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Militaries are often incorrectly portrayed in media. Sometimes it's just a matter of not knowing the minutiae, like which branches use which ranks. Other times, it's a matter of Rule of Cool (or Rule of Funny) — the military is just a backdrop for a character to do something awesome (or hilarious). But actually portraying the military accurately is surprisingly difficult, as each country has its own military with its own service branches, which each have their own ranks, rules, scope, and traditions. That leads to the most common reason for incorrect depictions — they just don't really care enough.

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Generally, this trope applies to depictions of real-world militaries. But it can also happen in entirely imaginary cultures, if the work establishes one thing and depicts another. You shouldn't see a liberal democracy treat its soldiers more callously than the World War II-era Red Army, or a very hierarchical and repressive culture with very Mildly Military armed forces.

As with most Hollywood Style, common media portrayals of the military tend to influence public perception and lead to people believing myths about the military. Some military fanatics will bristle at these incorrect depictions, but most actual current and former members of the military find them more funny than annoying. Indeed, military films festooned with these errors are often more popular with military members than with the general public. Because of this, the only time you'll really see a work make an effort to avert this trope is if it's Backed by the Pentagon — in which case, a real-world military wants to show itself off to the public.

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Broadly speaking, common errors in depictions of the military fall into these categories:

    Organizational Errors 
  • Incorrect depiction of ranks. Generally, works will know that the Four-Star Badass outranks the Colonel Badass, who outranks the Sergeant Rock, and they will know the basic Military Rank Names (if not the obscenely complicated NATO classifications). But they might not accurately depict what their jobs are, leading to soldiers who seem to be ranked too high or too low. You're not going to see a general actively leading a platoon in the field unless something has gone very wrong. There's also no such thing as a Do-Anything Soldier, especially because different skillsets take years of training to reach.
  • Confusing ranks between service branches, such as naming a navy non-commissioned officer a sergeant instead of a petty officer.
    • Japanese media have a special example here. Prior to World War II, the Imperial Japanese armed forces used a unified rank system with the same words and kanji used for Army and Navy commissioned personnel (prefixed with Rikigun for Army and Kaigun for Navy). That changed under the postwar constitution—the Japan Ground, Air, and Maritime Self-Defense Forces use different words and kanji for equivalent ranks—but Japanese creators seem to prefer using the prewar rank system, which besides being inaccurate for the JSDF, often causes confusion for translators.
  • Failure to distinguish between different branches of the military — army, navy, air force, marines, coast guard, possibly a "space force". Each of these branches has its own rank system, and works which might be aware of the military ranks might not understand that some ranks only apply to some branches of service — after all, there are no "sergeants" in the Navy, nor "admirals" in the Army. Calling all of these branches the "army" is not only inaccurate, but serves to greatly piss off members of service branches that are not the army; in the wrong bar, calling a US Marine a "soldier" will get you a punch in the face.
  • Failure to distinguish between militaries and non-militaries. Some are government entities, like the police or intelligence services, even if in some cases they sure resemble the military. Others are not government entities at all, but rather mercenaries.
  • Failure to understand the military's place in the overall government hierarchy. Not every military has the same level of independence from their country's political machines. To whom do they report, and how much leeway do they have in executing their orders? This can differ from country to country and even from era to era; for instance, the modern-day US military reports to the Department of Defense, but this department did not exist during World War II, and the military branches were consequently more independent back then. Conversely, US forces working with Arabian Gulf militaries have been known to observe that a Saudi or Egyptian colonel has approximately the authority of a US sergeant major for all practical purposes, due to the amount of micromanaging done by the general staff and regime leaders.
  • Failure to respect The Chain of Command. While works might understand the hierarchy, they might forget that you can only go directly to the next step in the hierarchy. This means that you shouldn't see the President, even if he's Commander in Chief, giving orders directly to a private in the field. Nor should you see said private chafing under the orders of his direct superior going to the President to overrule him.
    • There can be a failure to understand the difference between "line" officers, and "staff" officers who are usually non-combat specialists like doctors, dentists & lawyers. Line officers on the other hand are able to take command of a unit if required by casualties or other circumstances, but staff officers are generally speaking, not even eligible for commanding forces with lower ranked line officers taking control in a combat situation.
    • In particular, Western media almost universally severely overestimates the amount of authority possessed by a Soviet military unit's political commissar: with the exception of a brief period during World War II (during which the Soviet military underwent significant reorganization in a hurry), they had no real operational authority, rather serving as morale officers in a similar manner to a Western chaplain.
  • Failure to distinguish between commissioned and non-commissioned officers. This extends to forms of address: for example, NCOs are frequently not supposed to be addressed as "sir". Works that do understand this might depict a new recruit making this mistake with a Drill Sergeant Nasty, whose most common response is, "Don't call me sir, I work for a living!"

