A lot of the time, military forces in the media don't really seem all that military. The characters get to wear neat uniforms and live in a Cool Ship or base, but don't have to deal with the strict hierarchy, discipline and training that exists in the Real Life military. A Military Maverick who disobeys orders is likely to receive no harsher punishment than getting assigned to Peeling Potatoes, a stint in the brig, or at worst being "disciplined" (i.e. Punched Across the Room) by a superior officer. It seems like the only thing keeping them together is The Code.
Sometimes, this is justified by having the organization in question not be a real military, or a combined military/civilian organization. Most of the time, it appears to be the result of lack of experience on the part of the writers on how the military actually operates.
And sometimes, the apparent lack of discipline is the whole point: some military organizations in fiction land are not disciplined because they do not need discipline to begin with. Either the members are competent or simply badass enough so that "normal" discipline is not necessary anymore, or the common cause they are fighting for and/or the charisma of their leader is enough to ensure their efficiency when it is time to get serious; in such cases, the Mildly Military organization is actually a group of True Companions with the size and the firepower of a standing army. If well written, it can impress the audience by letting the apparently laid back characters show just how frightfully competent they really are and even make a valid point. Done poorly (that is, most of the time), it can quickly fall into the realm of Fridge Logic, or even turn the Mildly Military organization into a collective Mary Sue.
Contrast Army of Thieves and Whores, where the army in question truly is an undisciplined rabble.
SyFy Channel original movies that have military characters often fall into this trope.
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Anime and Manga
The military of Super Dimension Fortress Macross is highly undisciplined. Hikaru and other pilots regularly talk back to their superior officers, even going so far as to insult them after being given simple orders. In addition Roy Focker openly carries on an romantic relationship with a superior officer throughout the series. Hikaru especially commits all sorts of insubordinations including deserting his post to watch a beauty contest. No one is ever reprimanded for this behavior.
In the original series and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, this was justified by the ship having an inexperienced CO and a crew that weren't technically military. In fact, Bright specifically explained to another officer in one episode of Mobile Suit Gundam that he tried to be relaxed about military protocol on the White Base in order to ease his mostly-civilian crew into their roles.
Averted in The 08th MS Team where military law is in full effect and Shiro barely escapes his court-martial, along with his (likely) execution.
Similarly averted in Gundam 0083, where Kou Uraki is court martialed for his theft of the GP-03 (no matter how much one thinks it might be justified, that's just the way it is) and is released because Captain Synapse committed suicide to take responsibility for it.
For some reason, in Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam the crew allow prepubescent children to remain on board even when the ships are about to go into battlenote and they clearly had opportunities to have the children taken off. Apparently Bright Noa and Char Aznable don't see many problems with possible infant mortalities.
In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, the Titans "have their own protocols," and refuse to listen to orders from regular Earth Federation officers. When Bright Noa tries to bring them into line, they beat him half to death.
Mobile Suit Gundam AGE displays both mild and hard military discipline on the Diva thanks to the generational structure. The first generation is mild, since the "captain" outright hijacked the ship, put a cocky hotshot in charge of the mobile suit squadron, and lets Flit continue to pilot the Gundam. Generation 2 has the ship under military authority and appointed captain, with pilots that have gone through proper training. G3 straddles the line with its ragtag crew (captain included) and veteran mobile suit squadron.
Deconstructed in Irresponsible Captain Tylor. His lack of, well, any sense of pride, dignity, or responsibility is responsible for causing half the crew to nearly descend into insanity. At one point, a GHOST becomes disgusted with him, and leaves. Death is mercy compared to living with Tylor. The section he works in is a dumping ground for the screw-ups who haven't quite screwed up enough to be court martialed, further contributing to the poor to nonexistent military discipline.
On a similar note to the above Martian Successor Nadesico has a crew with...very peculiar character traits. However, they are officially just civilians working for a heavy arms company, not the military (though they ally with military, who itself is pretty mild on the military scale), and the company wanted to build the best crew possible for their ship, ignoring all character flaws.
The Time/Space Administrative Bureau in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is organized rather informally. Not that they aren't fairly loose even for this, but they act more like a police force with expensive toys all the way up to a sizable fleet than they do a conventional military. Their interests seem to be solely in capturing criminals, peacekeeping, and disaster prevention/rescue, never in taking or holding territory.
This is given a nice lampshade in StrikerS, where during a conversation Hayate had with Major Nakajima, it's mentioned that while ace mages (such as Nanoha, Fate, and Hayate herself) tend to get promoted very quickly, the ranks are really there for show more than anything else. It's made obvious what is meant by that during the same scene; Hayate is a Lieutenant Colonel, and thus technically Nakajima's superior, but both of them act like Nakajima's the one in charge.
Near the end of Episode 6 of StrikerS, Vita complains that Nanoha should be drilling the forwards on walking and greeting, like they were when they first entered. Nanoha responds that if there's time to do that, there's more time for sparring instruction, which suggests that part of this is pragmatically focusing on actual performance rather than etiquette. This is made clear in a later episode, when Teana violates safety regulations in an attempt to score a win against Nanoha, and is slapped down hard; informality is acceptable, endangering the unit is not.
The Ninja organizations in Naruto serve as the setting's military forces, albeit more of the "special" variety. The creator has said that one of his inspirations for the village of Konoha was a military base located nearby his childhood home. Many ninja are...odd, there are plenty of 12-year old ninja (although Naruto and Gaara at least are both power equivalents to nuclear weapons even before much training on their part), and of all the teen main characters, roughly two of them actually wear their village's uniform.
As seen in the Fourth Shinobi War arc, this is the status quo in peacetime. During wartime stricter command structures are put in place and the standard uniform replaces personal attire.
The Simoun sibyllae are members of the clergy, not the military. Both they and others consider it shocking when the military tries to order them around, or even operate jointly with them, in spite of their controling the near totality of their country's firepower.
Virtually every aspect of the minimal military discipline in Strike Witches is justified at one point or another, and averted in several cases. For one thing they're technically Special Forces with a very high success rate with a very limited recruitment pool, no expandability and little to no time to properly train or discipline new recruits. Despite that there is a clearly defined hierarchy (justifiably mixed with True Companions elements) which is followed and the Witches do spend most of their time drilling, training or doing maintenance work and menial tasks, some of their other fun activities actually happen during their allocated leave. They are also aces with a considerable amount of propaganda riding on them, allowing some leeway in their discipline, although they still ultimately answer to military law.
Galaxy Angel's protagonists always seem to get away with ignoring their jobs and leaving their poor commanding officer Colonel Volcott to pick up the slack.
Alex Rowe's crew in Last Exile are rather loose with military discipline, although they're more like a mercenary ship than a real military vessel.
Neon Genesis Evangelion. NERV fulfills many of the same functions as an Air Force or Navy, and is run and organized much like both. However, its personnel are allowed to grow long hair and beards, and dating a co-worker isn't viewed a problem. Partly justified: NERV is a civilian agency and not military. The romantic relationships maybe isn't such a bright idea, considering the usual stability of NERV personnel
Played with throughout Pumpkin Scissors. The eponymous group are often derided by the public and other military bodies for being this way, and it was because of this reputation that Oreldo joined. Given their dangerous missions during the series, this label doesn't really hold up, although the relationships among the protagonists does kind of fit the mildly military idea.
Lieutenant Filicia Heideman of Sora No Woto runs her tank platoon as a family rather than as a military unit, though there are several practical reasons for not running the unit as a more strictly military organization.
Surprisingly, the One Piece Marines tend to fall into this. Aokiji goes off on his own to track down Robin, with the Five Elder Stars merely complaining that he should be mindful of his rank. Officers above Lieutenant (and even some lower ranking ones) are not required to wear the uniform, although the preferred uniform for higher-ranking offices is a suit with the "justice" coat, and there are no grooming standards to speak of. Discipline tends to vary between officers, as Garp doesn't seem to mind his men telling him to help fix the wall he broke while breaking in to surprise Luffy, while one soldier who objects to destroying a Marine battleship to kill Luffy immediately gets executed on the spot by Vice-Admiral Onigumo. Officers are sometimes referred to by name and "-san" rather than their rank. And these aren't even the mavericks like Smoker or corrupt officers like Morgan.
