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Overranked Soldier
Creators often like to emphasize the importance of a military character by giving him a high rank. This is understandable, since one's first thought when seeing a character of high rank is that he must have gotten that far because of his merits, and there's a certain amount of Truth in Television to it. Since, for example, battlefield commissions and promotions have been given to soldiers who've distinguished themselves for great deeds and exemplary service, giving a character a high rank means they must have done something to earn it, right?

However, writers can take this too far. WAY too far.

Over-ranked Soldier refers to a character whose rank is, quite simply, impossible for him to possess. The character's rank is so high, it breaks the audience's suspension of disbelief. While the creator might just mean to use the character's rank to show his importance to the work, it shows the creator did not research the plausibility of the character possessing said rank.

This trope manifests in certain ways:
  • The character is too young: Improbable Age as it applies to the military. Quite simply, it'd be impossible for the character to possess the rank at such a young age. Even the most prodigious soldier still needs a certain time in service to possess certain ranks, and some ranks are only attainable after a lifetime of service and excellence. Oh, and the character being an Ensign Newbie does NOT justify this. After all, it's ENSIGN Newbie, not ADMIRAL Newbie. Note, however, that this reasoning mainly works in times of peace. During high-intensity wars, many of the high-ranked officers who aren't Soldiers at the Rear tend to die on the battlefield, even Generals, creating huge opportunities for promotion. Due to the very existence of the chain of command, even an inexperienced commander is better than no commander at all. See the below example of Napoleon Bonaparte who became a Major General at 25, because Revolutionary France needed commanders at all costs.
  • The character is too disruptive: The Military Maverick will always be an attractive character archetype to audiences, since we tend to root for guys with guts and attitude. However, this works best with characters who are, at best, in the low officer ranks, where he spends more time in the battlefield than in the war room. The armed forces frown on disrespect to the chain of command, and would not give a high rank to such a disruptive soldier, no matter how much of a badass he is. In fact, the soldier's antics would more realistically result in a demotion instead of a promotion. (Note that Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher, aka Baron Fisher of Kilverstone, is a Real Life exception to this rule, being an incredibly controversial sailor who bruised egos everywhere he went, in a Navy and a society almost notorious for their deference to the chain of authority, and still rose to the very top of the tree.)
  • The character is too incompetent: Another character type that is common in military media is a soldier who is high-ranked, yet is actually quite sucky at being a soldier or leader. Think of it as the military version of a Pointy-Haired Boss. In humorous media, this is all well and good, since it's just part of the absurdity of the setting, but in more serious fare, it makes the viewer wonder how the hell he got that far (but note that even military organizations are not immune to The Peter Principle). This is aggravated by the fact that rank is partly merit-based, so a soldier that sucks at a low rank will STAY at a low rank (or in most modern militaries, dismissed from service for not making the promotion list).
  • The character is actively dangerous/insane: This is a tricky one to deal with, because a character's lack of stability could be a sign of post-traumatic stress, which is completely plausible and sadly all too common, but this refers to a character who's obviously unstable and the chain of command doesn't do anything about it. If the character develops instability throughout the course of the story, it's completely plausible as long as it is addressed. If the character's instability is a regular part of the character and it is not specifically addressed in the work, it's this trope.
  • The character is not respected by his subordinates: Any soldier who attains a high rank gets there both by his merits and the merits of the soldiers under him. A soldier whose subordinates subvert his authority at every chance they get will not reach a high rank, because not being able to lead limits his advancement. Common in humorous media, and animosity between high-ranked soldiers and subordinates does happen, but when it is to an extent that the higher-ranked soldier is disrespected and made to look a fool, it breaks plausibility.
  • The position the soldier holds is way below their pay grade: Often seen that some officers are doing tasks more menial than their rank befits or is out in combat in situations that high ranking officers would normally not be in. In some cases, this stems from older wars up to World War II where generals would be very close to the battle lines (if not in the thick of them). In some modern cases, it's more about the impression held by some writers that any "important" job in the military must be held by a three or four star flag officer. See Outranking Your Job for examples of this.

One thing to note: this trope does not refer to rank outside of the traditional structure followed by most of the world's armed forces. Honorary ranks, ranks based on privilege, or self-granted ranks do not count. A nobleman given a high military rank because of his high status, as unfortunate as it might be, is completely plausible, as are the extremely young appointments made during revolutions, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, promoted from major to général de brigade (major-general) at age 25, or to the inflationary handing-out of ranks such as by the Confederate government during The American Civil War (before 1860, the highest rank carried by an American soldier was lieutenant-general (three stars). Jefferson Davis started appointing full generals (four stars) shortly after the first major battle of the war). This trope is specifically about characters in fiction, within traditional military structure, that have a rank way beyond the realm of logic and possibility.