    Tradition Errors 
  • Misuse of jargon. When works aren't just making it up on the spot, they tend to use archaic or awkward military slang. The worst cases use the wrong branch's slang — US Army privates don't say "aye, aye" unless they're being ironic. Works also tend to misuse "military sounding" language (e.g. Defcon Five is the lowest state of alert rather than the highest, and "over and out" is a self-contradiction — "over" means "done talking, awaiting response" and "out" means "done talking, no response needed").
  • Incorrect Military Salutes. Different countries and different service branches have different forms of salute, which even change over time. Is the palm of your hand facing downward (the "American style") or outward (the "British style")? Do you or do you not have a weapon? Are you or are you not bareheaded? All of these can differ between countries and service branches. But one thing few works understand is that if you salute incorrectly, it's seriously offensive, especially saluting with your left hand.
  • Incorrect depiction of military funerals. In particular, they tend to mistake the three-volley salute with a 21-Gun Salute — the latter is performed by artillery pieces (which are still "guns" in military parlance) and is reserved for funerals of heads of state. The three-volley salute, which you see at military funerals (and also in other areas like police funerals), look similar but use rifles, fired three times each. The number of riflemen varies between three and nineteen, depending on the rank of the deceased. Oddly, works will generally depict the salute correctly visually, but refer to the event in dialogue as a "21-gun salute".
  • Incorrect uniforms, rank insignia, patches, and medals. These differ not just by country or service branch, but also by era and conflict — you shouldn't see a Gulf War veteran wearing a World War I medal. Works especially have a tendency to fail to distinguish between ranks entirely, and to make the uniforms a lot snazzier than they would be in real life. There's a common belief that depicting US military uniforms perfectly accurately is illegal and leads to charges of impersonating a military officer, but this is an Urban Legend.
  • Incorrect depiction of groups that traditionally aren't (or weren't) members of the military. Militaries did not historically allow women or ethnic minorities, or if they did segregated them into their own units or forbade them from having certain jobs like infantry. That may have changed, but some works that depict a historical war will happily use modern demographics when this would not have been allowed. A few may make it a point to show that it's not allowed but nobody cares, or that they're making an effort to blend in (including women pretending to be men).

    Equipment Errors 
  • Incorrect model weapons. Sometimes it's deliberate; in media it's cheaper and easier to use older weapons as stand-ins for more advanced hardware that it would be too difficult or expensive to obtain.
  • Mistaking any and all Armored Fighting Vehicles for tanks. There's not even any need for this; while tanks are undoubtedly cool, so are APCs. But many creators — and thus many viewers — can't even tell the difference. Part of it might be the prevalence of tanks in previous wars like World War II, while Technology Marches On and militaries have figured out more effective means of doing a tank's job. It's also much easier in Hollywood to obtain a surplus tank than a surplus APC, for a number of reasons.
  • Incorrect use of weapons. Media tends to have no idea how to use a weapon, let alone how to use one safely.

