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Artistic License - Military
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 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 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").
    • Along with that, it's the person who initiates the call that says, "Out," not the person who is called.
  • 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.
    • Or military service appears to be some kind of perpetual boot camp.
  • Making the miltary justice system appear far more brutal (e.g. having a company commander summarily executing disobedient soldiers without any pretention of justice) or ineffectual than it is (e.g. sailors acting badly on shore leave risk no sanctions other than swabbing the deck).
  • 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).
  • Being unjustifiably useless. When not just plain evil.

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.)


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Universal 
  • 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 70's, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 (E4-E6) 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 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 NWU's. 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.

    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 genarally addressed in British Royal Air Force ranks. Forexample, 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.
  • Robotech was a mishmash of army and navy ranks for their Robotech Defense Force. The original Macross series UN Spacy wasn't much better. Roy Focker was called a Major as often as he was a Lt. Commander; Lt Cmdr being the technically more correct choice as he originated in the Navy. Flying an aircraft modelled on the Naval F-14 was the indicator. In Robotech, Rick Hunter, Max Sterling, and Ben Dixon started out as Sergeant and Corporals but were still piloting aircraft despite the fact that most real world military pilots are at least 2nd Lt. or Ensign, if the navy, preferrably Lt. junior grade if Navy. One could argue that they were at a shortage of pilots and needed anyone who could fly. Being that Rick originated with Army/Airforce ranking, he is a few years later promoted to Captain, but we can't tell whether it's an airforce captain (which would be equivalent to Naval Lieutenant) or Naval Captain (equivalent to Colonel). Confusing things even more, by the time of New Generation, he is now Admiral Hunter. In the little completed animation for The Sentinels, he is called General Hunter, but since the original series established that he would eventually become Admiral, there's no excuse for this error and there was not real reason for him or anyone else to hold dual rank in what was already established as combined service.
    • Rick/Hikaru, Max and other being noncoms actually stems from Katanas of the Rising Sun practice (which continues in the modern JSDF) to give their junior pilots enlisted ranks. During the WWII the most famous Japanese ace, Saburo Sakai, spent most of his career as a non-com, and was given a commission (grudgingly) only when a career-ending injury forced him to transfer to a desk job.
  • 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.
  • A naval blooper. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Comics 
  • The French-language Belgian comic Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats), set during the US Civil War, occasionally shows American soldiers saluting French-style, or presenting arms in the French way.
  • Beetle Bailey has innumerous. 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 severe 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Army 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).
  • 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".