Generally speaking, senior members of the British Royal Family hold military rank and Regimental commands, but these are strictly honorary - the real business of command is done by trained professionals and the royals are figureheads. Junior royals are expected to serve as junior officers in the Armed forces, and here their responsibilities and duties are consistent with rank. Prince Charles, for instance, commanded a Royal Navy inshore ship, HMS Hunstanton. (His father commanded a destroyer, with some distinction, in World War II, but that was before he married into the Royal Family. He's Lord High Admiral now, but that is an honorary rank.) Prince Andrew was a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War; their brother Prince Edward wimped out of Royal Marines officer training (indicating that some standards apply to Royals as to ordinary joes). But older royals are ceremonial figureheads, not active soldiers and sailors. For instance, King George VI had generals' rank, but no generals' duties, in World War II (though he had served as a junior naval officer in World War I).

Contrast Almighty Janitor, who is Underranked.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Irresponsible Captain Tylor: Justy Ueki Tylor is lazy, having joined the military so that he can retire with a fat pension check. He is also uncontrollable, issuing controversial and outright ridiculous orders to his crew, like "Do whatever you want." He had probably never even seen the cover of the USPF military's rulebook, considering how often Commander Star and Lieutenant Yamamoto have to bring them up. He's also all of twenty years old, and a Lieutenant Commander. The only reason he has that rank is because he rescued an old war hero from a hostage situation. This trope is subverted in that Tylor's irresponsibility does get him sent to an obscure section of the galaxy. Sheer luck is the only thing that ensures he regains his rank half the time.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist. All registered State Alchemists receive an automatic military rank of Major, regardless of their age, and afterward they can be promoted like a normal soldier. This is at least part of the reason that Roy Mustang is resented by several members of the High Command; at the time of the series, he's only 29 years old and already a full Colonel because he became a State Alchemist at the age of twenty. Interestingly enough, though, Ed is never addressed as "Major" and rarely treated as a superior officer. This is mostly because Ed doesn't hold a high opinion of the military and therefore tries not to play up his status. He also has stated that he doesn't really like the idea of people having to "kiss up" to him and would rather interact with others as equals.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes:
    • Reinhard was made Fleet Admiral and placed in command of half the Imperial fleet at age 20. Though he had genuine battlefield accomplishments and his sister being a favorite of the Emperor explained his extremely rapid promotion, it is still ridiculously young. (It was made possible by blatant favoritism on the emperor's part.) Then he creates his own admiralty from officers loyal to him, leading to a group of Vice Admirals in their mid- to late twenties being commanded by the twenty-year-old brother of the Emperor's favorite concubine. Given the setting, though, it actually makes sense.
    • His archrival, Yang Wen-Li, is a more subdued example. He did made a flag rank at 28 (a Rear Admiral, to be precise), which is ridiculously young, but everyone around very much treated it as something exceptional. It was also kind of justified by Yang being a bona-fide military genius who saved the Alliance's collective ass more than once, him having friendsnote  in high places, who decided just for once to promote a genuinely competent officer instead of a political appointee, and his promotion being in part a piece in the powergames of the Alliance's top brass.
    • Later, as the power structure in both the Empire and the Alliance started to crumble, the chain of command crumbled as well, degenerating into petty warlordships and civil wars, so both men became military dictators simply as a consequence of their fighting prowess and desire to keep at least some semblance of order in their respective nations. Well, Yang became. Lohengramm actively strived for power.
  • Lyrical Nanoha:
    • Hayate Yagami, Lieutenant-Colonel at 19. Even if you assume she started her career at nine — there are better places to discuss the Values Dissonance — ten years does not a Lieutenant-Colonel make in a Real Life military barring severely extenuating circumstances. Contrast Nanoha, who's more reasonably a non-Navy Captain. The justifications are, first, that powerful mages are quickly promoted through the ranks anyway, with ranks often being considered "decorations", and second, that Hayate has connections in the highest ranks and was bucking for promotion since the day she joined. It's also revealed that Hayate, being a former criminal, was put in command of Mobile Division 6 because she was considered expendable in case anything went wrong and she had to take the fall for it, and Hayate herself notes that the officers at headquarters tend to see her as a young girl first and a Lieutenant Colonel second, indicators of factors apart from a belief in Hayate's merit.
    • Just as bad: Chrono Harlaown reaches the rank of Admiral with fourteen years in service. His mother is also an admiral in the Navy (albeit for an unspecified length of time; she is 31 upon her first introduction), and he's one of those connections that helped propel Hayate to battalion command. In Chrono's case, the justification is that after his dad died in the line of duty when he was just 3 years old, Chrono went all Bruce Wayne, becoming a fully fledged Enforcer by the age of 14. Enforcers, for the record, are the elite of the elite within the Bureau, with the personal authority of a Field Officer, so his advancement to an Admiral ten years later wasn't much of a career ladder jump.
  • One Piece:
    • Averted with Commodore Smoker. He is said to be stronger than his Captain rank implies. However, he is stuck at the rank of Captain for a very long time due to his insubordination with his superiors in the Marines. The only reason he is promoted to Commodore at all is part of a conspiracy by the World Government — he just happens to be in the area.