    Regulatory Errors 
  • Buzzing the Deck. While it's a lot of fun, it's against almost all militaries' regulations. And it's also incredibly risky, not just for expensive military equipment but also for its occupants and for the people on the ground. Aircraft are loud, heavy, and Made of Explodium. Even helicopters aren't allowed to get too close to the ground or buildings unless they really need to.
  • Military action in domestic territory. Generally, the military needs to have a damn good reason to do this. US military fighter pilots cannot fire missiles over the territory of the United States without express authorization from the US President, and the US Armed Forces are barred by Congress from being used to enforce domestic law outside of an active insurrection or invasion.
  • Incorrect grooming standards. Militaries are very strict about this, particularly with hair — facial hair standards have varied between country and periodnote , but they are always strictly enforced, and men cannot have long hair, either. In a Mildly Military setting, this is pretty much the first thing they throw out. Works that do remember military grooming standards might make it a point to give a hapless recruit a Traumatic Haircut. Again, this changes from era to era; depending on the circumstances, you might get away with something a little looser.
  • Overly brutal Boot Camp. Every work wants to introduce a Drill Sergeant Nasty, but not all training experiences are unrelenting torture. Only special forces get the real Training from Hell. On the other hand, works that don't particularly want the Drill Sergeant Nasty go too far in the other direction and make boot camp look like summer camp.
  • Overly brutal military justice. If a character is Court-Martialed, it will usually be a summary trial which often ends in the defendant's execution because after all, it's war! Unless the defendant is a Military Maverick, in which case the work will again go too far in the other direction and let them get away with flagrantly disobeying orders.
  • No rules against fraternization. Some militaries are very strict about this, banning any kind of social relationship between members of different ranks. Others might allow it (after all, you want everyone to be willing to fight for each other), but they will draw a hard line at an actual romantic relationship.
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See also Hollywood Tactics and Mildly Military.


Since military customs, rules, and traditions vary from country to country and in some cases, branch to branch within the same country, many times what is seen as "wrong" by an audience in one country is actually correct for the military force being shown. Because of this, please make sure that any examples you are about to add are actually inaccurate for the military service depicted.

Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The official subtitled version of Strike Witches calls Mio a Major (an Army/Air Force rank) in the subtitles. It's the right grade, but as a naval officer she should technically be a Lieutenant Commander. They also call Shirley a Lieutenant in episode 5, but since she's an officer in her country's Army, she should technically be a Captain. What makes this error more unusual is that the subtitles correctly referred to her as a First Lieutenant in episode 3 (she was promoted off-screen between the two episodes). The actual dialogue averts this, since the characters use the all-forces rank structure of the Imperial Japanese forces ('shousa' being used to refer to both army majors and navy lieutenant commanders, for instance).
    • To add to the confusion, the Witches in Joint Fighter Wing holds TWO rank. One is for her native country and branch of service she originally is from, which should be addressed by whatever the appropriate title it is for the serving country/branch. And the other is for the League of Nations Air Force (LNAF), which is generally addressed in British Royal Air Force ranks. For example, in a drama CD, Barkhorn states that she is a Shousa (Major) in Karlsland Luftwaffe, but holds the rank of Taii (Captain/Flight Lieutenant) in 501st due to command structure and such.
  • The dub of Digimon Tamers mentions the Army and National Guard; Japan has neither, officially, instead having a combined version in the form of the "Defense Forces" which, while technically not a military in the same vein as other countries, serves the purpose of both. The idea of having a separate Army and National Guard exists only in American doctrines.
  • Ghost in the Shell is well known for being Broad Strokes of any thing military. It's worth noting that Section 9 in most incarnations is not actually a military unit but a special police squad, though Motoko Kusanagi herself is usually a serving JSDF major and Batou a retired Ranger.
    • During Major Kusanagi's battle with the tank in Ghost in the Shell (1995), just before the helicopter pilot covering her departs, he says "Over and out" to her.
    • The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode "Jungle Cruise" has Section 9 tracking down a serial killer who is implied to be an ex-US Navy SEAL. The dialogue mentions he was a petty officer (an enlisted rank) while his photo shows him wearing a very good officer uniform.
    • While the Ghost in the Shell: Arise manga follows the established canon of Batou being a Ranger during his JSDF days, it nevertheless makes him a JMSDF Commander,note  but the only Ranger unit in the modern JSDF, the Western Army Infantry Regiment, explicitly falls under a JGSDF command, even though its soldiers are essentially Marines.
  • Mostly averted in Marine Corps Yumi, thanks to the experiences of writer and translator Moreno.
    • Happens during the Marine Corp graduation when the Eagle, Globe and Anchor is not depicted properly. This is justified as that symbol is a trademark of the USMC and the authors opt to not use the actual one in the comics.
    • Moreno also points out any flaw in the depiction of the military in the summary below each page. Such as DIs not being as touchy as depicted and etc.
  • In the ending credits of the second volume of Hellsing Ultimate, the survivors of the attack on the Hellsing manor salute the dead at their funeral. Despite being a British organization, they use the American salute. An American-style salute given to Seras by the surviving Wild Geese in volume seven may or may not qualify - The Wild Geese are mercenaries, and said soldiers may have been trained to salute according to American traditions long before taking a job in England.
  • Divergence Eve identifies Mauve Shirt Luke Walker in English dialog as a chief petty officer, but his bio in the opening credits gives his rank as sergeant. Every other character uses naval-style ranks, and no, the Japanese words for the ranks aren't the same.
  • Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse:
    • Questionable since it's a callsign, but everyone refers to Yuuya Bridges as "Top Gun" as befitting his status as an Ace Pilot. The Top Gun program is a US Navy outfit where Aviators practice dogfighting tactics against master pilots in Nevada and Southern California. Sounds fitting doesn't it? Unfortunately, Yuuya is in the US Army.
    • The subtitles for the anime give the TSF pilots naval ranks, with Yuuya and his squadron members being said to be ensigns. Leaving aside that this seemingly underranks everyone in the main cast except Yuuya (who is a rookie, though a talented one, at the start of the series) and possibly Yui Takamura,note  he's (again) said to be in the Army and thus should be a second lieutenant. Ditto the other characters in his squadron (all of their countries follow the standard NATO rank system), as well as Red Army ranks (the Soviet Union still exists in Muv-Luv Alternative): the Scarlet Twins should both be ranked junior lieutenant (mladshy leytenant in Russian) rather than ensign, and Zhar Battalion CO Fikatsia Latrova's rank should be lieutenant colonel (podpolkovnik) rather than commander (which wasn't even a rank used in the Soviet Navy: the equivalent in the USSR and most ex-Soviet countries is captain 2nd rank). The titles are actually correct for the Japanese characters, however, as Imperial Japan also still exists due to the Alternate History.
    • Various fanservice incidents would in real life be grounds for a very swift Court Martial for sexual harassment. Trying to peep on your superior officer bathing in a hot spring comes to mind, as does that officer's own superiors making her take part in a swimsuit photoshoot. (The Muv-Luv franchise started as an eroge series.)