Gets subverted in Stargate Equestria when O'Neill sends Rainbow Dash and a wingpony off to spy on the Jaffa ponies. When Dash returns, she reveals that she went by herself despite what O'Neill said, at which point he rips Dash a new one and explains why she should have taken a partner.
James Cameron has admitted that the Space Marines in Aliens came off as a lot less disciplined than actual Marines; rather, they were more a reflection of Vietnam-era regular Army conscripts. Some specific examples:
During the infiltration of the reactor Vasquez and Drake disobey direct orders from their commanding officer (Lieutenant Gorman) and 2nd in command (Sergeant Apone) and re-arm their smart guns.
During their first encounter with the xenomorphs the Marines panic like a bunch of schoolgirls.
After Gorman is incapacitated and Apone is captured by the xenomorphs, Corporal Hicks is in command (as Ripley herself points out later). However, Ripley (who is a civilian) starts giving the Marines orders. Not only does Hicks allow this, but the other Marines obey her.
After it's become clear that something is seriously wrong at the colony and hostile xenomorphs may be responsible, Spunkmeyer exits the drop ship, leaving it wide open for any xenomorph that might want to get inside. Naturally one does. It kills both Spunkmeyer and Ferro, thus crashing (and destroying) the drop ship and marooning the rest of the team on the planet.
The movie Basic with Samuel L. Jackson had so many inconsistencies and non-military actions, that the film was hard to follow. For example:
Samuel L. Jackson's character wears the rank of specialist (E-4) and has higher-ranking people addressing him as "sir."
Female Rangers (the film is not set in the future and not in an alternate universe).
All of the military personnel in WarGames. The only person who has anything that comes close to a military haircut is the four-star general. The rest of the members of the Air Force in the movie look like they haven't had a military haircut in months.
The U.S. Army troops in Apocalypse Now, especially the grunts, were rather sloppy about many aspects of military discipline and bearing, like the Real Life U.S. Army in the later years of The Vietnam War.
The A-Team wasn't particularly interested in "spit and polish", but being a Special Forces style group with a good track record they were given a lot of slack up until they were framed for stealing money printing press plates.
The rest of the military is mildly military in this movie. Face spends at least six years as a first lieutenant for some reason when in real life, he wouldn't have that rank more than two years before receiving a promotion to captain. In another scene, a captain says she's going to court martial someone where she isn't even the commanding officer with court martial authority and the poerson she's threatening to court martial isn't even in her chain of command.
The Russians and Cubans in Red Dawn 1984 appear to only realize they are soldiers after they're being attacked, then rarely show any evidence of training. This may be excusable in the beginning when they are attacked by the Wolverines, but after the first few attacks, they should have begun to act more like soldiers. This was mentioned in-universe, and explained as the garrison units being half-trained conscripts while the real soldiers were at the front. When the real thing is brought in towards the end the Wolverines are pretty much wiped out.
The Recon Marines in Heartbreak Ridge act as if they're fresh out of Boot Camp and have no idea about military service. In reality, to get into Marine Recon, you have to pass a series of difficult tests.
The Barrayan military floats in and out of this as the plot requires in Bujold'sVorkosigan Saga books. Justified in that the protagonist is a high-up member of the military caste in his culture, son of a famous military figure (and formerly planetary Regent and then Prime Minister), grandson of a possibly even MORE famous military figure, and foster brother to the Emperor, so yeah, he can pull strings all night long without running out of them (and the other "military" group he runs around with is a bunch of mercenaries, so no one EXPECTS them to have standards, although they have more than you'd think. Most of the time.) Then subverted in Memory where the protagonist pushes his luck with the military once too often (and way too far), and lands in a world of shit for it. Though even there, it is pointed out to him that without his family connections and track record, he'd probably be in military jail for the rest of his life, if not executed, for the stunt he pulled.
Also justified in that the protagonist's vastly powerful family connections still could not preserve his conventional military career, and that all the other Barrayaran military who lack such connections don't get away with much of anything.
The fact that the protagonist in question is a covert operations specialist working for Imperial Security with a three-step chain of command (The Emperor -> Head of Imperial Security -> him) further justifies this. Of his two other superiors since the Academy, one was dangerously insane enough to justify outright mutiny and the other had little interest in receiving reasoned briefings when concerned with the missing Emperor (which meant he had to be thrown in a brig while said Emperor was rescued).
There is also that most of the time, the protagonist's behavior could be justified by regulations being circumvented for the purpose of achieving a (significant) net gain for his side. What gets him cashiered in Memory is his unsuccessful attempt to cover up a gross act of negligence on his part that almost killed (and did temporarily maim) another officer, for no one's benefit save the protagonist's. At which point his commanding officer proceeded to drop thirteen years' worth of unpaid karma on the protagonist all at once. However, the protagonist didn't get what he deserved. He was officially given a medical discharge, a final promotion, and retained all his pension and veteran's benefits.
Shortly after meeting her, Aral Vorkosigan tells his future wife Captain Cordelia Naismith, of the Betan Astronomical Survey, that near as he can tell, ranks within the BAS doesn't seem to indicate much more than pay-grade.
Cordelia never saw a Betan Expeditionary Force uniform until after the war was over, and was amused to see everyone wearing them in the theatrical reenactment.
The way the Global Defense Initiative is represented in the terrible official Novelization of Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars is appalling. Among other things, it had a Private being promoted to Sergeant on his first day out of boot camp, when he showed no exceptional skill or capability worth promoting him.
Not just that, but that apparently the chain of promotion in the GDI military goes from private to sergeant... straight to lieutenant to captain (then possibly major). The only corporal in the book is a technician. One would get the the impression that the author got all of his knowledge of military hierarchy from skimming a few war movies.
At least it's mentioned that Vega got promoted on his first day mostly to boost morale than because of anything he did. In fact, his immediate superior fought against the promotion, as Vega's achievements were based either on pure luck or skills he earned prior to joining the military (although it's not entirely clear why the second reason is bad).
The Possiltum military seen in the early Myth Adventures novels is underfunded and undertrained, so it's justified that they're insubordinate and incompetent. Later, though, an enormous and highly successful Mob-trained army is assimilated into Possiltum's, and we see it from the inside ... and the viewpoint character who infiltrates it is insubordinate, makes trouble with civilians, hires civilians to perform military duties without authorization, ignores paperwork and willfully violates orders. The result? Repeated promotions for "showing initiative." WTF?
The main rule of the Possiltum army is the Rule of Funny. Since the main character is trying to screw things up, and hates the idea of being in the army at all, much less having rank, of course he's going to make things work better and be promoted for itnote Example: receiving a requisition for seasonal gear, he deliberately ships gear for the opposite season. But he didn't notice that the requisition was half a year old, so the gear was for the appropriate season when it arrived.
The Brass noticed that the supply depot's performance improved by leaps and bounds. They liked the results, even if the methods weren't By The Book.
Indeed. The infiltrators didn't do their research when they figured a 'safe' failure rate...that turned out to be a huge improvement over normal troops.
The crew of the eponymous starship in Stanislaw Lem's The Invincible seems to simply be unable to decide whether they are in the military or not. They certainly have much more oomph than necessary for a strictly research vessel (it is explicitly called a cruiser, by the way) — their recon planes pack antimatter guns, — there are mentions of uniform and the crewmembers routinely carry sidearms, but on the other hand... The discipline aboard is rather informal, The Captain is a grumpy old man who has a tendency to heap it all onto his exec, and said exec is the most emo thing since emos came to Emotown. He's so emotionally unstable and prone to hysterics and impulsive action that the captain had to dose him with brandy on one occasion.
And their idea (and established procedure) for most cautious behavior on a clearly environmentally hostile planet (that previously killed a starship of the same class) caused half of the crew to be incapacitated, and no less than a dozen dead.
Both of Wedge Antilles' fighter squadrons from the X-Wing Series.
Rogue Squadron fits the "do not need discipline" variant for the most part - off-duty they're pretty casual, but they are twelve of the absolute best pilots in the New Republic and deadly serious while prepping for and during combat missions.