    • One Piece does have a number of examples played straight, most notably Vice Admiral Garp, who actively and openly helps pirates, laughs at top-ranked Marines for their mistakes, and recruits from questionable places. He has been offered several promotions to Admiral. However, Fleet Admiral Sengoku does sometimes wonder to himself how Garp managed to climb up the ranks with the attitude he has. Then again, the Marines are (for the most part) based on Asskicking Equals Authority, and Garp is probably the strongest marine in the entire force next to Sengoku himself.
    • While not exactly a soldier, Buggy should obviously not be one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea. He's one of the weakest characters in the series, and the only reason he gets the position is pure dumb luck.
  • Rebuild of Evangelion: Asuka is eventually given the rank of Captain.
  • Saint Seiya: Most of the Gold Saints earned their ranks before the age of ten!
  • Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross/Robotech: The Masters Saga: Jeanne Francoix/Dana Sterling begins the series aged 17 and ranked a Sergeant Major, later being promoted to Lieutenant. While the promotion to Lieutenant based on merit is plausible, her initial rank of Sergeant Major is most definitely not, and is even more outrageous than Ocelot's rank. Both because of her age AND her attitude to authority, it'd be totally impossible for her to hold this rank.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny: Kira Yamato is an interesting example. He was promoted from Second Lieutenantnote  to Admiral at once, being eighteen, but this was a) a wartime express promotion, as Orb's forces were decimated at that point, b) he was their best pilot anyway, and was given that rank so that his status would reflect this, and c) because he was an older brother of a ruling monarch of one nation, and a husband of a democratically elected leader of the other. It may not mean much, given how Mildly Military the forces in that universe seem to be, and he didn't exercise his authority much as well, though when he did it, these were usually quite competent decisions.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam:
    • When the White Base crew, formerly an irregular unit headed by a Space Cadet, is brought into the Earth Federation Forces, most of the crew get reasonable ranks. The exception is Ace Pilot Amuro Ray, who is appointed a Chief Petty Officer, a senior noncommissioned rank that usually takes years to work up to. No explanation is given for this. In Tomino's Gundam novels, written largely to tell a more consistent story after all the screenplay shenanigans in the heavily troubled anime, he wasn't even a civilian to begin with, but a fully trained cadet on his middie cruise shortly before commissioning. After the White Base finally made contact with the main forces he just received the commission he was due.
    • Bright Noa and Mirai Yashima, meanwhile, invert this trope and create another example into the bargain. Once the White Base is regularized, Bright receives the rank of Lieutenant JG, and Mirai is commissioned as an Ensign; this is for the commander and executive officer of a carrier command that previously merited a full captain. In this case, the brass weren't going to break up a well-functioning unit in the middle of wartime, but they also weren't interested in ranking Bright up too far beyond his seniority (LTJG was already an accelerated wartime promotion). This situation gets downright weird when Lieutenant JG Sleggar Law is assigned to a flight position to replace lost crew; while fitting his rank, the position puts him below Ensign Yashima in the chain of command.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Arise gives Batou the rank of a Commander during his service in the Republic of Kuran. His command there is basically a platoon-sized unit that's normally commanded by a Second Lieutenant. Motoko, a Major, is somewhat more justified, in that she's explicitly from a secret Special Forces unit that uses its officers in solo missions.
  • Full Metal Panic!:
    • Sōsuke Sagara is 16 at the beginning of the anime, but a fearsomely-skilled sergeant in a paramilitary organization, although this is explained by a history as a child soldier in Afghanistan; its also a way to logically hang around the schoolgirl-aged Chidori.
    • His commander, Teletha "Tessa" Testarossa, is about the same age and has her position almost solely by virtue of the bizarre racial memory gift possessed by those called The Whispered, which meant that she designed the submarine.
    • S!suke's colleague Kurz Weber also qualifies, though not to quite the same extreme as S!suke and Tessa; he's only nineteen at the start of the series and the Light Novels eventually reveal that he began training as a sniper at the age of about fifteen.

    Comic Books 
  • Les Tuniques Bleues: This was the focus of the album Des Bleus et du blues, with General Grant holding an important meeting of his highest-ranking officers, including a few that the intended to fire from the army. As far as regular characters go, Captain Stilman is infamous for his cynicism, laziness and general incompetence (although with a few flashes of true brilliance).
  • Even by the standards of Comic-Book Time and Continuity Snarl for Marvel Comics characters with long histories, the military status of Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) is still improbable. She retired from the U.S. Air Force at the rank of full Colonel (O-6)... apparently before her first chronological comic book appearance as director of security at "The Cape". Absent some highly unusual situation, one would expect Carol to be at least pushing 40, and this is before her entire career as a superhero. While she's depicted as an experienced hero in current stories, she isn't drawn or treated as if she's anywhere near as old as her backstory would suggest.
