscripted surgeons in the war got away with ridiculous things because of the scarcity, it wouldn't explain the regular and career soldiers for the reasons above. During Colonel Blake's tenure as CO the failure of the enlisted men to observe regulation grooming standards can be explained as 'since the commanding officer didn't care about the regulations, nobody bothered following them' (after all, if there's one constant thing about the military its that if the CO consistently lets something slide, the troops will happily slide on it as far as they can get away with), but one of Colonel Potter's character elements was that he actually was "regular Army" in mindset re: enlisted discipline.
    • Now given that the time scale for the 12 year series doesn't really fit into a three year conflict anyway, but most conscripted surgeons only served a year in country. Hawkeye is apparently there throughout the entire conflict.
    • Occasionally, references are given to "points," which a draftee accumulates in order to determine his time-in-service; Trapper is sent home after accumulating enough points, and a racist combat unit commander volunteers his black troops for dangerous missions in order to accumulate points faster and rotate them out of his unit. This refers to a system used for WWII which was discontinued by the time of the Korean War, and never applied to medical personnel in any case.
  • Under the Dome:
    • Mistakenly describes and depicts the MOAB bomb as a missile instead of a bomb.
    • It can probably be forgiven for being a dream sequence, but when the one woman sees her Navy husband coming home from deployment, walking down the street, he's wearing a discontinued working uniform and wouldn't be authorized to wear it off base/ship anyway.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Devil May Care" (S09, Ep02), the Army's military police are shown investigating a crime scene on a Navy base instead of the Shore Patrol or NCIS. (For that matter, Army MPs would not be doing major crime scene work; that's what Army CID (Criminal Investigation Division) does.)
  • Soldier Soldier had to fudge things around the edges; it couldn't depict any genuine British infantry regiment, so wholly fictitious ones, with plausible back histories, had to be invented.
  • In the third season of seaQuest DSV, after Captain Hudson takes over from Captain Bridger, he insists that the titular sub is now a warship and is no place for civilians. To stay aboard the sub, Lucas asks Hudson if he can stay if he enlists into the navy. Hudson agrees, and Lucas is given the rank of ensign. That's right, a civilian scientist with no military experience is immediately given an officer rank and starts serving aboard the sub without even having to go through bootcamp. Later, an ex-con gets the same treatment and immediately becomes a sub-fighter pilot.

  • The first verse of Brantley Gilbert's song "One Hell of an Amen" refers to a soldier killed in action as "going out 21 guns blazing". A 21-gun salute is done with artillery pieces, not rifles, and is reserved for the funeral of a former or current president. The salute performed at soldiers' funerals is referred to as a three-volley salute and never has 21 shooters involved. It's possible Gilbert decided "21 guns blazing" was better rhythmically.

    Video Games 
  • In [PROTOTYPE], the Marine Base Commanders wear the scarlet and gold shoulder chevrons of a First Sergeant (on the utility uniform, no less), are always saluted and addressed as "sir", and, when they are given names, have varying officer ranks.
    • There are also errors in the equipment used by the Marines. They use UH-60 Blackhawks, M2 Bradley APCs and AH-64 helicopter gunships. These should be UH-1 Venoms, LAV-25s or AAV-7s and the AH-1 Super Cobra respectively. Even though one could handwave this by saying they are U.S Army attachments, they are all specifically stated to be Marine vehicles, including by the Marines themselves.
    • The final battle takes place on-board the USS Ronald Reagan, a US Navy aircraft carrier operating about a mile off the coast of Manhattan and launching Apache helicopters and F-22s.
In real live, the Reagan is part of the US Pacific Fleet, and wouldn't be involved in an operation on the East Coast. Aircraft carriers also don't operate that close to land, not only because they don't have to but also so they have room to change speed and orientation for flight operations. F-22s and AH-64s would not operate off a carrier, because the Navy has more than enough of its own aircraft that it needs the space for. Not to mention the fact the F-22 isn't capable of operating from a carrier.
  • The Aircraft Carrier level in Crysis is incredibly groan inducing to anyone who has ever served in the US Navy or knows anything about Naval Ranks. The fact that none of the ranks or uniforms make any sense points to a blatant case of not even bothering to skim the Wikipedia article. The Carrier CVN-80 being named the USS Constitution is also unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, being that the original ship bearing that name is still in commission. (CVN-80 has since been announced to be the next Enterprise.)