That said, the Rogues get called out on their behavior by General Salm - after utterly demolishing his three Y-Wing squadrons during a training exercise, one of the Rogues hacked into the bomber pilots' computers so the screens would flash the Rogue Squadron crest after a simulated death. Beyond that, Wedge lets the Rogues hog the entertainment facilities and gym, put more recreational equipment in their briefing room than the entire Officer's Lounge, and one of their number spends more time as a social secretary than training. Salm complains that the morale of his own squadrons is suffering, Wedge replies that his squadron is going to get the most difficult missions and will need to trust each other, and if this means they're cliquish, so be it.
Ironically, later in that same book Salm flirts with insubordination by taking the long way home after being ordered to quit an operation early, allowing him and his wing to turn around and dramatically save Rogue Squadron when things went south. Salm talks with Wedge afterward and notes that it's exactly the sort of thing Wedge would have done, which is why he needs to be reported.
Salm: It doesn't matter that it worked. I'm not you. My people are not your people. The only thing that keeps my people alive out there is rigid adherence to discipline, and this discipline is instilled through consciously constructed drills that build them into a unit. My people lack the native talent in your squadron, but we make up for it because we cover for one another and watch out for each other.
Wedge: As you watched out for my people.
Salm: Yes, I did that, but only by disobeying an order from a superior officer. And you have to write it up that way.
Wraith Squadron, on the other hand, is a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits, and Wedge walks a line between humoring their quirks and keeping order. When a pilot interrupts him during the first briefing Wedge puts him Peeling Potatoes; afterward the Wraiths keep making wisecracks during briefings, but don't interrupt their commander unless it's really important. He allows romances between squadmates, but public displays of attention are to saved for off-hours or light duty. When one Wraith attacks another in a brawl Wedge formally reprimands and grounds her, but later decides to lie about her involvement in an incident (just short of committing perjury) to keep her in his squadron. And when a rookie pilot slouches off after arguing with Wedge, he admits that he'd take that sort of disrespect from someone who's flown on some missions with him.
Falynn Sandskimmer is a Wraith with multiple reprimands for insubordination, and Wedge muses that her attitude would have been fine during the days of the Rebel Alliance, but is out of place now that it's transformed into the New Republic and become much more formal. This was part of the reason Wedge founded Wraith Squadron in the first place, to come up with new tactics instead of stagnating like the Empire.
Should also be noted that "mildly military" is a status Rogue and Wraith Squadrons' members have to earn. "Iron Fist" features a scene with a new recruit barging into Wedge's office, who simply stares at him wordlessly until he remembers to pull himself to attention. The author notes that Wedge accepts laid back behavior from subordinates, but not when they're brand new recruits.
The Phule's Company series, to a degree at least. The protagonist, Willard Phule Jr., is put in charge of the Space Legion's Omega Unit - the unit where "discipline problems" and other misfits are sent.note He displayed initiative and captured an enemy leader, unfortunately he didn't know there was a truce on. So they promoted him and and put him in charge of their worst outfit. Things are very casual, even after he turns them around, but they do know which procedures need to be followed and which ones they can get away with ignoring (or just paying superficial attention to), and they make a point of showing their detractors that they can and do follow procedure to the letter when it counts.
The Night's Watch in A Song of Ice and Fire, once you get to know them. Their numbers are, barely, kept adequate only through prisoners being sent their as a punishment in exchange for avoiding death, so this isn't a great surprise that many that even the volunteers and disciplined things are looser in certain areas.
Britain's Aerial Corps in the Temeraire series. Almost all of it is justified by the nature of the series' dragons. Dragon riders are too rare and valuable to be court-martialed for anything short of treason. Dueling is prohibited for the same reason. One particularly useful breed of dragon will only choose female companions, so by the era the story is set in, women can and often do hold high rank and leadership positions in the Aerial Corps. Dragons generally refuse to serve with any human but a companion who was present at their hatching but some can be convinced to work with children of their original companion, so officers, even female officers, are encouraged to have children. The constantly rumpled, disheveled appearance of the aviators, though, is just because dragon riders tend to pack in a hurry.
England's Royal Aerial Corps in the Temeraire series toes the line rather hard, but is ultimately a poor example. The main character is originally a naval captain, and is used to serving with the Navy's rigorous discipline and strong sense of duty. He finds the Aerial Corps and their dragon-riding crews to be lax in comparison, having relaxed standards of uniform and a less than total adherence to order. As more time passes, it becomes apparent that the Corps' informal nature is a function of building a military branch around dragons and their Captains, and its reputation for uncouth behavior is undeserved.
The airmen in Havemercy. They all take orders from their captain Adamo, but there's no military rigor - just don't piss off Adamo too much, or you'll get "put on dog rations." This is justified, since when they're on the ground they're a mess, but up in the air they're "so fucking deadly, so fucking precise." As for obeying th'Esar himself...it's not uncommon for them to spit on the ground at the mere mention of their esteemed ruler. They'll fight his war, but th'Esar walks a fine line of disciplining them and pleasing them so they'll keep fighting his war at all. This is the way things have to be, of course - men with weaker wills wouldn't be able to handle the dragons at all.
Sister Light Sister Dark: the soldiers of the Hames. It's somewhat justified in that they are supposed to belong to a primitive society, but one still has to wonder what primitive society thought it was a good idea for officers to ride into battle with their infant daughters strapped to their backs. Not to mention the fact that Jenna has almost no experience in commanding anything, and it shows- in White Jenna, her army comes close to mutiny several times. By the third book in the series, they've gotten somewhat better, but next to the Garuns they still look like incompetent fools who shouldn't be trusted with anything more dangerous than a kitchen knife.
In The Lost Fleet series the Alliance navy has become this after a century of constant warfare and massive attrition in the officer ranks. Neither officers or enlisted personal salute anymore and ship captains actually get to vote on the fleet commanders battle strategy. When Jack Geary is put in charge of the fleet he reintroduces saluting and makes sure that his orders are followed without any voting. His main problem is that he does not have enough senior competent officers to replace all the idiots and glory hounds who refuse to follow his orders. The only units who still maintain proper military discipline are the Marine detachments.
Catch Twenty Two has, among its many things, a man who keeps intentionally getting court-martialled so as to get sentenced to dig ditches instead of go on the front lines. He also fraternizes with the officers.
Some of the characters in George Mc Donald Fraser's McAuslan series, about the Gordon Highlanders shortly after WW 2. The Adjutant (Executive Officer) - normally a "feckless young man much given to babbling" and one of a few Englishmen in a Scottish regiment. Vague, seemingly unmilitary, and unworldy, when he has to lead in the absence of senior officers and take command of the full regiment, he does so admirably, assessing the situation, barking good orders and delegating tasks to the right people for the job.
The battalion as a whole really; the enlisted men, particularly the sergeants, run the place. As Fraser puts it:
It looks terribly military, and indeed it is, but under the surface a Highland unit has curious currents which are extremely irregular. There is a sort of unspoken yet recognized democracy which may have its roots in clanship, or in the Scottish mercenary tradition, and which can play the devil with rank and authority unless it is properly understood.
An example from the opposite direction - FT&T in Anne Mcaffrey's Tower And The Hive series is suprisingly military for an organisation that is essentially a family-run transport company:
They have laws over and above those of other civilians and handle discipline internally
They have a well defined chain of command that terminates with the head of state
They are careful to make a clear distinction between speaking to 'Grandad' and speaking to 'Earth Prime, sir'
The eponymous team of guerrilla fighters from Animorphs. They start the series as five ordinary kids given extraordinary power and aren't very disciplined at all. But as the war goes on and they gradually become combat veterans they slowly grow into this: team leader Jake begins assuming the mantle of command much more confidently while the others grow into their respective strengths. It's lampshaded by Marco in The Reunion when he inwardly notes that he has to stop himself from calling Jake 'sir'. It gets even more pronounced towards the end, when they encounter alien militaries and are explicitly treated as soldiers.