  • In GI Joe A Real American Hero Marvel, while Hawk is a capable leader, he's somewhat young to have already reached the rank of general, and still spends too much time in the battlefield to be one. The age issue also applies to his predecessor, General Flagg. Modern versions of the franchise tend to have Hawk as an older man, or as a Colonel (and the Joes a smaller organization as a result) to avoid the issue.

    Fan Works 
  • Carried to absurd levels in Stephen Ratliff's Marissa Picard series of Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfic, in which the title character becomes a fully-commissioned starship captain (of a starship bigger than the Enterprise, in fact!) while still a pre-teen, and Admiral of the Fleet at age 21.
  • Similarly, but not quite to the same extent, the original Mary Sue from A Trekkie's Tale was a 15-year-old lieutenant.
  • Lampshaded and justified in Bait and Switch. Captain Kanril Eleya and her command staff are by and large very young for the ranks they hold (Eleya is 29), but it's due in large part to a heavy dose of You Are in Command Now since the Federation is A) in a full-scale war with the Klingons and B) under attack by the Borg. She is explicitly stated to have been fast-tracked to captain.
  • In Boys Do Tankary, the teenage boys vary in ranks, from a Warrant Officer to a Major, none of which they seem old enough for, even considering that Vincent, who has the rank of Major, was forcibly enlisted into the army at the age of six.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Heartbreak Ridge: Tom Highway (Clint Eastwood) is a is a Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) in the US Marine Corps, which is more than plausible given his age and how long he's been in, both of which are lampshaded throughout the film. However, given his conduct, it's hard to believe that was allowed to stay in to close to mandatory retirement and not forced into retirement, if not court martialed and discharged from the Corps. In the film, in addition to showing little respect for the rank and authority of his superiors, he's shown being arrested twice for drunk and disorderly conduct, and both the judge and his CO in the beginning of the film mention that it's happened multiple times before. Justification? Being a living recipient of the Medal of Honor actually can plausibly excuse a hell of a lot in the military.
  • Top Gun: Tom Cruise's character, Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell. The stunts he pulls during training make it a miracle he even gets to fly in combat, let alone not be demoted. It's supposed to show that he's just that good.
  • The 2009 Star Trek ran into this by wanting to act as an Everyone Meets Everyone story and an origin story for James T. Kirk. We see Kirk join Star Fleet, and in almost no time he's captain of the Enterprise. At the start of the film he's outranked by all of the characters we know as his crew. The plot is basically built to justify this: Star Fleet loses droves of experienced personnel, and Kirk receives two field promotions in the resulting crisis. By the second film, however, we discover that Star Fleet simply let the up-jumped cadet continue captaining their flagship... until he breaks the rules one-too-many times, and gets (temporarily) removed. Only Pike's intervention kept him in the general chain of command. It is worth noting that most of Kirk's character arc in the second film involves learning that while being lucky is all well and good, being level-headed and respectful of the lives under his command is more reliable and appropriate for the captain of the flagship.
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: Chief Master Sergeant Epps. From Technical Sergeant (E6) to Chief Master Sergeant (E9) in two years? And he's still in the field? AND by federal law only 1% of the ENTIRE Air Force can hold that rank?
  • Private Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger is promoted directly to captain in the U.S. Army after the Super Soldier testing project is shut down. This is entirely a political appointment; he needs to be a captain because "Captain America" is a propaganda symbol and an ad for war bonds. Also, "Private America" sounds less like a superhero and more like something else. In fact, he gets slapped down the time or two he actually tries to use his rank in the first half of the movie. He uses it as a Badass Boast during his first rescue, stating that he was Captain America and had punched out Hitler several times (he only did so on the staged shows). After his rescue of the men from the Hydra weapons factory, he earned the respect of the men and seems to have formally recognized as a Captain, even being given his own commando unit (given that he is a one-man army and had single-handedly saved a whole platoon of soldiers on his first "mission", exceptions were to be made).
  • Hopper in Battleship is a naval lieutenant and yet he is insanely brash, often insubordinate and does not have even a drop of his men's respect. For most people who have actually served in the military, it's a surprise that he even finished his basic training let alone be commissioned as an officer. At least the admiral has finally had enough of this and tells him that this training exercise will be his last. It is also lampshaded in the movie. When people hear Hopper's now in charge, their reaction runs from This Is Gonna Suck to "Oh, Crap we are all gonna die!"
  • Part of the satire in Starship Troopers is the fact that Rico rockets up the ranks because his superior officers keep dying. "Fresh meat for the grinder" indeed. Carmen and Zander are watch officers within a year of their joining the fleet. Carl is the only one who seems suited to his rank after going through Military Intelligence training, though his young age still stands out among the older Psi-Corps officers. (Perhaps Psi-Corps rank is mostly ability-based.)