  • The detail in the aircraft carrier environments in Army of Two is pretty insanely detailed, and gets a lot of things surprisingly correct, and most of the minor changes for gameplay can be ignored. However, at the end of the level, the players are desperately searching for a lifeboat to get off the carrier...despite the fact that you run past dozens of lifeboats clearly visible in the background graphics. One wonders if they game designers simply didn't know what they were (the large pill-shaped things around the lifelines) or just ignored them for plot purposes.
  • Madou Souhei Kleinhasa is an eroge set in a fictional military, so the usual "no fraternization between officers and enlisted" rule get ignored in some scenes. Roze and Llun also have ridiculously long hair, even by the standards of this page: Llun's hair goes almost to her hips, while Roze's hair is long enough to drag on the ground.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series
    • Given the Narm Charm, it's hard not to expect this of Command & Conquer Red Alert 2. Prominent general Carville is wearing insignia from an ROTC Cadet uniform (badges worn by student soldiers before they graduate college).
    • Given every female character in all of the games is intended to be a Ms. Fanservice, the nature of their uniforms should obviously be considered less-than-accurate. In the opening cutscene for the Allied portion of the Uprising Expansion, a female officer clearly has to modify the way she walks just to avoid flashing the camera.
  • Starcraft
    • The game appears to lack any sort of distinction between military branches. The Alpha Squadron, for example, is commanded by a general... who is in command of a starship. While this could be explained by having the Space Navy use army ranks instead of navy, we then have the UED show up with an Admiral in charge, with the Vice Admiral running around in a Ghost uniform (i.e. a psychic assassin). On a third hand, the UED and the Confederacy/Dominion are two very different governments; though both are human in origin, their society has been separated for centuries.
    • The game gave a rank to Terran units (Private, Corporal, Sergeant...) going all the way up to Commodore for battlecruisers, who would outrank the player (always referred to as "Commander". The sequel uses an Authority Equals Asskicking system (purely cosmetic, it doesn't change the unit's stats) where the top rank is Commander.
  • Resident Evil: One of the most notorious errors in the entire series is that Jill Valentine is listed in the manual for Resident Evil 3: Nemesis as a former-Delta Force, the top secretive anti-terrorist unit in the U.S. Army. At the age of 23. Two problems here: 1) the Unit (as it is often called) recruits only from the most experienced members from the Special Forcesnote  and Army Rangers, neither of which admitted women to their ranks at the time of writing (much less in 1998). 2) Even if one assumes that women can be Berets or Rangers in the RE-verse, becoming a Delta operator becomes somewhere around ten to twelve years; Jill would have to be at least 32. Later games dodge this by simply listing Jill's skills and abilities without going into which branch of the military she was trained in.
  • Escape Velocity series
    • The original game had a major become an admiral. That's not even trying.
    • EV Nova may have an example with General Smart, a Federation officer who defected to the Rebels and is now in charge of their space navy. The Federation Navy appears to use US Navy ranks (the two named Federation officers, Krane and Raczak, are a commander and an admiral respectively), so the only way to resolve it is by having the Rebels use Army or Air Force ranks. Given that the Rebels are of Federation extraction, this seems unlikely. There is a potential explanation, but it may be giving the creators too much credit — General Smart could be a marine officer who defected (outside the USA, it is fairly common for marines to be a branch of the navy but use army ranks, and just because the Federation uses US ranks doesn't mean it is organized like the US military).
  • Star Wars video games tend to merrily continue the tradition begun by the movies, and in more ways than just preserving the idiosyncratic ranks of the Rebel Alliance and New Republic. Examples:
    • The Old Republic, particularly the trooper storyline, is all over this trope. NCOs being addressed as "sir" by lower-ranked soldiers who aren't still in training; the timing of salute being completely off (it's not an engine or animation limitation, as proper salutes are occasionally done); romantic relations between characters not only of different rank, not only in the same unit, but between the unit CO and a direct subordinate (sometimes even their second in command); apparently no branches at all in the Republic military (everything falls under the Army of the Republic, including fleet and special forces); ground-based infantry with the rank of Ensign; superior officers addressing very junior officers from a different service as "sir"...