    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.
  • Basic, a film starring Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen and John Travolta featured several errors, including:
    • A female soldier wearing a Ranger tab. There are no Ranger-qualified females (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).
    • Similarly, in the same movie, 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 is assigned to an RAF Eagle Squadron prior to American involvement by order of Jimmy Doolittle. 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, renounce their US citizenship, swear allegiance to the British Crown, and re-enlist into the RAF (usually via Canada)
    • They might not have been serving officially, but they did serve covertly. It was a US Navy observer flying in an RAF Catalina who spotted the Bismarck — this was in May 1941, months before war had been declared.
      • Rafe was flat-out lying about being assigned by Doolittle. Doolittle has a scene where he's trying to talk Rafe out of going, and there's another scene where he claims Doolittle assigned him and he gets called on the obvious lie.
      • For that matter, the Eagle Squadrons were civilian staffed, and were formed after the Battle of Britain.
    • Rafe volunteered and only claimed to be assigned; the problem is why Danny believed this excuse. Which opens another plot hole in trying to explain how Rafe got back into the US military in time for Pearl Harbor.
      • Rafe wasn't back in the US Military yet. He'd literally arrived the day before. As it happens, everyone around him when the balloon goes up are the people who were there when he left, so they know he's perfectly able to do what he's trying to do (take up a fighter and defend the area from air attack) and under the circumstances aren't about to tell any able man he cannot fight. Afterwards...paperwork can be sped up or bypassed in emergency situations (and obtaining US citizenship was less bureaucratic then). Also, conditions for a non-citizen to serve in the US military include a "stated intention" to become a US citizen, so he'd qualify as long as he started the paperwork and didn't do anything to disqualify himself.
    • The Doolittle Raiders scene is "how not to be the military".
  • In 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The instant-promotion-to-captain for Kirk at the end of the new Star Trek movie makes anyone trying to take Starfleet seriously wince. Just as bad (or perhaps worse) is Pike choosing Kirk as first officer and this flying for a second with anyone, nor should the "now we don't have a captain" question ever come up for much the same reason. Chain of command exists to prevent confusion in emergencies. Even putting cadets into the field is pushing things, while various seasoning traditions exist they are not on-the-fly affairs as an emergency is the last place you want less then fully trained personnel. Someone must have taken those "not a military organization" claims at face value.
  • 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.
  • Not that Hobgoblins was a bastion of reality in film, but Nick salutes his sergeant at Club Scum.
    • Nick 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. The movie Forrest Gump even explained this.
    • 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 he poge colonel has been identified as an officer to any enemy snipers in the area."
  • 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 of 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.
  • 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 up 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 stay 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • Sidestepped in the Dune prequels by inventing a new ranking system and changing it two or three times throughout the series. For example, a general's rank in the pre-Butlerian Jihad times is Primero (with titles based on numbers). When the League Armada is renamed the Army of Humanity, the Primero becomes the Bashar (possibly a variation on the Turkish rank of "pasha"). Post-Jihad, the Bashar rank is downgraded to the Colonel level, while the new General rank is Caid. Given that this takes place tens of thousands of years in the future means the authors are free to create whatever ranks they wish. The idea of a starship commander leading ground troops is still completely ridiculous.
  • S.M. Sterling 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 Brakebills students was the son of a 5-star General. The United States Army hasn't promoted anybody to that rank since 1950, and the last one died in 1981.