  • The Star Wars series really suffers from this. Almost immediately after joining the Rebel Alliance, Luke is made a fighter pilot despite almost zero combat experience, by the time of The Empire Strikes Back he's a commander, and a general by Return of the Jedi, not bad for someone who's canonically 19. Meanwhile Han is first a captain and then a general in the same amount of time, despite not officially joining the Rebellion until Return of the Jedi, and spending the period between Empire and Jedi in carbonite. Lando also gets made a general shortly after joining the Rebellion himself. It gets really silly during the Endor mission, where General Solo commands a squad of around ten people, including Luke (another general) and Leia, whose rank is never really defined, but appears to be somewhere between a political leader and a flag officer. At the very least Lando's mission (leading the assault on the Death Star II) was appropriate to his rank.

    Literature 
  • The Doc Savage novels. Four of Doc's aides had high military rank during World War I: Major, Lt-Colonel, Colonel and Brigadier General. Given how late the US entered the war, it seems unlikely that they could have achieved these ranks if they enlisted when the US entered the war. Fanon, as used by Philip Jose Farmer in his "biography" of Doc Savage, has them enlisting in other nations armies at the start of the war and transferring to the US Army when the US joined. Even then, Ham's Brigadier Generalship is stretching credibility.
  • Footfall, a Larry Niven-Jerry Pournelle novel, features a female Army officer who goes from being a Captain (a rank attainable at a relatively young age; the character is introduced when she is only 28 years old) to being a Lieutenant Colonel within the space of three years time. The subversion comes from the fact that she's directly promoted, twice, by the President of the United States, who as Commander in Chief of all American military forces has the right to promote whoever he wants any time he wants for any reason he cares to use.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • State Sec Citizen Brigadier General Dennis Tresca was a mere Corporal before the revolution. Somewhat justified by the Klingon Promotion-type side-effects of the post-coup purge of the secret police. In fact, it's repeatedly mentioned that the Havenite military is lacking in personnel with the experience normally required for the higher ranks, but they're forced to promote anyway as they need someone to fill those slots. Despite smaller losses, Manticorans also had to resort to rapid promotions during the war, especially given that they have a much smaller population and thus manpower reserves.
    • It's also mentioned that Havenites don't have experience in the lower ranks, leading to officers carrying out tasks that the Manticorans have Petty Officers normally carrying out. Thus leading to competent officers having to do their own jobs, someone else's job, and likely get promoted to a position they aren't qualified for. And then shot by State Sec. Note that because this is a "prolong" society, where the average life expectancy for most humans is about 250-300 years, normal peacetime promotions tend to be slow. Honor herself attained List Captain rank at 42note , and it was explicitly said to be because of the rapid expansion of the Royal Manticoran Navy in preparation to the First Havenite War, as well as including promotion for valor under fire. In the neutral nations, such as Solarian League, an officer might expect to stay in a grade for decades on end.
    • The short story A Ship Named Francis is about a ship whose entire crew is this. Massive manpower expansions due to a war resulted in rapid promotion to many of the people who were already in the Navy, some of them to people who didn't deserve them. The Grayson Navy then dealt with this by transferring these people, who are a mix of types I-IV, to the Francis S Mueller, a cruiser which is deliberately never given any important assignments. The crew refer to the ship among themselves as Siberia.
  • Catch-22 had Major Major Major Major (Rank, first name, middle name, last name). When he enlisted, he was instantly promoted to Major by "an IBM machine with a sense of humor almost as keen as his father's." Major can never go up or down in rank because the Almighty Janitor Ex-PFC Wintergreen thinks it's funny.
  • A huge example occurs in the Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars novelization, where Private Vega is promoted to Sergeant on his first day out of boot camp, over other, longer-serving, more experienced troops, due to a combination of nepotism and idiot luck. His absurdly fast-tracked promotions continue throughout the book until he reaches the rank of Captain at the end of several months. Vega thus combines being too young (he's still in his early teens) and incompetence (the most decisive order he ever manages to give is to charge), with an added bonus of being completely undertrained for his rank. Vega was afraid it'd be the opposite of nepotism, due to his relative being the drug-addicted Nod General Vega. His first promotion was due to luck (he randomly happened to see a a heat signature of a weapon aimed at his squad from a vent) and skills he gained prior to enlisting (shooting bottles on a farm). His immediate superior even tells him he argued against giving him a promotion because he didn't earn it on merit but was overruled, as this promotion is mostly for publicity. Oh, and the cancelled tactical shooter Tiberium was supposed to put the player in Vega's shoes.
  • Discussed in Orphanage. Jason Wander leads a strike team to one of Jupiter's moons. He is quickly field promoted to general-on-the-ground due to the insane casualty rate. Everyone there including him expect him to be demoted when the battle ends, however he remains a general (at only 19!) because as the "savior of the human race" the brass decided he's more useful as a symbol than a soldier- although he still has plenty of infantry life ahead of himself.