    Comic Books 
  • Commented on In-Universe in the Kev miniseries of The Authority. Kev, a black ops veteran for the British government, is headed to a booksigning by one of his buddies, and reads it to the others as they go, pointing out such details as a timeline that would have made him pass selection at the age of twelve, among others. When they met, the author cheerfully admits it's all BS (except what he and the rest of the squad went through), since what the audience wants is "fucking Rambo".
  • Larry Hama's run on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel) had some very realistic depictions of the military, (you know, given the nature of G.I. Joe), but was also about a decade behind on a lot of the smaller details. He strived to keep up to date, but he was mostly writing with what he knew from his time in the Army.
  • Incredible Hulk: General Ross pretty much embodies the Armies Are Evil Trope in one man. It not only takes Artistic License but a lot of Suspension of Disbelief on the part of Marvel fans to assume the U.S. Air Force wouldn't have court martialed him, reduced him in rank, and sentenced him to life in Leavenworth after the property damage and civilian casualties his obsession with the Hulk has caused.
    • Another issue is that Ross is repeatedly shown sending infantry and tanks after the Hulk (for all the good it does), when he's an Air Force General. He would have no operational control over ground units beyond Air Force Security Forces or Air Force Special Operations personnel, neither of which would have heavy tanks or infantry. He'd have to have these forces placed under his command by the Secretary of Defense (likely over the strenuous objections of the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff). Extremely unlikely. Possible if the President backed Ross, but unlikely.
  • For that matter, the military is rarely ever competent in Marvel Comics at all. S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't count, as it's a Government Agency of Fiction.note 
  • The Punisher: Born: During his last tour of duty in The Vietnam War, Frank Castle is identified as a "21 year old Captain". The idea of someone so young holding an officer rank of that caliber is quite hard to believe. It turns out that Nick Fury recommended he be promoted to Captain early after Frank proved himself on a mission to kill a North Vietnamese general.
  • The French-language Belgian comic Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats), set during The American Civil War, occasionally shows American soldiers saluting French-style, or presenting arms in the French way.
  • Wonder Woman: While Steve Trevor's age is left vague there are constant hints and clues that he's not much older than the Holliday Girls—who are all between 19 and 24 years old during WWII—or may even be in the same age range as them, yet was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel before the war was over, apparently skipping right over Major. Due to the lack of continuity in comics at this time this was only in some stories, as in others the highest rank he seemed to reach during the war was Captain.

