A general officer — though not necessarily a Four-Star Badass — who spends more time leading his men at the frontline battlefields like a junior/field officer does than sitting in the war room and working on theater-level strategic plans.
Depending on the setting or the branch of the military, this can be easily justified; a fleet of ships, or even a single larger ship such as a modern Supercarrier, will often be commanded by a Rear Admiral or higher. Pre-Radio Age armies would also be often directly commanded by generals on the field, too, to the point where it was almost common for generals to be killed in battle. In a modern land army, however, such a thing would be very unusual, and typically would only happen if the country gets invaded by complete surprise, and/or the enemy gets very deep very fast.
Contrast Armchair Military (a.k.a. "Chairborne Ranger" in US Army and Marine Corps lingo). See Outranking Your Job when this is taken too far. May overlap with Royals Who Actually Do Something in fantasy or historical settings. But doing this increases the chance of a Keystone Army by a lot and a easier target if they want to go right after you. A Decapitated Army may result if the general dies.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
In Code Geass, this sums up Lelouch's view of how a leader should act. "If the general does not lead, how can he expect his subordinates to follow?" "The only ones who should kill are those prepared to be killed!" He is often seen taking an active part in the military operations he commands, though he's usually smart enough to recognize his limits and not attempt something he cannot do.
in Narutothe generals of the Allied Shinobi forces (Gaara, Kakashi, Darui, Akatsuchi) are this, as they join their forces directly on the battlefield. Understandable, given that those four were chosen for their battle prowess as well as their leadership ability. Arguably the Kages also count—though in their case the term Frontline President might be more accurate.
On the flip side, General Grievous was often on the front line during the Clone Wars.
In The Empire Strikes Back the Empire's General Maximilian Veers not only prepares his troops for the Hoth surface attack, he's aboard the lead AT-AT that fires the shots which destroy the Alliance's power generators. He paid a price though: in the novelization Hobbie Klivian (Rogue Two) crashed his damaged snowspeeder into Veers' cockpit a couple minutes later. Veers survived but both his legs had to be amputated. His Rebel counterpart Carlist Rieekan was more cautious, commanding from an Echo Base bunker rather than the front lines.
By the time of the Battle of Endor both Lando Calrissian and Han Solo were Generals. These men blew up the second Death Star and personally led the ground assault on its shield generator respectively. Admiral Ackbar also commanded from the front, leading to his legendary line "It's a trap!" In addition, Admiral Piett leads the Imperial Fleet from the Executor, though he is handicapped by the Emperor's shortsighted orders.
Patton. The title general is portrayed this way several times. During the battle with the 10th Panzer he's on the front lines giving tactical orders. During the invasion of Sicily he's shown scouting out a ford across a river while under enemy artillery fire. On several other occasions he's depicted driving around in battle areas.
In Gettysburg, Lee warns General Longstreet against his habit of going too far forward, as he's already lost a number of his generals (particularly Stonewall) to this trope and he feels he cannot spare Longstreet.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Colonel Phillips fits this trope and even gets involved in the fighting at the end, helping to infiltrate a HYDRA base and shooting down a few enemies.
Most of the Allied generals in A Bridge Too Far, especially the Americans Maxwell Taylor and James Gavin, who jump into battle with their respective airborne divisions. SS-General Wilhelm Bittrich is this as well.
It was pretty clear right from Star Trek: The Motion Picture that Admiral Kirk really, really wants to be this trope (that is, he wants to be out in the field, and since he's ended up at flag rank now...). He gets his wish in that film (abusing his personal connections to get himself temporarily put in command of Enterprise for the crisis), but it's not a lasting thing — fortunately, circumstances conspire to move him out of a desire for this trope and back to the trope where he belongs by the end of the fourth film.
After Wedge Antilles is promoted to general in X-Wing: Isard's Revenge, he still leads Rogue Squadron in the field for at least the remainder of the book. In later conflicts (among them Kueller's uprising and the Yuuzhan Vong War) he continues to put himself directly in harm's way, though not necessarily from a starfighter cockpit.
The prequels weren't the first time the Jedi were Frontline Generals. During the Sith Wars of 4,000 and 1,000 BBY (seen in the Tales of the Jedi comics and Darth Bane series among others), the Jedi frequently led the Republic military against Sith forces.