  • In Simon Scarow's Eagle series of novels about the Roman Army, the two heroes are a hard-bitten centurion called Macro, who has risen to officer rank purely through merit and experience. And Quintus Licinius Cato, a youth who has grown up as an emancipated slave in the Emperor's palace. Macro is told by the imperial legate Vespasian that like it or not, Cato is on an unprecedented accelerated promotion through ther legion's ranks. He must, therefore, act as mentor to a youn man who goes from recruit to Legionary to the junior officer rank of Optio in an incredibly short time, assisted by Vespasian's patronage. At first a man with no discernable miltary skills, Cato grows through the books into a very capable officer and soon outranks his friend Macro. And the manipulative future emperor Vespasian guards them and steers their missions for reasons all of his own...
  • Ciaphas Cain notes that Colonel Kasteen and her officer corps are generally very young and inexperienced to be holding their rank and position. Justified because everyone more qualified or senior than them had been eaten by tyranids.
  • Late in Enders Game, the title Ender is promoted from the ostensible rank of Cadet straight to Admiral at the age of twelve. The justification for this is the whole point of the book: by this point he has already been the de facto commander of Earth's entire space fleet for some time; once the war is over, the promotion is largely political, and he very rarely pulls rank.

    Live-Action TV 
  • F Troop: In one episode, the Hekawi Indian chief is disguised as a trooper so that he can be taken to the fort and treated by the Army dentist. A visiting general takes a liking to "Private Howe" and quickly promotes him through the ranks all the way to Captain!
  • The Phil Silvers Show: Sergeant Ernie Bilko is a Master Sergeant, which is plausible according to his age and responsibilities, but the fact he keeps this rank without being demoted because of his antics borders on divine intervention.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Enterprise: Tucker is chief engineer of the Enterprise, not just the flagship but the most advanced human starship of the period. Canonically, he cannot do basic algebra (episode Shuttlepod One for source of that).
    • In Star Trek, Picard beats Kirk and becomes captain at 28 after Captain Ruhalter of the Stargazer is killed in battle. Although, in the Star Trek: Stargazer novels, it's clear his promotion is opposed by Admiral McAteer, who clearly sees Picard as too young to be in command but can't override another admiral's promotion without cause. That said, the unusual circumstances of his promotion, as well as the eventual fate of the Stargazer, may well have put his career into something of a holding pattern, as he's canonically 60 when he takes command of the Enterprise, still a Captain (though on the flip side, the Enterprise is still the flagship and he's basically a half-step below Admiral at that point). The funny thing is that McAteer's most defining character trait is his ambition. He is even disgusted with the message of Macbeth that ambition is evil for that same purpose. Yet he somehow feels that this doesn't matter in Picard's case.
    • Inverted on Star Trek: Voyager, which has an example of an underranked soldier, specifically Ensign Harry Kim. If nothing else, he should have gotten an automatic promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade at about the midpoint of season two. He hangs a lampshade on this in one of the later seasons, telling Janeway that if not for Voyager's special circumstances he'd be at least a Lieutenant, and possibly a Lieutenant Commander.
  • Averted mostly on JAG, even though the investigations and field work done by Harm and Mac are borderline.
  • In Stargate Universe, Marine Master Sergeant Ronald Greer is 20 — if he signed up on his eighteenth birthday, he's still fourteen years too young, as the Marines require a Master Sergeant to have at least 16 years' service.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Late in the show, Cameron Mitchell is technically old enough for his, but at his age, he would need to have joined at 18 and then been promoted as soon as he was eligible every time, and even then, some of them would have to be field promotions, making it really unlikely. He is selected to command the pre-eminent SG team, so the implication is he's just that good. Got lampshaded once with a throwaway joke about Mitchell being O'Neil's son via Time Travel, with explicit nepotism being responsible for his advancement. The people telling him this were (probably) just messing with him.
    • On the DVD there is mention of an episode featuring the actual Air Force chief of staff at the time of the show's filming. Richard Dean Anderson asked him if he had colonels as disruptive and irreverent as his character, Jack O'Neill. The man's reply? "Nah, I have worse". So much for disruptiveness being an obstacle to promotion.
    • Enforced aversion with General Hammond. He was initially going to be a bit of a tyrant, but the show's Pentagon advisers pointed out to the writers that he would never have made general if he hadn't earned his underlings' respect.
  • General Melchett from Blackadder Goes Forth is grossly incompetent, being a deliberate example of the "lions led by donkeys" opinion of the British forces in World War I. The others are probably at their correct ranks: Captain Darling is a competent soldier, Baldrick is a private and therefore cannot be any lower ranked, and Upper-Class Twit George probably joined as a lieutenant and was never promoted. Blackadder, having been an officer for over 15 years by 1917, should have been a major and not captain by seniority alone, though he could still have commanded a company in the trenches. In the last episode, we learn that Sergeant Blackadder, the Hero of Moboto Gorge (where we killed all the peace-loving pigmies and stole all their fruit), wasn't promoted to officer until the war.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Classic): Lieutenant Zac is gee-whiz young and inexperienced, and golly, he's going on his first Viper patrol, ever, with Big Brother Captain Apollo! He comes off as about 19, although Rick Springfield was actually about 29 at the time. If he's that young and inexperienced, even in war, at his first patrol he should have been one or two ranks lower in grade... At least if the Colonial space forces actually have a lower rank for commissioned officers with flight status; in some real-life militaries the rank of Lieutenant j/g or Ensign is only given to non-pilot aircrew or ground support personnel, at least in peacetime.