In Harry Turtledove's Colonization trilogy, the US military responds to two officers being overly curious about their new space station by simply telling them "It's classified"... Actually, no. The word "classified" is never even spoken (in fact, both officers muse that being told that by a superior officer would be taken in stride and obeyed). Instead, the officers are threatened and, when that doesn't work, attempts on the life of one of them are made. Only one person actually orders them to stop their investigation... but he's not even in their chain of command, so he's not authorized to give them orders. One of the officers, an astronaut, tricks his way aboard the space station... only for the station's commander to seriously contemplate spacing him. Oh, and the secret wasn't even that big to begin with and is revealed in short order anyway. Considering the whole series is supposed to be military science fiction, it's surprising that Turtledove would get this so spectacularly wrong.
Star Trek: Starfleet is both a military and an exploration and research organization, also acting as top-levellaw enforcement and the advance scouts and bodyguards of The Federation's diplomatic corps and intelligence network. It is a conglomeration of the US Navy, the USMC, the FBI, the CIA, NASA and a few research universities; a captain may need to think like Colin Powell or like Jacques Cousteau—or all of these may apply at once. To an extent, this came about by the involvement of many hands. Gene Roddenberry seemed to be inspired by the civilian space program (partially operated by the military). Nicholas Meyer was proudly making military sci-fi. Other screenwriters were just writing cop shows In SPACE, or sci-fi morality tales in the mode of The Twilight Zone, or whatever other genre they felt like that day.
Prior to Star Trek, Roddenberry had served on the Los Angeles Police Department (a real-life example of the not-quite-military, especially in the 1950's). No doubt this experience had an influence on Starfleet as Roddenberry imagined it.
The result of this complex and conflicted process was a variety of offenses against seeming common sense, or at least expectation: making a civilian teenager a bridge officer on the basis that he might be the next Mozart...but for warp engineering; blatant fraternization between ranks; allowing Starfleet officers to pursue random personal quests (including, in one case, allowing one to honor a Klingon 'blood oath' and participate in murder and espionage as a result); and much screentime spent on the crews' recreation, such as learning to tap dance while an espionage plot lay in the background, or two command crews taking time out from a war to play baseball against each other (and treating it like Serious Business, too). Some viewers found this particularly uncomfortable in the later seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when these same seemingly informally employed officers were subjected to the horrors of war (of course, by this point the writers were aware of public perception of Starfleet, and this was part of the point).
Actually, treating baseball as Serious Business is not new to military - in World War 2, US military viewed any form of rest as Serious Business, since it improved morale. Not only baseball, the U.S. Army–Navy Football Game has been quite Serious Business for over 100 years for those involved. The US Navy baseball team even guarded Kriegsmarine prisoners during World War II. Naturally, they taught the prisoners to play baseball.
This was nothing, though, against the discomfort with having the family of several crew members also in the very vessels where they serve. In TNG, Roddenberry wanted to make the Enterprise more family friendly, emphasizing that these ships are huge, and they were originally planned to be away from civilization for years at a time. Not quite Generation Ships, but still more than a bit like Jamestown with rocket engines, autonomous on the frontier. In this original plan, before going into known danger, Picard would separate the saucer (which contained all the families, and civilian personnel like scientists and Ten Forward staff) from the Enterprise.
In the end, that hardly ever happened, possibly because the stardrive section looked unimpressive on its own, possibly because with the special effects available at the time this was a time-consuming and expensive process. Neither did the ship ever really feel like an isolated outpost; to the viewer, it never took more than 15 or 20 minutes to get from wherever you were to where the plot wanted you next, while it was a matter of only hours to weeks for the characters. The only real result, beside the presence of families and civilian staff, was that some crew members clearly considered the ship a permanent home.
Later producers admitted that the Galaxy-class starship, with its families of the crew on board, left a bad taste in their mouths when they considered things like Picard ordering his ship toward the Neutral Zone or other peril. They also admitted that it was an experiment that didn't pan out, and stated that the later examples of Galaxy-class ships didn't have the crews' families aboard. Still, in an episode of Deep Space Nine where Starfleet planned to raid the Dominion to rescue Sisko, the Admiral in command had to be reminded to leave the civilian passengers back on the station before going into a likely combat zone.
The Star Trek universe was influenced heavily by the Age of Sail and the colonial empires of the European, the latter of which were within living memory at the time of the production of TOS. This means that it was very different than any military force of modern times. Yes, that includes provisional crew signed on with little regard to age or official credentials, officers' families on some ships, and duels ashore (although as far as I know no sailor in the days of Wooden Ships and Iron Men ever dueled a head of state). To an extent, it stands to reason—Starfleet is in much the same position as a navy or indeed army in a widely-scattered empire, prior to the invention of airplanes. There is nothing faster than a ship, and they are often the only agents of their government, assuming any roles necessary while weakly supervised, results being far more important than the letter of regulation. It was not uncommon for European and earlier Roman and Persian empires to give a lot of authority to their armed forces who would act as needed. It was not uncommon for officers of the armed forces to act as tax collectors, a constabulary, civil engineers, magistrates etc, as and when needed. This continued till modern times, for example the US Army Corps of Engineers designed many of the dykes, levees and other dams etc. of the U.S. Mississippi River. It is our present day militaries, in an era of instant global communications, who are outside the norm. Even then, modern armed forces do assist civilian power from time to time, in law enforcement, in disaster relief and providing specialized services.
With or without children on board, the general cultural attitude to risk is much more accepting than the current day's, or even that of the Sixties, again hearkening back to more adventurous times.
Speaking of heads of state and duels, there is an apocryphal tale that Gustavus Adolphus, after insulting an officer in anger, offered him a chance at a duel; the officer was so touched by the humility that he refused the chance and returned to Adolphus' service.
The specific level of discipline also seems to depend on the CO. Kirk was simply on the loose end of normal as long as things ran properly, but God help you if you crossed him; Picard trusted his senior officers implicitly to be honorable and know what they were doing, but if you disappointed him, you'd prefer the brig to meeting his eyes; Sisko was somewhere between the two (although he had a reputation as a hardass when the series began); and Janeway was a frank hardass in comparison to any of the above. Anyone more by-the-book was pretty much The Neidermeyer.
Speaking of Janeway as hardass, an interesting aversion occurs in the Voyager episode "Thirty Days", where Paris is actually stripped of his rank and thrown into the brig for a month for violating the Prime Directive. He gets his rank back later (which must have really pissed off eternal Ensign Harry Kim) but it's one of the few situations where disobeying a superior officer actually had real repercussions in the Star Trek universe.
Unfortunately, its rarity means it mostly comes across as Disproportionate Retribution (especially since Janeway opened fire on the ship he was piloting with the intention of killing him), considering every other character on the show, including Janeway herself, pulls similar stunts and gets punished with nothing more than a severe telling off or even severe hugging—though, admittedly, Paris was committing a violent act of bio-terrorism at the time.
The broad role does cause confusion even in-story—some Starfleet officers frequently insist that their organization isn't a military at all, despite its use of military ranks and the fact that it fills every function of a military. In Deep Space Nine, the Cardassian tailor/spy Garak specifically calls Doctor Bashir out on this.
Civilians, though, may have a clearer perspective. In Star Trek II, David Marcus disdainfully referred to Starfleet as "the military" when he thought they were trying to steal Genesis (it was actually Khan, of course). This might be due to it being one of Nicholas Meyer's films.
It also has to do with that specific point in Federation history. Exactly how military Starfleet is seems to depend a lot on what's going on in the galaxy at a given moment, i.e. things are quasi-military during TOS when the Federation is at peace but with active threats to its security flexing their muscles, it then becomes much more military during the first six movies as the cold war with the Klingons gets hotter, and then loses almost any resemblance to a regular military organization in TNG, during which time the Federation is at peace. With the emergence of the Borg and the Dominion, things start shifting back the other way.
There is even a TNG episode where a Negative Space Wedgie alters time such that the Federation is at war with the Klingons. When Guinan's alien intuition tells her something's gone wrong with the timeline, and she says to Picard that there should be families and children aboard the Enterprise, Picard replies with astonishment, "Children? Guinan, we are at war!"
You can almost just look at their uniforms to judge how things are going for The Federation. If they're wearing bright colors then they are at peace, but the darker the uniforms get, the greater chances they are at war with someone.