    Comic Strips 
  • Beetle Bailey has numerous examples.
    • The outdated uniforms, weapons, open-bay style barracks, etc. usually stand out to most, and nowadays Sgt. Snorkel would be NJP'd and removed from command of Beetle's platoon for striking a subordinate, if not outright put in the brig for how severely he beats him. Oddly enough, there have been a few strips where Snorkel is thrown in the brig with his stripes ripped off after he does something really stupid (like wreck General Halftrack's car in a fit of rage) but this only lasts a day at most.
    • Almost everyone calls Beetle by his nickname (Sgt. Snorkel does almost exclusively). While not completely unheard of, it's essentially his first name (he had the nickname prior to the service) and most nicknames a superior would call you would be something you earned in service. Gen. Halftrack and a few of the Lieutenants do occasionally call him Private Bailey, however.
    • While much of this is intentional (it being a humor strip, after all), the anachronisms are mostly due to being a Long Runner. When Beetle signed up for the Army in Korean war times (both in real life and, back then, the strip), the uniforms, equipment, and procedures were a lot more current.
  • Funky Winkerbean: The saga of Wally Winkerbean saw military protocol and common sense sacrificed to the Rule of Drama:
    • Wally was recalled to a full tour of active duty because he had been discharged one day early and was technically AWOL. note 
    • During his tour in Afghanistan, Wally's unit was ambushed and he was considered Killed In Action as another body was identified as his. note 
    • We find out that Wally was actually a Prisoner Of War, held by insurgents for over a decade. note 
    • His return home was largely ignored outside of his family and friends.note  On top of that, his actual return was basically "Get released by insurgents via prisoner swap, fly back to America, get a physical at Walter Reed, get kicked to the curb." note 
    • And all of this is besides the Diabolus ex Machina effect on his personal life.note 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, in a fantasy sequence set on a British airbase, Mitty (Danny Kaye) addresses an RAF officer as "Colonel". There is no such rank in the RAF; the equivalent rank is "Group Captain". Incidentally, the officer is wearing the uniform of an Air Vice-Marshal, equivalent to an Army Lieutenant-General, while Mitty, supposedly a Squadron Leader, wears the uniform of a Group Captain! Perhaps justified in that the protagonist is a daydreaming civilian who's obviously clueless about the subject.
  • At one point in the Stargate movie, Colonel O'Neil calls Kawalski, his second in command, "Lieutenant". Not only that, he's credited as "Lieutenant Kawalski" in the credits. The problem? He's wearing silver oak leaves throughout the entire movie, making him a Lieutenant Colonel. While the film's treatment of the military is far from accurate or flattering, that's actually a pretty easy mistake to make. After all, he's a "lieutenant colonel." It can be presumed that Emmerich and Devlin were simply unaware that the appropriate abbreviation of the rank "lieutenant colonel" is not "lieutenant" but rather "colonel." On the other hand, they did get a detail right that even some people in the actual military forget: with the single exception of the sitting President, you do not salute civilians. After the final battle, the Abydonian boys salute O'Neil. You can tell he wants to salute back, but instead he waits until his own men join in so he can salute them.
  • Top Gun
    • Many characters wear patches from every branch of the military except the Navy.
    • The most famous instance laughed at by real Navy pilots is the buzzing of the control tower. A real pilot doing this would be grounded (most likely permanently) and up on disciplinary charges. That's an INCREDIBLY reckless and dangerous thing to do.
    • Any pilot/aviator who is described as playing by his own rules and disregarding authority would not be put in the seat of a multi-million dollar jet.
    • A pilot who turns in his wings is permanently disqualified from ever flying again.
    • Minor, but pilots (officers) would have their own private quarters for showering and not the open bay locker rooms shown in the movie.
    • Instances of 1st class petty officers in dress whites serving coffee to officers while underway onboard a carrier border between the strange and the ridiculous. One, wardroom personnel on "cranking" duty would be very junior personnel. Two, they would almost never be required to wear dress uniforms in such duties; since they're working in the wardrooms and the galleys, they'd only get dirty for no good reason. Three, they're serving coffee. Every Navy officer and sailor from admiral on down knows to get their own goddamn coffee.