  • The A-Team: Real Vietnam-era four-to-six-man A-teams were commanded by captains, not full Colonels like Hannibal Smith.

    Radio 
  • The Navy Lark: Sub-Lieutenant Phillips, is both improbably old for a Sub-Lieutenant (which is the lowest active service officer rank) and improbably incompetent to hold a rank at all having done more damage to Naval property than both world wars. Rule of Funny is in effect. Also applies to much of the senior brass. More than one character In-Universe wondered how Cloud Cuckoo Lander Vice-Admiral 'Burbly' Burwasher ever obtained his rank.
  • The Goon Show: How self-proclaimed 'dirty coward' Major Dennis Bloodnok ever obtained his rank is a mystery. More than one episode implies that blackmail had something to do with it.

    Video Games 
  • Air Force Delta Strike features Lilia, the 14 year old Major. It is handwaved by a few throw-away lines early in the game.
  • BlazBlue:
    • Noel Vermillion is somewhat neurotic for her rank in the NOL, although it's stated to be a result of a combination of Asskicking Equals Authority and that as a member of the Absurdly Powerful Student Council she was practically guaranteed a reasonable rank. There's also the fact that Noel is Mu-12, and due to her importance got a higher rank than she really deserved (since Hazama would need a reason to get her where he needs her).
    • Also as it turns out, even Jin Kisaragi is also one. He didn't do much during the Ikaruga War(it really only took him two days to "end" the war), as he even notes that there were probably several people who could have ended the war as well due to how easy it was. The ending of the war itself was more of a setup that the NOL used as a way to get rid of the old regime and established their new one. Since Jin was the person they used for the purpose to end the war, he was then hailed as a hero and got tons of rank ups. This gave the NOL a figurehead hero to parade with their new order and allowed for Hazama to manipulate him easier. Personally, Jin felt completely empty and disliked the notion very much.
    • Chronophantasma suggests that Major Tsubaki Yayoi is going to be following in Jin's footsteps. A mere First Lieutenant back in Continuum Shift, not only is Tsubaki younger and less accustomed to high rank than Jin, she also has a small number of neuroses regarding ex-Major Jin that Terumi helped instill and/or exploited for his own machinations. There's also the fact that she's a brainwashed and crazy loyalist, and yet she was "promoted" due to her "exploits" with Ragna the Bloodedge (read: Terumi needs a new figurehead hero, Makoto's gone rogue, and Noel and Jin defected with her).
  • Final Fantasy VI: Celes Chere is a General in the Imperial Army, despite being only eighteen years old. Then again, the Empire also made Kefka a General....
  • The Halo series.
    • Miranda Keyes is a borderline case with her rank of Lieutenant-Commander, then later Commander. She is competent, she does her job to the letter, the soldiers under her trust her explicitly, and she always keeps a level head on her shoulders. At the time of her death, she was twenty-seven years old. It should be noted that she is a Commander during a war where the UNSC has been repeatedly getting slaughtered in fleet engagements. She is a Commander because not only is she competent, most of the officers with more experience than her are dead.
    • Several of NOBLE Team's members, like Carter and Kat hold high ranks and are even younger (Kat being an Lt. Commander at 22, Carter being a Commander at 32), but it's justified because they've been soldiers since they were children. It's also mentioned via Word of God that this is primarily to give them command over any necessary conventional forces in the event of a crisis. This policy is not dissimilar to some Real Life special forces units.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Ocelot is a Major. At 19 years old. If one charitably assumes that he rose in rank in the least amount of time required to hold said rank, he would have enlisted at around 4 years old. Several characters do express surprise at this rank, so it's not a simple mistake. Plus, he has been a soldier/spy since he was a child. And being the son of The Boss probably helped.
    • Also, as far as the Soviet government knows he's a defected American agent. His unlikely rank might be part of his cover-up from the Russian side.
  • The Sims: It is possible for Sims on the "military" track to become a General after one day's work if one effectively manages motives and develops the requisite statistics. Then again, all the other career paths work this way. It's also possible to go from "Boot Camp" to "Elite trooper" as literally the second step in the career path.
  • League of Legends:
    • Swain became a ranked officer at a very early age (even though by all logic he should not have been accepted in the military at all due to being crippled). How he did it is a mystery, and contributes to his overall enigmatic status.
    • His archnemesis, Jarvan IV, is the single highest-ranked military officer in Demacia, despite being fairly young. One would think it's because he's the crown prince, but no, J4 earned his rank.