    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.
      • Additionally, NASA is a civilian agency and while most of the astronauts during that period were either former military or on loan, the vast majority of NASA personnel were civilians. A salute, British or otherwise, was entirely inappropriate.
      • Well, any salute in civilian attire is typically considered inappropriate, at least in the US.
  • 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".
  • Mostly averted in the various Stargate series, 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 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. The rank was eliminated (it was at the same paygrade as a Senior Airman anyways) and the insignia repurposed.
      • Senior Airman and Sergeant were at the same pay grade (E-4) for a while, having only slightly different insignia. The rank of sergeant was retired in 1991.
    • 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.
  • The titular Major Dad never transfers (although its a plot point in at least one episode, but he ends up staying) throughout the show's run. A Marine major would probably transfer every two to three years.
  • 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. (Fanon cites the death of Kirk's original First Officer, Gary Mitchell, and Spock assuming his duties in addition to those of Science Officer, as the impetus for this.) 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. Often, crewmen will wear jumpsuits and officers will wear shirts, but this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule.
  • Averted by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which 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: O'Brien, while Nog is a cadet, 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.
      • Allegedly, in the early days of Star Trek: The Next Generation the creators were uncomfortable with the idea of the classless Federation having enlisted men, and wanted everyone to be at least an ensign. Eventually, wiser heads prevailed, but not before O'Brien's ensign pips in a couple episodes had planted the seeds of a continuity snarl.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation neatly sidesteps the issue by making everybody on the main cast an officer, even the ship's counselor. There are very few NCOs in the series in general and none in the main cast. Even Wesley Crusher is made an acting-ensign.
    • They still manage to fail in matters of rank. Troi, the ship's counselor, must take a command test to advance to the rank of commander; it is stated that Medical Officer Beverly Crusher had to do the same. In the U.S. Navy (whose rank structure Starfleet shares), commander is a rank, not necessarily a position. One can gain the rank of commander without being qualified (or authorized!) to command a ship; indeed, it's highly unlikely that a psychologist or a medical doctor would ever be placed in command of a ship of the line, regardless of rank.
      • Except she doesn't just want the rank she wants to command. The conversation about it takes place while Beverly is in command of the bridge during third watch.
      • If she wants to command, IRL she would be required to transfer to a different specialization. Psychologists are staff officers, not line officers, and as such would not command a ship unless every line officer was dead or disabled (and maybe not then). Crusher might take command of a medical ship (as seen in the future of "All Good Things...."); she would not command on a ship of the line like the Enterprise.
      • Troi's taking all that 'bridge officer training' seemed to be analogous to qualifying to stand OOD (Officer of the Deck) watches in the US Navy. In other words, not so much a new rank as a new certification, an acknowledgement that she now has the professional knowledge necessary to conn the ship if need be. It would be odd for a staff officer, particularly one in a medical specialty such as 'psychologist', to want to become OOD-qualified, and I can't imagine the US Navy actually bothering to spend the time and effort even if one did want to, but Starfleet presumably has a different policy re: cross-training.
    • And yet, Crusher and Troi each end up in command on separate occasions — 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.
      • Given that Starfleet is a completely fictional military, this is pretty easy to justify. And they aren't even principally a military—they are scientists, explorers and diplomats as much or even before they are carrying out military missions. So, it might be justified that they do things differently.
      • The problem is that the show often confuses 'being in command' with 'having the conn' or being the command duty officer. For obvious reasons, the bridge of a ship cannot be left unattended at any time whlie 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.
      • The captain's chair itself is something of an example; in most navies, by tradition if nothing else, such a chair is for the exclusive use of the ship's captain.
      • It doesn't help that 'chain of command' can sometimes have two separate meanings simultaneously. In the sense of 'who becomes captain if Picard dies', the chain of command is unambiguously clear — first the XO, then the Second Officer, then the Chief Engineer, and so on down the line by seniority. But in the sense of 'who is actually in charge of navigating the ship right at this second', the chain of command can be 'despite the existence of fifteen other officers who all outrank him the guy who currently has the conn is Ensign Redshirt, because we stuck him with the graveyard shift while everybody else is in their quarters and stacking Z's'. If he's the guy who currently has the duty and the Borg suddenly attack in the middle of the midwatch then it's Ensign Redshirt who gets to make all the captain-type decisions... at least, for the time span it takes for someone more senior to wake up, run to the bridge, and relieve him on watch. This is how someone like Troi or Crusher can be 'temporarily in command' of the Enterprise if they're OOD-qualified enough to be eligible for the bridge watch at all — if everybody else who'd normally have the job is somewhere else doing something else, so Picard says 'Meh, keep my chair filled until I get back, and try not to screw up.'
    • Star Trek as a whole appears to be severely lacking in enlisted (the only major noncommissioned character being O'Brien, and the only other noncommissioned characters being a group of former Maquis in Voyager). It also features the oddity that even O'Brien went to Starfleet Academy; apparently the writers, or at least Starfleet, have never heard of basic training.
      • Actually, this was addressed. The TNG Episode "The Drumhead" featured a character at the rank of "Crewman First Class" who Picard mentioned attended the "Enlisted Training Program" at Starfleet Academy. So, apparently they do have a basic training program, but it's also conducted at the academy.
      • The lack of enlisted men is from Gene Roddenberry's thoughts that only officers would get into space; this carried over from the fact that military pilots and later astronauts were exclusively officers (or ex-officers in the case of civilian astronauts). Noncommissioned airplane pilots were and remain very rare in the US.
      • In addition, Starfleet is arguably akin to the unarmed uniformed services of the US, such as the Health Service and NOAA. Both are purely scientific agencies, in uniform mostly so that if captured in a combat zone they won't be shot as spies. They only employ commissioned officers; there are no enlisted.
  • Ensign Harry Kim in Star Trek: Voyager should have gotten a promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade at about the midpoint of season two, based on having served about a year and a half in Starfleet. He ended season seven at the same rank he started the show at. It's possible Starfleet promotes entirely on merit, but that raises entirely different questions. The show seemed to imply that for some reason Janeway was unable to promote Kim. Perhaps Starfleet has some sort of review board an ensign must apply to before he can become an lieutenant.
    • Lampshaded in the episode where a demoted Paris regains his Lieutenant rank. Harry makes a quip about how he hasn't been promoted during their trip. Fanon offers the reasoning that, as a closed system, the rank structure remains mostly static so as to avoid issues such as having to reorganize the ship's hierarchy if the crew were to become equally ranked across the board.
  • 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 inaccuaries 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 Franciso. Seems like a long way to go for a whore house...
  • 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, Hillary 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-2's, but the narrator continuously refers to them as "M1-2's". 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 (eg, skin condition prevents shaving or the soldier is a devout Sikh) or a 'operational reasons' as decided by a sufficiently high ranking officer (eg, 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 E-1s (normally 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 a 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 2000's, but it's ACU instead of MARPAT. What the Marine should be wearing are BDU's.
  • Mash 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.
      • If Frank had been injured by an egg shell in his eye as a result of an artillery attack, he would have been eligible for a Purple Heart, but the wound was superficial, which means he would not be eligible.
    • 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.
    • THE HAIR. OH MY GOD THE HAIR. NOT ONLY is 70s shaggy hair and sideburns completely out of Army regulations for just about any era, 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.
      • Not to mention there's no Naval shipyards around Maine either. That's quite a commute to the nearest, in Groton, Conneticut.
  • 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.