While we're at it, the Klingon Defense Force shows a lack of discipline that makes it look more like a street gang then a military force. Somewhat unsurprising, given that the Klingons aren't so much soldiers as they are warriors - neither the officers nor the crew would pay attention to stiff discipline anyway, so why bother? Even when the Klingon Empire was a surveillance state under much tighter control, promotion by duel was too traditional to eradicate, as was taking prizes. It also doesn't help that the Defense Force is also staffed heavily with secondments from the private forces of aristocratic Houses.
To be fair to the Klingons, they have some semblance of discipline: whatever they're entrusted with must be in working condition or the commander will dish out discipline as harshly as he deems necessary, and Klingon Promotion is heavily regulated (only a direct subordinate may issue the challenge, and only when the superior officer commits a severe infraction (cowardice, extreme failure, dereliction of duty)).
Star Trek: Enterprise managed to play it both ways, with a Starfleet that resembles a military service less than it does in any other incarnation of the franchise. The MACOs (Military Assault Command Operations), however, are essentially Star Trek's answer to the Marine Corps. While taking a few minor liberties, the MACOs observe military protocol, wear camouflage uniforms, and use real-world small unit combat tactics. In their debut episode, the MACO commander even points out why having The Main Characters Do Everything is a bad idea; insisting that his team handle a combat situation on a planet surface so that Starfleet security personnel are available if Enterprise gets boarded.
Babylon 5: In "Gropos", several visiting infantrymen harass Delenn and are let off with nothing more than Drill Sergeant Nasty treatment. Delenn is a foreign ambassador and such a thing would almost certainly be worth a court martial in Real Life.
The main reason they got off light was that Garibaldi interceded on their behalf. Not the best excuse, but it's something.
Garibaldi interceded on their behalf because of a fight, caused due to another soldier interceding and stopping the harassment. The Drill Sergeant didn't know anything about the harassment of an ambassador part, and if he did the punishment likely would have been severe.
They did all end up in the first wave of an attack on a heavily-defended position, where they were all killed, though...
Averted with UNIT from Doctor Who; commanded by the originalBrigadier, military SOP were a large part of their character, and caused more than a little friction between the Doctor and the Brigadier.
Although in terms of diverse formations, roles, and tactics, Doctor Who never really portrays this accurately. The amount of troops available to UNIT varies, they are all light infantry apart from the odd bazooka, and although they manage to get the hierarchy right in terms of order, a Private is shown leading and ordering a small group of other Privates in Poison Sky.
How military UNIT was seemed to get milder and milder as the '70s wore on and as their haircuts got longer and longer. Sergeant Benton's relationship to the Brigadier and Captain Yates seems far more familiar than their respective ranks would normally allow.
Fully inverted in I Dream of Jeannie, where NASA, a civilian scientific and organization that just happens to take some of its astronauts from the military is treated like a strict military organization. The astronaut characters are practically never seen out of uniform.
At the time of I Dream of Jeannie 's debut in 1965, most NASA astronauts (and Soviet Cosmonauts for that matter) were in either the Air Force, Navy, or Marines, and had been selected for their experience as fighter pilots or test pilots (both in most cases.) NASA picked its first civilian astronauts (Neil Armstrong and Elliot See in 1962 [both former naval aviators]). In 1965, certain astronauts were selected for their scientific prowess instead of flying prowess (and still 4/6 of those chosen had military experience). That said, NASA was and is not run like a military or paramilitary organization in real life, despite the depiction on the show.
The 4077th M*A*S*H. Giving civilian conscripts the rank of Army captain on arrival will do that (most Army MDs hold captain rank or higher, or did during the Korean War). Somewhat based on Real Life, as military units based around specialist support instead of combat tend to become the military equivalent of a Bunny-Ears Lawyer.
Lampshaded during an episode when a general who felt he'd been poorly treated (having to wait until critical cases were attended to before his minor wound was dressed) assigned an undercover operative to gather dirt on how Colonel Potter ran the unit without adhering to strict military protocol. When the man was found out and observed that "From a military standpoint, things are pretty loose around here," Potter shot back "Maybe. But from a human standpoint, they're plenty tight."
Stargate Command and the Atlantis Expedition are relatively restrained versions of this trope. Make no mistake, they are very Mildly Military; but since both shows are Genre Savvy, this is lampshaded and explained. A General Ripper comments on his discomfort with an alien and an archaeologist being on a front-line Special Forces team. But the logic is that since they get the job done they can get away with it. Atlantis is actually a bunch of civilians with a military contingent.
In SG-1's case, it helps that O'Neill is a full colonel, which is an awful lot of officer for one 4-person team. He has enough legitimate authority to justify a lot.
There's also the further justification that SG-1 has saved the Earth a few dozen times over, so they earn more slack as the seasons go on. On top of that, O'Neill was pulled out of retirement to lead SG-1, while Hammond was heading towards it when he got the SGC dropped on him, so that can explain their willingness to play more loosely with regulations - they both were about to retire, and if the powers that be want them to stick around...
Not only is O'Neill a full colonel, but a colonel with enough connections that, upon being told he's invited to a dinner with the U.S. President, can afford to reply "Do you know what they're having?" before accepting. Though he was probably just snarking, like always.
Richard Dean Anderson once asked Gen. John P. Jumper, who was Chief of Staff for the Air Force at the time, if he had any colonels who were as bad as O'Neill. Jumper replied that he has subordinates who are worse.
Still further justified in that SG-1 wasn't supposed to be a front-line team at all but a "first contact" team. They were intended to have the authority to represent the US government, divine the purpose of whatever inscrutable technology they found, read whatever foreboding runes were on their hosts' buildings, and hopefully have enough experience to take cover before they get shot at if it comes to that. When actual combat forces are required, the SGC has a number of combat SG teams (mostly Marines), as well as one or two other first contact teams, a number of science teams, support teams, technical teams, and so on.
Completely justified in Stargate Universe. Icarus Base was strictly a research base, and a pretty laid back one at that; they just happened to have a military contingent in place, as is standard. Nobody was counting on the bad guys shooting up their base, their planet blowing up, and then getting stranded some unGodly distance from Earth onboard a rickety ship that they can't fully control. Add in the fact that they have to fend off power takeovers from within and hostile takeovers from without and it becomes really clear why SMOP (Standard Military Operating Procedure) went out the airlock.
At the very least, Telford is pretty fond of calling Young on his various mistakes/indiscretions, such as sleeping with a subordinate officer, to start. Young gets away with it because Telford was originally in command and the affair was never made public (more of an open secret since they broke it off). Now that he's on Destiny, he can get away with it because they literally cannot replace him. This becomes more pronounced as the series went on and the people on Destiny realize that Earth can't really help them. After an ill-conceived plan almost destroys Destiny, Colonel Young essentially walks out on General O'Neill, demonstrating that he is only going to be paying lip service to any orders from Earth.
Largely averted in the new Battlestar Galactica, where you have lots of characters shouting about hierarchy and such. In fact, however, temporary insubordination or inappropriate behaviour are forgotten quickly because Status Quo Is God. This seems justified given the near total annihilation of humanity and their situation creating in them a sense of family more than anything else, not to mention having been forced to dip increasingly into the civilian population over time to replace losses. They simply cannot afford to be entirely strict on such matters as they used to be. Even on a bad day they are a lot more military than many on this page though.
Lee Adama makes this very clear in the S3 finale, where he lists many of the egregious lapses in discipline or regulation (as well as being usually lenient on things up to and including mutiny and military coups) as unavoidable. '[because] We're not a civilization anymore. We are a gang, and we're on the run and we have to fight to survive. We need to break rules, we have to bend laws, we have to improvise!'
This realization, long before it was voiced by Lee, as well as the influx of civilians onto the ship and into the military likely explain why Galactica gets more and more mild as time goes by. In S3 they even open a bar on the ship. Which, with the destruction of Cloud Nine, might be the only bar left in existence.
The appearance of Pegasus with its tough-as-nails discipline also contrasts with the mild conditions of Galactica.