In The Lord of the Rings, virtually anyone equivalent to a general (Éomer, Théoden, and eventually Aragorn) is only too glad to be right in the thick of it with their men.
A Song of Ice and Fire. Those commanding armies often take to the field with their men, given that Westeros is a medieval fantasy society where individual fighting prowess is equated with generalship. The extent to which this is true varies — Jaime Lannister is Lured Into a Trap because his enemies know he's a Blood Knight who always leads from the front. Bored with the siege of Riverrun, Jaime hears of an attack by raiders on his supply line and leads a small force off to attack them, only to be ambushed by Robb Stark's army. King Robb also leads from the front to inspire his men but is more cautious about it, keeping a strong bodyguard and not taking unnecessary risks. Jaime's father, the coldly pragmatic Lord Tywin, leads from the rear where he can control the battlefield and judge the right moment to throw in his own efforts.
Played with in The Wheel of Time, where it's repeatedly stated that this is a bad idea, because the general makes of himself a target and if he's killed, his command is going to collapse. However, by dint of bad luck Mat keeps finding himself in the midst of the enemy force, especially if he was trying to lead his army in a retreat at the time (though, thanks to good luck, he then turns those debacles into crushing victories), and other generals have had times when they stay in or near the front lines because of a need to keep communication lines short or just because they just need every man they have.
Belisarius in Belisarius Series is this and often has to be urged by his subordinates to risk himself less often. The Persian emperor even makes his bodyguards at promise to arrest him if he risks himself because the Persians need a Roman general they can trust to carry out a politically delicate strategy that might threaten the alliance between the two empires, who had only recently put to rest centuries of intermittent warfare between them.
Dalinar and Adolin Kholin in The Stormlight Archive are Shardbearers, which means that each of them is worth about a thousand regular soldiers. Therefore, leading from the front becomes the tactically sound option.
In Outlander Leander, unusual circumstances have led Nagdecht to have two generals. General Glaive is the new, younger general, and is shown getting personally involved in missions with his private unit. When asked where General Oske is, however, General Glaive states, "At the castle, where he always is", suggesting Oske is an Armchair General.
General Hammond was more inclined to lead from the rear, but he wasn't above going into the field on occasion, most notably in "Into the Fire" where he rode second seat in a modified Death Glider to provide air support to the rescue of his troops. He also personally commanded the Prometheus during Anubis' assault on Earth, giving SG-1 time to activate Ancient chair weapon.
After O'Neill replaced Hammond for season 8, he likewise mostly stayed in the boardroom until his ATA gene was required to fly a puddle jumper in "It's Good to Be King". He took out a Goa'uld mothership with it.
General Martok. During the Dominion War, he maintains his flag on a Bird-of-Prey instead of one of the larger battlecruisers.
Captain Sisko and Admiral Ross also lead from the front in numerous battles.
Game of Thrones due to a medieval culture where Asskicking Equals Authority. In the Battle of Blackwater, Tyrion Lannister approves the normally inept King Joffrey's decision to join the troops on the city walls as "soldiers fight better for a king who's not hiding behind his mother's skirts". Of course Tyrion is the one actually running the battle, so this works well until the Queen Regent, worried about her son's safety, orders him brought back to the Red Keep. Joffrey (who likes giving a Badass Boast but is actually a Dirty Coward) fails to stand up to his mother. When his soldiers see the King leaving, they start to falter as well. Tyrion (who as an entirely pragmatic dwarf is the least likely person to go into battle) has to lead the sally himself in order to shame them into following him. Opposing him is Stannis Baratheon, who also inspires his men by being the first into the landing boats after wildfire destroys half their fleet, and the first up the ladder on the city walls. Note that in the novels this is actually a trait of his Blood Knight brother Robert Baratheon (Stannis is a more cold-blooded, pragmatic leader who commands from the rear) but is changed for Rule of Drama.
An actual game mechanic in Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000: the minimum to play is two units of troops and a general / HQ unit. Depending on their stats, you either keep them the hell away from attack (see Tau Ethereals) or are horrifying death machines to be rushed into melee as soon as possible (orks, some Chaos leaders). In the fluff, however, the less insane armies keep their high command well out of harm's way.