    • Justifiable as it's more a way of keeping score, but in the X-Wing games, your character's rank is a function of their game score. So if you perform well enough (or use exploits and other tricks to pad your score), your character can be a general being ordered about by fleet captains (about equal to a colonel) or even fighter lieutenants in the early game.
  • When you go to the amphibious ship in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the "sailors" you run into are merely the game's stock military troops, wearing green (not even a color palette swap to blue). Which would still be incorrect for the time period, the sailors would be wearing the classic dungarees.
    • Minor, but there is no LHD 69 either (only USS Wasp (LHD 1) was in service at the time too), but of course this is GTA, so what other hull designator would it be?
  • Sgt Vance in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories apparently has a lot of free rein, and doesn't report for any kind of daily duties, work, etc. during the part of the story he's still on active duty.
  • Valkyria Chronicles
    • Welkin's unit in the first game is very forgiving of uniform alterations; includes older, more experienced troops answering to a rookie commander younger than them; and includes numerous individuals who struggle or refuse to work properly together. It's also a civilian militia activated on short notice under Gallia's Universal Conscription laws. The enlisted armed forces are much better about it, wearing uniform and addressing each other according to rank.
    • The second game focuses on a class at the military college, and while the player's unit is explicitly the dumping ground for applicants that scraped into admission but fit nowhere else, there's generally a lot more discipline.
    • While all three games have the player in command of a platoon-sized unit(15-30 people), the game always refer to them as squads (8-12 people).
  • Freespace inverts its capital ship classifications from the historical norm. In Freespace, cruisers are the smallest capital ships, corvettes are the next level up, and destroyers are the heavy battleship units. In Real Life (circa World War IWorld War II era), destroyers were and are considered escorts and fragile speedsters, cruisers were still fast but eat destroyers for breakfast, and battleships were the heavy hitters. And corvettes were basically an upgraded yacht with guns, whose size and capacity is still outranked by the next class up, frigates (who likewise are outranked by the bigger but still just-as-fast destroyers).
  • In Star Trek Online, Miral Paris is a Starfleet security officer, which according to the game's conventions means she should be wearing red coloring on her uniform: red is for security and tactical personnel, as well as commanding officers and admirals. For some reason they have her in yellow, which is for operations and engineering specialties (though it included security personnel in the Star Trek: Voyager timeframe, which was when her mother served as an engineering officer).


  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Lampshaded when absolutely no attempt is made to accurately depict a submarine's operations.
    Submarine Captain: Do all that stuff we have to do to shoot at him and then FIRE TORPEDOES!

    Western Animation 
  • The Navy presented in DuckTales is rather...unique.
    • Donald is addressed as "Seaman Duck," yet wears a (upside down!) petty officer third class crow.
    • Admiral Gribbitz seems to be captaining the aircraft carrier (he should be the admiral overall in charge of its battle group, there's no ranked Navy captain to be seen who would normally be the ship's commanding officer).
    • Why the hell does an admiral spend so much time with a lowly seaman? Fraternization/Favoritism!
    • Aircraft carriers cannot open from the front to take in a submarine. Nor would they have room to put one in.
    • It's definitely done for Rule of Funny, but you can't swab an aircraft carrier flight deck (it's mostly a rough material called nonskid, swabs get stuck to it), nor would you really want to.
    • Also, in at least one scene, Donald is Peeling Potatoes on KP as a punishment. That isn't done any more. Mess halls have more efficient ways to do it nowadays.
    • Donald's court martial more resembled a Captain's Mast/Non-Judicial Punishment Hearing (or Admiral's Mast one supposes), and is still pretty off. He had no JAG lawyer present, no JAG judge presiding, no jury. And to nitpick, a trial for treason would probably take over a year to put together, and he would have been put in the brig probably for close to life, not merely busted down and booted from the service.
  • The episode of The Simpsons "Simpson Tide" takes Artistic License in lots of areas, as the show often does, but two examples could probably be chalked up to this Trope. First of all, Barney's mother wouldn't be allowed an assignment on the submarine, as Navy regulations at the time forbid females from doing so. Second, the only way to be dishonorably discharged is to be court martialed, as Homer clearly was not.