It's also worth noting that even before the Cylon attack, things were loose on the Galactica, in some ways even looser than they would be during the first two seasons of the show. The Galactica was in the process of being decommissioned, so a blind eye was turned to some things that wouldn't be tolerated at another post. Colonel Tigh explicitly states this when he calls out Boomer for fraternizing with an enlisted man.
NCIS. Compare/contrast with their real-life organization of the same name. Note, however, that NCIS is a civilian law enforcement agency, which manifests itself in the show- Tony is an ex-cop and Kate was Secret Service. One episode Lampshades this at the beginning with a sexual harassment lecturer pointing out that Gibbs's Dope Slaps, Abby's tackle hugs, and the frequent horseplay between Tony, McGee and Ziva are all absolutely against policy, and the rest of the episode is laced with jokes about how they really do not care.
The Military Channel's Special Forces: Untold Stories shows re-enactments of operations conducted by real special forces soldiers. These are supposed to be the best of the best, but whenever they're on screen, they look and act like they've never carried weapons and behave in ways that makes them look more like new recruits than special forces soldiers. For example, any time two or more of them are together, they clump together like Cheerios, creating an easy target. This is probably not only the actors' inexperience, but also because the director is trying to get them all into the camera's view.
In a second-season episode of Wonder Woman, Sergeant Diana Prince approaches a controlled area. The male lieutenant that's guarding it asks her if she's authorized to be there. During the exchange, a female captain (who has never met Diana Prince) yells at the lieutenant and accuses him of pulling rank. The lieutenant apologizes and lets both women go. The problem with this is that no one involved realizes that the lieutenant was doing his job and the female captain was pulling rank, violating security procedures in the process.
The Initiative from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The soldiers lacked military haircuts and proper uniforms, and were entirely willing to let a civilian look around their entire secret operation. They're a secret government organization that probably isn't technically part of the military, but still...
Although someone being under cover and pretending not to be in the military would likely be better off not affiliating with the ROTC, either.
And as to letting a civilian look around their operation, she was the Slayer, a potentially valuable ally, and they didn't let her into the higher-security areas or wander off on her own.
Also worth noting that they referred to one another as "agent" rather than by any rank.
Some truth in television here. In cases such as counter intelligence and CID, the agents tend to go by the title of "agent" rather than their rank to avoid problems with people of higher rank.
In Farscape, the Peacekeepers are extremely variable:
Peacekeeper grunts and lower ranking officers like lieutenants were usually very military (disciplined and in uniform.)
Captains like Bialar Crais fell somewhere in-between these extremes, with some captains adhering strictly to military protocols and others being much more like the Military Maverick (Larraq).
High-ranking Peacekeepers like Scorpius (whose rank wasn't given, but stated to outrank a captain) were given a lot of latitude as to how they conducted their duties. Commandant Grayza usually wore alluring outfits with lots of cleavage (though the actor playing Grayza stated that she interpreted this as being like a soldier whose fatigues are informally unbuttoned to show off their chest). The higher ranking a Peacekeeper was in the series, the more unorthodox their methods tended to be; they could even pursue their own pet projects, and were exempted from some of the totalitarian conditions that governed most troops' and officers' personal lives (like not being allowed to form emotional connections).
"Special Ops" Peacekeepers, like Larraq's Marauder squadron, were noted by Aeryn as being (superficially) less disciplined than run-of-the-mill PK soldiers, and they could be seen to modify their uniforms with furs, medals, and other trophies picked up from their missions in the Uncharted Territories.
They also made use of civilian research scientists and mercenaries, who could be Sebacean or other races, most of whom may have been some sort of indentured servants or slaves (like Linfer and Co-kura Strappa, and the Collartas from "Thanks for Sharing" and "Relativity".) Non-Sebacean mercenaries were sometimes apparently equals (the Coreeshi bounty hunters from "I Shrink Therefor I Am").
In addition to this, the depiction of the Peacekeepers varied in the show from episode to episode between a Nazi-esque military force and an overgrown mercenary force hired by different civilizations to keep order. It's also been implied that over time they've become less of a benevolent police force-for-hire and more of a Space Nazi Empire full of Scary Dogmatic Aliens.
The A-Team! But then again, they're actually fugitives from the Army. But at least according to the movie, they were like that even before they were sentenced for a crime they didn't commit.
Combat Hospital: Much like the M*A*S*H example above, actually military protocol in a day-to-day situation is treated relatively casually in the hospital. However the chains of command are still followed, and Colonel Marks on occasion will dress down officers for not following their responsibilities with regards to rank and uniform.
Averted in JAG. For a staff corps office they take military protocol very seriously.
The Outer Limits episode "The Invisible Enemy". The crew of the (clearly military) M2 expedition to Mars acts in a completely undisciplined manner, repeatedly violates their orders and as a result gets two members of the expedition killed. How General Winston could have considered them his top team for the job is beyond understanding.
In The Facts of Life, Jo's boyfriend Eddie is in the Navy, but other than wearing a uniform and talking about how he has to get back to the base, Eddie's appearance (long hair) and personality provide no evidence of him being in the Navy.
Space: Above and Beyond went up and down on this scale. In an early episode, the rookies are left alone when the officers have to suddenly leave, and none of them is designated as being in charge. This is ridiculous. In the real military, if as few as two soliders are assigned to pick up trash, it will still be clear who is in charge.
Ace Online makes it clear that the mercenary unit Free S.K.A. is said to have "more personal issues", but is just as good as regular Bygeniou army. The instant giveaway is however Operator Gina herself; no army employs their personnel with Bare Your Midriff uniform with fishnets!
Tabula Rasa was set with player characters as soldiers in a futuristic military/militia organisation. Being an MMORPG, none of the officers minded their Receptive subordinates faffing about rather than following their orders.
PlanetSide is about a Forever War between three opposing factions, each composed of thousands of players. Some players can attain high command ranks, which in theory should give them some sway over players, but when someone starts barking orders over the command channel, they are usually promptly ignored. Mildly amusing when two commanders start broadcasting opposing orders (Defend so-and-so! Fall back from so-and-so!) then start yelling at each other in global chat.
Beau Peep is much the same. In fact, probably any gag-strip set in the military.
Except Private Murphy's Law, which was drawn by an US Army NCO, published in Army Times, and generally follows military protocol in its humor.
Beetle Bailey features extremely laid-back discipline and has not had a real combat situation in the entirety of its 57-year history. Then again, it is a parody.
Of course if you read it from the beginning, it's a series about a college kid who's experiences in basic training when he briefly joined the army on a lark turned into a 60-year digression from the main plot.
Traveller. The IISS is famous through the Imperium for its studied informality. Justified in that it is not a military organization as such (though it takes part in warfare) but an exploratory, intelligence, and scientific institution. Zig-zagged back in that the IISS maintains militaristic Space Swat Teams for various peculiar duties associated with their missions (say extracting an agent in danger, or recovering equipment that it would be inconvenient if the natives find it).
Warhammer 40000's Imperial Guard is infamous for using summary executions to ensure discipline, but commanders tend to offer more leeway to Sentinel pilots. These soldiers use their bipedal Mini Mecha to scout for enemy positions and support the rest of the regiment, and are accustomed to acting on their own initiative and operating unsupervised. As such, Imperial commanders usually tolerate Sentinel squadrons advancing without orders and don't try to pin them down with a specific battle-plan.
The Badass Crew you gather in Super Robot Wars usually demonstrates this trope. In the second game, the XO of the Hagane gains a rival who repeatedly points out this behavior...but he himself is a Neidermeyer with no respect for the lives of his soldiers or esteem for their opinions and input. He thinks this makes him a properly badass captain. (Actually, it just makes him a regular ass.)
Nintendo Wars until Days of Ruin was a major offender, fairly intentional. Some of the Commanding Officers are obviously too young or old to lead a real military force, and some of their outfits barely even qualify as uniforms. Then we have characters like Grit, a laid-back guy who openly mocks his superior, and Andy, who is easily distracted by a new wrench. And let's not get started on the English version of Jake...
The special forces unit of Clive Barkers Jericho seems to have a vague chain of command and a few loose cannons, with Delgado in particular being such a discipline problem to hazardous degrees.