  • In Sol Survivor, you go from Lieutenant Second Grade all the way to Fleet Admiral over the course of the game which is only a few months in game. It's justified in that the War isn't going that well, there are always vacancies caused by death of the previous guy, and despite it all you have never lost a battle.
  • Star Trek Online:
    • In the Starfleet tutorial you go from a junior ensign to captain of your own ship in one battle. Justified in that the entire senior crew is dead so you have seniority. You retain your command seeing as you managed to pull off a victory that more experienced officers couldn't have. You do not, however, get promoted to captain, just lieutenant (you get your own command, but it is a small, really old ship, so there's a certain logic in it). Captain is a mid-game rank, so there is a bit of work ahead before you actually become one. The other two factions have analogous situations — especially the Romulan Republic, where you bring your own small, really old ship.
    • Player Character rank is tied to Character Level and caps out at an OF-10 grade (fleet admiral) for Starfleet and the Romulan Republic at level 60 and an OF-9 grade (general) at level 55 with an honorary and very prestigious title (Dahar Master) at level 60 for the KDF. But apart from getting the ability to call in one other ship to help you out if your hull drops below 50%, there's no real difference from when you hit captain at level 30. You're still flying just one ship instead of commanding an organization, you regularly get ordered around by NPCs you outrank, and there isn't a single mission available that makes more sense for a flag officer to handle than a captain (for that matter a lot of the grinding side missions make more sense for enlisted personnel).
    • Inverted by Subcommander Kaol in the end-game: he is placed in charge of a joint alliance of the Federation, the Romulan Republic and the Klingon Empire on a critical mission to investigate the technologies of an ancient artefact (that also links to the Delta Quadrant) and neutralize a major and highly classified threat (Omega particles) created by the artefact, and co-ordinates the alliance forces in a major conflict with the Voth. But subcommander is an OF-4 grade (equivalent to a Starfleet commander), meaning a mere captain outranks him (and thus so does every single player character he interacts with, since the Dyson Sphere is restricted to level 50 and thus OF-8 characters).
  • Inverted in Sword of the Stars. One trailer specifically shows a SolForce destroyer commanded by a Lieutenant. This is justified in the background material due to humanity still recovering from various wars and nuclear devastation, so the SolForce ranks are a bit thin to afford a Commander for each ship, especially since destroyers are fairly tiny by starship standards (30 meters in length — smaller than a Space Shuttle) and command a crew of a few dozen at most. Destroyers also drop like flies. The battlegroup in that trailer got wiped out in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, a destroyer still has enough firepower for Orbital Bombardment, killing millions if it's not stopped. So they put a WMD in the hands of a Lieutenant.
  • By the time the third game in the Mass Effect trilogy rolls around, pretty much everyone who's worked with Shepard is at a ridiculously high rank if they're military. Even Jack is a military instructor, despite being a confirmed murderer and terrorist. More or less, the only people who didn't rise significantly in rank are the humans who were already in the military at the start. Completely justified in this case though, because only the human military had even a handful of people believing Shepard and his/her crew right up until the Reapers starting wrecking everyone's shit, at which point the galaxy realized who they needed to be listening to.

    To wit: Lt. Alenko becomes Maj. Alenko, thus technically outranking Shepard while not onboard the Normandy, Gunnery Sgt. Williams becomes Lt. Cmd. Williams, police officer Vakarian holds an unspecified rank in the Turian Hierarchy but is saluted by generals and advises the Primarch, burned-out mercenary Urdnot Wrex becomes leader of all krogan, Liara T'soni becomes the most powerful information broker in the galaxy, and teenaged engineer Tali'Zorah becomes one of five admirals of the quarian people. Cpt. Anderson becomes an admiral and supreme commander of the human resistance on Earth. And that's just the crew from the FIRST game. The only ones who aren't promoted seem to be Flight Lieutenant Jeff "Joker" Moreau and Lt. Cmd. Shepard him/herself.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama: Captain Zapp Brannigan is as incompetent and cowardly as they come, yet the general consensus among the populace is that he's a great hero. Like everything in Futurama this is of course Played for Laughs. He was suspended once and only once, and was only reinstated because the only witness able to testify against him wanted him out of her hair.
  • The Simpsons has had various examples over the years:
    • It's not explicitly stated, but in "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadassss Song", Skinner's commanding officer appears to be much too young to be a full colonel. Also, his proudest military action was securing a Kuwaiti department store.
    • While Homer is around the appropriate age to command an attack submarine, he has only been out of basic training for a week at most when he's asked to take the conn of the USS Jebediah in "Simpson Tide". Also, Moe, Apu, and Barny, despite having in the Navy for the same length of time as Homer, are all wearing rate badges indicating that they are petty officers note .
  • General Iroh of Legend Of Korra is listed as "young adult" in his profile, meaning he's 29 at the oldest, and yet he's in charge of a good chunk of the United Forces. Possibly justified due to being Zuko's grandson and extremely Badass.


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