  • A "wrong rank" version happens in an episode of Hey Arnold!. The ex-military substitute teacher gives his rank as "Lieutenant Major." No such rank exists. Given that a flashback established him as the drill sergeant of Gerald's father in the Vietnam era, he was likely meant to have been a retired Sergeant Major.
  • Bill in King of the Hill is supposed to be a sergeant in the Army, with a barber MOS. He has never transferred, deployed, nor does the Army have a barber MOS.
  • G.I. Joe: Renegades
    • The show has people calling Duke "sir", when he's a Sergeant.
    • This version of Scarlett is called a "Lieutenant" in the credits and dialogue, but no such rank exists in the U.S. Army. No, not even Army Intelligence, where Scarlett came from. There are 2nd and 1st Lieutenants, but simply "Lieutenant" with no modifier is a Navy rank. Although, given the aforementioned pronunciation errors, and the informal structure of their group, it was never mentioned if she was first or second lieutenant, and both 2nd and 1st Lieutenants are typically called "Lieutenant" when talking.
    • Flint is listed as Warrant Officer in the opening credit sequence but is a Lieutenant in the show. His original rank in RAH was Warrant, so probably a production snafu.
  • The original G.I. Joe cartoon can go from surprisingly realistic military procedure to outright tomfoolery. Duke or Flint in the first season seem to be almost always in charge, despite being a first sergeant and warrant officer, respectively, with many members of the team outranking them. And Duke is explicitly stated to be higher in the food chain than Flint in Season 2 (at least by then they had a general leading them). Not even getting into how every member of the Joe team can expertly pilot the F-14 expy, among other things.
    • This was invoked In-Universe in one episode where Cobra hacked into the D.O.D. computers to elevate Lifeline, Dial-Tone and Shipwreck to the rank of Colonel (instantly elevating them to just under General Hawk on the chain of command), in order to screw with the Joes' morale and field competence. This openly baffles the Joes they leapt over in rank, including field commander Beach Head:
      Beach Head: How is this possible? Shipwreck's not even in the army! Why not Roadblock or Slipstream or... ME!
    • Several members of the Joes sport facial hair (not just the ones who have Navy backgrounds), even though this has been against military regulations for some time. (Blame the action figure line, who did it as a selling point.)
    • However, one could dismiss the "custom" uniforms, out of regs head and facial hair on some, etc. as allowed by the Pentagon for this special unit. In real life, both Delta Force and DEVGRU have been allowed grooming exemptions to the point of making your average hippie look bald (largely because sometimes they undertake covert duties where you don't want people to be able to immediately spot them as military by looking for the short haircuts).
  • While almost likely an intentional goof, the South Park miniseries "Imaginationland" had the two Army soldiers in charge of the Stargate spoof simultaneously wearing senior Sergeant patches AND General stars. Sergerals?
  • A deliberate example occurred in the 1960's Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Boris Badenov showed up at an American military compound and tried to seize control based on his seniority, claiming that he was a six star general. When the general in charge showed that he, too, had six stars, Boris responded with "Yes, but yours don't light up". The rest of the base accepted this without question. Nobody points out that there is and has only ever been one six-star general in the US Army - George Washington, who was given the rank posthumously in 1976 so that he could outrank officers who held rank of five star general which was created in WWII - which meant that at the time the episode was originally aired, both parties were claiming a rank that didn't even exist).
  • In The Venture Bros., Colonel Gentleman claims to be former RAF, despite the rank of colonel not existing in the RAF. The equivalent rank is Group Captain.
  • The Galaxy Trio
    • Episode "Versus the Moltens of Meteorus". While Vapor Man is talking with his superior at Intergalactic Security (a military-style organization) he ends a radio conversation (where he received the message) by saying "Over and out".
    • Episode "Galaxy Trio and the Sleeping Planet". When an Intergalactic Headquarters radio officer receives a signal he concludes the transmission with "Over and out", and when Meteor Man receives a transmission from Intergalactic Headquarters he does the same thing.
  • Birdman episode "Professor Nightshade". A U.S. military officer addressed as "Admiral" is clearly wearing an Army uniform.

Alternative Title(s):

Artistic License Basic Training, Artistic Licence Basic Training, You Fail Basic Training Forever