Discipline is remarkably light in Valkyria Chronicles, although it is a drafted civilian militia. it does get a little extreme when Faldio shoots Alicia to awaken her Valkyria powers. Friendly fire, and his punishment was only 10 days in the brig.
He was only being held until he could be properly tried; the militia was really lacking in leadership higher than Varrot and there was a lot of chaos going on. The REAL total lack of military protocol goes into Alicia once she does awaken to her powers. You'd think the army would actually bother to approach her about her newfound issues exactly like she's afraid of, but General Damon and whatever other commanders are running the show couldn't give a damn if you paid them for it in advance.
In Rainbow Six Vegas 2 you disobey a direct (and sensible) order from your CO to get some rest and (probably) go AWOL along with your team and a helicopter pilot to Costa Rica for the last level to hunt down some terrorist dude. Rather than being disciplined for misappropriating equipment, going AWOL on an unauthorised mission you are offered a promotion to Deputy Director!
Another example occurs in the prologue. Gabriel Nowak disobeys an order to hold fire, and in doing so starts a firefight in a roomful of hostages that gets a negotiator killed. And yet, he wasn't kicked off the team for this; he simply doesn't get a leadership position. This affront was apparently enough for him to become the Big Bad and kill civilians in Vegas.
The Terran Confederation in the Wing Commander series wavers between "relaxed" and "a complete disgrace". Between the creators of the series having no military experience whatsoever and seven hundred years of history, they're lucky to remember salutes (however sloppily they are delivered at times).
The Systems Alliance in Mass Effect is fairly spit and polish, but the Normandy itself goes completely bunny ears after Shepard takes command. Obviously justified in that Shepard is a Spectre, and the crew is technically no longer answerable to the Admiral, but that doesn't explain how Shepard can get away with blowing off the Council.
It's a political thing. For the same reason that Shepard can get away with pissing off the Systems Alliance s/he can also get away with pissing off the Council. The Alliance needs a Spectre and the Council needs to make peace with the Alliance. So s/he sits between the two and can spit on both, reflected in leaning towards the Alliance in the Renegade choices and the Council in the Paragon ones, though this being 'complex' sometimes it flips. If there was more than one human Spectre you would have a lot more loyalty to the Council as it would no longer be a 'bridge between two worlds' situation.
Mass Effect is somewhat of a special case here anyway in that you can snap your subordinates into line at any time, although this tends to lock out dialogue options. It also tends to be a Renegade action and Shepard is rarely nice about it. The option is there, though.
Captain Anderson most likely gave Tali, Wrex and Garrus security clearance back when the Normandy was his ship, and he specifically asked for Ashley Williams' transfer. Once Spectre Shepard takes over s/he has commandeered the vessel and things are status quo. I doubt Shepard can officially grant or revoke clearance but no one except the Council can alter anything as long as s/he is in charge either. Liara might have been clearance by way of political pressure from the asari Councilperson.
All this is further justified in Mass Effect 2; Shepard is no longer working for the Alliance or the Council, but Cerberus, a private organization which is Mildly Military by design. Characters repeatedly point out that Cerberus has looser regulations (including, specifically, no regs against fraternization), with a general attitude of 'anything goes as long as the job gets done.'
"This is technically a civilian ship. I'm probably lucky you're still wearing pants."
At one point you meet an Admiral on the Citadel who calls you on it and writes an annoyed report on the state of the Normandy (which has no in-game consequences), including aliens having free access to the ship and the lack of discipline. But well, he's a disgruntled old man who thinks the Normandy is a useless waste of Alliance money, so he'll Accentuate the Negative in just about everything.
Unless you smooth talk him, in which case he gives a grudgingly favorable report. Then again, you can also shut him down completely due to the fact that you're no longer under his jurisdiction.
Although they are frequently called an army, most sets of units the player assembles in Fire Emblem are just an atypically large Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. Most of the series justifes this, as these groups are rebelions (2, 2nd half of 4, 5, parts of 10), working for in-exile governments for most of the game (1/11, 8) mercanary companies (9 and parts of 10) or not actually an army, just a search team (early 4, 7), 3/12 and 6 don't have good reasons, but employ a greater precentage of professional soilders/mercanaries compared to the civilian heavy "armies" of most games.
During the first disc, the Garden is far more spit-and-polish; while there's still plenty of leeway for horsing around and playing card games while on duty, there are lines that should not be crossed. Zell gets his futuristic skateboard confiscated when he brings it into Garden, and when Seifer heroically disobeys orders on a mission because he was assigned to a makework position, he's imprisoned and effectively cashiered despite basically shredding the entire enemy force. Finally, your initial SeeD rank is partly determined by your willingness to stick to the regs on that mission (the Attitude score). Later on, your rank can drop if you spend too much timeplaying around and don't stick to the mission at hand.note ...supposedly. Though the official guide may say otherwise, the amount of time you spend on side quests and Triple Triad has no bearing on your salary. Outside of scripted events and written exams, your rank is determined entirely by how many monsters you kill in between paydays. It's the same "kill monsters for money" formula seen in every RPG, just in a different package.
SOLDIER in Crisis Core seems to work like this. Sure, sometimes they act like one would expect a military to act (all the "Sir! Yes, sir!"s when Zack is giving his speech to the new Thirds, for instance) but most of they time they're hanging out on the SOLDIER Floor talking about girls, company gossip, or whatever else happens to come up. Considering the simplicity of the chain of command (there are only three ranks, despite what some fanfiction might assume), the probable youth of most of the members, and that one SOLDIER is almost an army by himself, this is somewhat understandable.
The Terran armies in Starcraft, both games. Then again, given that most of the line troops consist of repurposed criminals, this is hardly surprising.
Justified with Raynor's Raiders, at least, since they're a rebel organization and wouldn't really have a well organized hierarchy anyway.
Transcendence's Commonwealth has a case of this. The Militia will promote you to Captain after your first successful mission, Major after your second, and Colonel after your third. You can complete all of these missions in the space of a few in-universe days. The fleet is a little stingier, but it's still possible to go from nobody to Fleet Commander in about a week.
Skies of Arcadia's Valuan Empire seems to avert this trope for the various mooks seen around. However the higher up the chain of the command you go the less militaristic it becomes. Seems that the Admirals are hand picked for their individual talents (or political connections) and once given command are free to do pretty much what they want to get the job done. Ramirez for example is Galcian's Vice-Captain at the start, dispite having no background in any military or sailing organizations, and then later given admiralship and command of his own fleet.
The GameCube version provides backstory that show Ramirez did rise through the ranks, starting off as a regular Valuan soldier and advancing rapidly due to his abilities.
Red vs. Blue. Both teams are almost completely incompetent in every aspect. On the Red Team Grif sometimes outright refuses orders from Sarge. And the Blue Team has no commanding officer at all, they're all privates. Justified in that no-one cares about the war.
Properly justified in Reconstruction, where it's revealed that Neither side was ever in the military, or derivatives thereof. It's all just simulations held by command for various reasons.
The trope also gets averted whenever the main cast meet somebody from outside Blood Gulch. Apparently the other Red and Blue teams, as well as the Freelancers, all take their jobs rather seriously. This has lead to Caboose being tied up in a brig, and Simmons and Grif facing a firing squad.
Even the Freelancers are fairly lax about things, though—they're mostly left to do what they like how they like it. They still get orders (such as Wash's orders from Recovery Command), but they aren't really checked up on all that often. Which shows very poor judgment on Command's part, considering the trouble they all get up to.
Then there's the webcomic Gone with the Blastwave. The leadership of the main characters' army is so lax they hand out promotions based solely upon killcount, and soldiers can cheerfully wander off, get lost, desert, or make coffee on a funeral pyre with no comeuppance. As one character put it: "Why haven't we lost this war yet?"
Homestar Runner has several, all of whom have tables at the Strong Badia Vaguely Military Career Fair.
The Homestarmy, whose soldiers include a painting, Strong Sad, Homsar, and a popcorn popper (deceased).
The Municipality, the King's private police force, which is The Poopsmith in riot gear.
There's also the G.I. Joe parody, the Cheat Commandos, which take everything about Joe and crank it up to 40.