    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 APC's and AH-64 helicopter gunships. These should be UH-1 Venoms, LAV-25's or AAV-7's 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 the final battle takes place on a US Navy Aircraft Carrier, operating about a mile off the coast of Manhattan and launching Apaches and F-22's. Aircraft Carriers 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-22's and Ah-64 aircraft would not operate off a carrier, because the Navy has more than enough of it's 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.
  • The detail in the aircraft carrier environments in Army Of Two: The 40th Day 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 desparately 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.
  • 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 my student soldiers before they graduate college).
    • Given every female character in all of the Red Alert 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 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 first 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 cosmotic, 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 Vallentine 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 combat personnel aka operators only from the most experienced members from the Special Forcesnote  and Army Rangers, neither of which admit 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.
  • The original Escape Velocity 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).
  • From Mass Effect:
    • At the beginning of Mass Effect 3, there is a quick scene where Lieutenant James Vega addresses Shepard as "sir/ma'am", accompanied by a salute. Ordinarily, this would be a perfect example of this trope; Shepard is a military prisoner at the beginning of the game, and thus would not be saluted or addressed by his/her rank. What makes it a subversion is that when Shepard points out that Vega isn't supposed to call him/her "sir/ma'am", Vega responds, "Yeah, and I'm not supposed to salute you, either." Meaning Vega is intentionally violating regulations because of his personal respect for Shepard.
    • Also in Mass Effect 3, if Ashley Williams is the Virmire survivor (and assuming you don't shoot her while rescuing the council), you meet with her at the docking bay right after Udina's coup attempt is stopped. She tells you she wants to return to the Normandy's crew. If you agree, Shepard says, "Welcome aboard, Lieutenant!". At this point, Ashley Williams is a Lieutenant Commander, and thus should be addressed as "commander" and not "lieutenant". On the reverse side, many players never realize Shepard is a Lieutenant Commander, because Shepard is always addressed properly.
    • Jeff Moreau is addressed as "lieutenant" more than once throughout the series, despite it not being synonymous with his actual rank of Flight Lieutenant.
  • 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 reign, and doesn't report for any kind of daily duties, work, etc. during the part of the story he's still on active duty.
  • Welkin's unit in Valkyria Chronicles 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 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.
  • 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 I - World 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.

    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? Fratenization/Favoritism!
      • Donald does tend to cause a lot of accidents...
    • 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 rought material called nonskid, swabs get stuck to it), nor would you really want to.
    • 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.
  • 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 has people calling Duke "sir", when he's a Sergeant. Further, this version of Scarlett is called a "Lieutenant" in the credits and dialogue, but no such rank exists in the US 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. Speaking of RAH...
  • 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 1st Sergants and Warrants, 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!
    • The comic is closer to real military (written by Army veteran Larry Hama), and Hand Waves the discrepancies in rank on occasion.
    • 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?
  • An almost certainly deliberate example occurred in Rocky and Bullwinkle. 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 so that he could outrank officers with the newly created rank of five star general in WWII).
  • 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.
  • In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars, episode Storm Over Ryloth, the terms "battlecruisers", "cruisers", and "frigates" are used to describe the same ships.
  • 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.

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