Taken even further in Dawn of War: the Imperial Guard's general is their only melee unit until they get to the later tech tiers.
In Stratego, the Field Marshal and the General are the two most powerful pieces on the board, and are often placed on the front lines for this reason. (Of course, it's dangerous for them to get too aggressive because of the risk of hitting a bomb.)
The various incarnations of the G.I. Joe franchise have Hawk, a general who spends much of his time leading the G.I. Joe forces out in field.
In the first game we learn before and after he became a Sith the Jedi Revan would often lead from the front in the Mandalorian Wars, personally defeating Mandalore himself in battle. Though he was not averse to sitting back and leading from the safety of the war room.
The protagonist of the sequel The Sith Lords was none other than a Jedi General exiled for going off to war against the Jedi's Council's wishes. The Exile personally led many infamously brutal campaigns and the game visits several locations from the Mandalorian Wars.
Whoever is made monarch at the end of Dragon Age: Origins (Anora, Alistair, or the Warden) will personally lead the armies against the Darkspawn in the endgame.
Halo: High-ranking Sangheili/Elites and Jiralhanae/Brutes, going all the way up to Field Marshals and Chieftains, are often seen battling alongside their subordinates, which is kinda justified by the fact that both races promote their troops based largely on their personal kill-count and give them increasingly better equipment as they ascend the ranks. Human generals are more practical, however, and remain safely in bases or command warships instead.
Metroid: Other M: Adam Malkovich is a General, and leads a group of five men in a special-ops mission. Sometimes he is away in a command room, other times he is personally fighting with them.
In Radiant Historia, Field Marshall Viola spends nearly the entire game on the front lines. Although she's highly formidable in combat, many characters point out the absurdity of having such a high ranking officer in the thick of battle; she's only there because the de facto leader of the country, General Hugo, fears her popularity and wants to get rid of her.
Words Worth: While Sharon and Ceasar are the Tribe of Shadow's top generals, it's Sharon who is acknowledged as their fiercest combatant, and spends much of the series in the thick of battle. Which is how she gains the attention of King Fabris, who also exemplifies the trope.
The "general" support unit in Rise of Nations is best kept slightly back from the front as he can't actually fight, but he does need to be nearby to provide the bonuses to your troops.
General Edmund Duke in StarCraft I isn't just a frontline general, but fully capable of soloing the mission you get to use him in (assuming you prioritize targets correctly and are willing to patch him up frequently). Unfortunately his tendency to lead from the front eventually gets him killed in Brood War, and he's for the most part a General Failure due to his unfortunate tendency to be on the opposite side from the player character.
Protoss Executors and Dark Templar Prelates also do this, as evidenced by Tassadar and Zeratul, both of whom appear as powerful hero units on the front lines of several levels apiece.
The Avatar in Fire Emblem Awakening can be this, depending on how much you use him/her. It's also prudent to play the main 'Lord' type characters this way throughout the franchise as they typically gain access to the most powerful weapons and skills which are extremely useful, if not absolutely necessary, against the final few bosses.
A staple of the Total War games. Generals have a small unit of cavalry and they are able to inspire troops who are low on morale. However, their deaths are often enough to drive an army to rout.
Empire introduces naval combat to the series. Admirals can be placed in command of flagships, whose destruction can shatter the confidence of a fleet.
Every single Player Character in Star Trek Online, eventually. The top rank you get is Vice Admiral (for Starfleet or Romulan Republic characters) or Lieutenant General (Klingon Defense Force characters). This in no way alters the gameplay away from commanding a single starship flying around doing missions and getting into exciting business — it just opens a wider variety of missions (very few of which actually make more sense for an admiral over a captain).
Justified in Erfworld. Due to the setting's RPG Mechanics Verse, a general's leadership literally expresses itself as a numerical bonus to his subordinates' stats, but the unit has to be in the same squad as the general to get the bonus. (Except for the Chief Warlord, and even his bonus is biggest for his squad).
During the Azure City invasion in The Order of the Stick Redcloak initially leads from the rear, but later is moved by the way the Hobgoblins were sacrificing their lives, and charged personally into the battle with his war mammoth. This is able to turn the tide of the battle in his favor.