Nigh-universal in Transformers series. The Autobots we see are always a military contingent... and always act like they're just guys on vacation. Particularly notable with the obligatory Bumblebee, who generally acts like a Tagalong Kid on a military mission who somehow managed to get a formal rank instead of being shooed away or receiving proper training. Even when there isproper training, he will act like he just got out of elementary school and doesn't feel like doing his homework today.
In Transformers Prime the Autobots on Earth are a close-knit group who acknowledge Optimus Prime as their leader but don't bother to stand on ceremony; he's very much a Team Mom and Team Dad in one instead of a regular military leader, it helps that the 'Bots have so much respect for him. Plus, they've been together longer than humans have existed; Arcee even calls them a "family" when asked if Bumblebee was her friend.
An awful lot of special ops units can look like this to the casual observer - generally because anyone who can pass selection is self disciplined and motivated enough that they don't need to be ragged about by spit-and-polish NCOs. The key here is that special forces are, for all practical purposes, Ninja, and don't operate in the massed ranks like other soldiers and around which most protocol is designed, so they have their own rules that are more relevant to their unique situation.
The United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force and probably many others are noted for this trope. It's true that they're often very laid back (especially when compared to other branches of the military), this is because in the Air Force it's actually officers who end up doing a lot of the actual fighting while the enlisted provide support rather than the other way around and operating on large aircraft and Air Force bases requires close cooperation between officers and enlisted men. They also often enjoy creature comforts other branches don't because air bases can often be far, far away from the actual fighting.
Additionally, the crew of an individual aircraft usually have a rather more streamlined chain of command than the disparity in rank would suggest; the aircraft captain's word is law, but beneath them everyone else has a specific task to perform and little occasion to give each other orders, so the formality of rank is unnecessary.
Most, and probably all, Air Forces in the world are this, for the reasons indicated above.
When God created discipline on Earth, the Air Force was in the air. - unknown Soviet Air Force officer
If you think that's bad (or good, depending on your point of view), the Reserve Components of the USAF (the federal Air Force Reserve and the state/territory based Air National Guard) take it Up to 11
Taken too far for Churchill in WWII after small Nazi detachments were able to repeatedly capture Allied airfields that should have hopelessly overwhelmed the Germans by sheer numbers. Churchill wrote to the Chief of Air Staff, "Every airfield should be a stronghold of fighting air-groundmen, and not the abode of uniformed civilians in the prime of life protected by detachments of soldiers" and created the RAF Regiment, the US followed suit with the AAF (now Air Force) Security Forces.
A number of auxiliary units have a history of just being civilian amateurs doing a job when their expertise is needed by the military and then being given uniforms and being put into the command structure e.g.
The NOAA Corps has its roots in the Corps of Discovery with Lewis and Clark. It was made into a uniformed service during WW 1 due to the need for coastal surveyors. If captured, they would be classified as prisoners of war and couldn't be tried for espionage. However the service is not military and maybe the closest to Starfleet, including having only officers and no enlisted. Their purpose is currently to support NOAA's efforts.
The US Air Force's Auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol, is made up entirely of volunteers, many of whom use their own aircraft to support search and rescue, disaster relief, Air Force training exercises, etc. And although it is a auxiliary of the Air Force, it technically is only such when the aircraft is being used on a Air Force mission, otherwise it is a private, non-profit corporation.
Skippy of Skippys List (according to his about page) was in PSYOPS, mostly as an illustrator. Basically, he drew propaganda posters for the Army (in post-war Bosnia, apparently). So yeah, more or less Mildly Military.
He was an Airborne Illustrator. He couldn't tell you why the Army felt they needed an illustrator to be airborne qualified though.
The United States Lighthouse Board (1852-1910) was like this as well. It consisted of uniformed Army and Navy officers who oversaw lighthouses, but of course their expertise was primarily technical and logistical. The postings were often relatively comfortable, with each officer having his own house at the post, and allowed to have his family live with him.
The Israeli Defence Forces tend to act like uniformed civilians when off duty. Discipline is much more strict while actively serving, at least for combat units. It's just that in such a small country and with universal conscription, they get a lot of off time, usually to go home for a weekend or holiday—that is, unless intel says they need to be on alert. During these off days, they are essentially uniformed civilians (this typically does wonders for morale).
Non-combatant bases (most notably the Kirya) also tend to have a very informal attitude about them, unless they’ve a lot of work to do.note The IDF is particularly notorious for its constant internal bickering, resulting in a rift between various corps. This can result in some offices having four secretaries with virtually no work, and another with one secretary collapsing under the pressure of four secretaries’ work, as the head of one corps was better at gaining more human resources, and the unprofessional (as they were conscripted and not hired) people handled managing them half-assedly.
However, they still have to make sure their uniforms are proper and not be seen drinking in uniform, lest the hated Military Police or just a mean-spirited officer catch them and bring them to military court. Also, breaking minor laws like jaywalking can also get them doubly screwed when in uniform.
The United States Merchant Marine is arguably like this (as are most country's merchant navies). While in and of itself a civilian career, Merchant Marine cadets and officers must wear naval-style uniforms and abide by military custom and are obligated to become a part of the United States Navy Reserve.
Paramilitary forces are usually like this, due to not being a proper military, and having laxer disciplinary standards. Some of the more professional ones defy this trope however, and are much more effective for it.
The crew of the USS Enterprise (no, not that one, this one). What some consider most Mildly Military in the Enterprise incident are the reactions and conversations among the crew. They don't even seem to address their superior officer as "sir" — granted, from those videos it seems very likely that the XO himself enforced this laid back atmosphere, but it does resemble most examples of Mildly Military in fiction.
The Republican soldiers in the party and union militias in the Spanish Civil War count. Heck they elected officers and could hand in their guns and leave at any point. Orders from the rear such as an advance were followed only after each unit voted. People would not follow an order they did not understand, even in battle. It seems that only idealism kept them in line at all. And then the Soviets showed up and took over, and then came the commissars and the field executions.
In the U.S., high school JROTC (when not at a Military School) is often this. Even in the top ten percent of programs, there are units that don't even do a military salute. Same goes for other paramilitary organizations affiliated with the U.S. military aimed at youths - Sea Cadets, Civil Air Patrol...
Even at a Military School, it's often this. No matter how many restrictions there are on what cadets are allowed to do, there will be all manner of stupid things done in barracks.
Same with the Citizen Advancement Training (formerly Citizen Army Training) in the Philippines.
The U.S. Army by the end of the Vietnam War suffered from a bad case of this; as mentioned above, many films set during the War show military units that are barely wearing uniforms, with half of the soldiers high most of the time. While this often seems jarring to viewers, any soldier who was there will tell you that it was absolutely Truth in Television: the army was falling apart, discipline had gone completely to hell, the percentage of heroin-addicted soldiers had reached the double digits, and killing your own commander was so common as to get its own Deadly Euphemism: fragging.
While it's no excuse, it should be noted that the units which were actually expected to be able to fight well in all conditions no matter how brutal they may be were stationed in Europe in preparation for the seemingly inevitable communist invasion of Europe. Those doing the fighting at the beginning of the war were a smattering of actual combat troops, garrison troops and National Guard (which at the time were treated as second rate garrison militia who would never actually see combat unless the U.S. was invaded), and near the end were units which had seen multiple tours and filled partially with conscripts. Vietnam was seen as a sideshow in geopolitical terms, and considering the fact that it was basically a French colonial revolt that had gotten out of hand and turned into a proxy war, it sort of was. Which gives a hint on how an incompetent who dropped out of college, never worked a significant job and barely dragged himself through military school became a commissioned officer and the rest is history.
In fact, most armies in most wars, after a couple of years and and a couple of losses, devolop at least pockets of this. No one can pass inspection, rank breaks down, etc.. While Vietnam is the most famous case, the same thing happened in World War II, the Civil War, etc., going back down through history.
Most police forces. They have military ranks and follow many military ways, but are supposed to be a civilian force (in Britain they are now called a "service" instead of a "force" but...). Unfortunately, in the U.S., because of "the War on Drugs" and "The War on Terror", for the past 25 years or so they have become more and more militarized.