This was actually fairly common until recently and is at least as old as the Roman Republic. However in armies where there were actual generals (command and control specialists) as opposed to warleaders (badasses who point swords and say charge), the custom was to ride on a horse back and forth along the line allowing the commander to personally intervene in a crises. This was dangerous work in itself, often more dangerous than being a private. But it wasn't the same as personally using weapons.
Lieutenant General Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson of the Confederate States of America received his famous moniker at the First Battle of Manassas when Brigadier General Barnard Bee, trying to rally his unit, saw Jackson sitting erect atop his horse in the midst of a barrage of Union gunfire and said the page quote. There's some debate behind the exact meaning of the statement* Most view it as a rallying cry; others think Bee was angry at Jackson for not moving to support him., however, given that Bee was ironically killed a few minutes later.
As noted under film, Longstreet was known for often riding too far forward and coming under fire, which led to him being severely wounded in 1864.
Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston was the highest-ranking officer on either side to be killed during the war, when he was mortally wounded personally leading an attack against the Federal positions in the Peach Orchard during the Battle of Shiloh. For the record, Johnston was commander of the entire Confederate Army of Mississippi, a position equal to Lee or Meade at Gettysburg.
J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded personally leading Confederate cavalry at the Battle of Yellow Tavern.
More generals were killed and wounded at Gettysburg than in any other engagement of the war, and largely because of this trope. Confederate generals Barksdale, Semmes, Armistead, Garnett, and Pender, and Union general Reynolds, Zook, Weed, and Farnsworth were all killed in action. Pettigrew would be mortally wounded shortly after during the Confederate retreat, and Union colonel Strong Vincent was promoted to Brigadier General after being mortally wounded defending Little Round Top. Reynolds was the highest-ranking officer killed, while personally directing the deployment of the Iron Brigade (Reynolds actually commanded the entire I Corps). Several other Confederate generals, including John Bell Hood, James Kemper, and Isaac Trimble were wounded leading attacks. Hood was wounded at Devil's Den, while Kemper and Trimble were both hit during Pickett's Charge. Union general Dan Sickles (commander of the III Corps) was wounded and lost his leg leading his own troops in battle while defending the Peach Orchard, while generals Hancock (commander II Corps) and Webb (2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, II Corps) were wounded personally directing their troops in defense of Seminary Ridge during Pickett's assault. Gettysburg was murder on generals.
Union General "Fighting Joe" Hooker averted this trope at Chancellorsville by setting his command center a couple miles behind the lines and using a new type of telegraph to send and receive orders. Unfortunately the aversion backfired: the bumpy ride from garrison knocked the equipment out of alignment and it would only send gibberish, and the resulting communications problems coupled with Hooker suffering a concussion from a near miss by a stray cannonball cost the Union the battle.
The page picture is of General Erwin Rommel in World War II, who frequently got up front to see what was going on and was nearly captured on three different occasions: on the last time he tried to reach a war front, an Allied aircraft strafed and trashed his car, seriously wounding him.
In more recent years: the Western intervention in Yugoslavia in the early 1990's saw a race between NATO and Russian troops to control a strategic airbase. The Russians got there within minutes of the British, who were ordered by the American general officer commanding to capture the airbase, whatever it took. Fortunately the British officer leading from the front was General Jackson, a man with the clout to take the radio, point out to the Yank that odd-numbered world wars tend to begin in Yugoslavia, the next world war would be number three, an odd number, and he wasn't going to go down in history as the man who started World War III for anybody. It is possible a lower-ranking officer might have been intimidated into doing something stupid. The lower-ranking officer in question turned out to be James Blunt.
Admirals did this through much of the history of naval combat, as late as World War II and a number were killed in action:
Lord Horatio Nelson, who died while leading his fleet in battle at Trafalgar against a combined fleet of French and Spanish ships during the Napoleonic Wars, shot in the chest by a French sharpshooter.
During D-Day, two brigadier generals landed with the American forces at Omaha and Utah beaches: Norman Cota and Theodore Roosevelt III, both of whom are credited with rallying the forces on the beaches and pressing the attack inland. Roosevelt, well into his 50s, suffered from arthritis and used a cane at the time, and would die of a heart attack a month later.