    • The Top Gun trophy is an admitted artistic license by the writers. As their technical consultant says on the special features documentary that if there really was a Top Gun trophy nobody would graduate because they'd all die trying to get it.
    • Tom Cruise's character rides his motorcycle on base without wearing a helmet. No one on a military installation would get fifty feet like that without getting stopped. A pilot would be in special trouble; it takes a lot of money to train one, and the Navy (and Air Force) doesn't want to have wasted that money just because the pilot didn't want to wear a helmet.
    • One thing they notably did get right was at the insistence of the US Navy. Kelly McGillis' character was originally supposed to be an enlisted sailor. The producers changed her to a civilian in order to secure the cooperation of the Navy in the making of the film, since as a commissioned officer Maverick wouldn't be remotely allowed to date her otherwise.
  • Basic, a film starring Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen and John Travolta featured several errors, including:
    • A female soldier wearing a Ranger tab. There were no Ranger-qualified females at the time (or female Rangers, for that matter).
    • The rank of Samuel L. Jackson's character changed (up and down) depending on the scene.
  • Damon Wayans is much too young to have served in Vietnam in Major Payne, and also would been at least a colonel by the mid 90s, if not retired.
  • Rolling Thunder:
    • When Major Rane puts his Air Force uniform on, his U.S. lapel insignia not only are in the wrong location, but are the insignia used by enlisted personnel, not officers. Similarly, despite the character supposedly being a Vietnam War veteran, his uniform lacks the Vietnam Campaign Medal (an award given out to every single soldier who served in that war).
    • Master Sergeant Vohden's uniform has a Fifth Army patch on the right sleeve. A patch on the right sleeve indicates that the wearer served with that unit in combat during a previous war or campaign. The Fifth Army last served in battle during World War II. Vohden, as a returning Vietnam War veteran in 1973, would have been only a year or two old during World War II, if he had been born at all.
    • The hair of most of the military personnel shown in the film, including that of Major Rane and Master Sergeant Vohden, is too long for military standards.
  • Iron Eagle II features rather rotund actor Maury Chaykin as a sarcastic, back-talking sergeant who wanders through the entire movie with his uniform unbuttoned, his hair uncombed (and too long for the military), and generally looking like a slob. However, the higher-ranking General who assembled the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits of which the sergeant was a member had handpicked them because he wanted their mission to fail.
  • Pearl Harbor:
    • Rafe wears an Eagle Squadron badge, as do the Spitfires. The squadron code 'RF' is for No. 303 Squadron, which was a Polish unit - a very famous one at that. The only Hurricane seen in the film has the correct codes for an Eagle Squadron, 'XR-T' for No. 71 Squadron.
    • Rafe claims that he was assigned to an RAF Eagle Squadron prior to American involvement by order of Jimmy Doolittle, but he's lying. In reality, active duty personnel could not be assigned to serve with a belligerent nation while the US was neutral. They would have to resign their USAAF commission, swear allegiance to the British Crown, and enlist in the RAF (usually via Canada). The problem is why Danny believed this excuse.
    • The Doolittle Raiders scene is "how not to be the military".
  • The Hunt for Red October:
    • Jones, the sonar technician, wears the "crow" of a Petty Officer but is addressed as "Seaman Jones" more than once. The proper forms of address would be either "Petty Officer Jones" or "Petty Officer" by those unfamiliar with his rate, or "STS2" by those who know, by rate being vastly more likely. Possibly "Jones" either by superiors or less formally.
    • The film and book depict the eponymous sub's "caterpillar" propulsion system as a revolutionary technological advance because it is much quieter than a traditional screw-propeller system. The problem is that the loudest thing on a nuclear submarine, and thus the one most likely to be picked by opposing passive sonar systems, is the reactor, and specifically the reactor's cooling system. The reactors on Soviet subs were particularly loud as compared to those on American subs. So it really wouldn't matter how quiet the Red October's propulsion system is: as long as it's being powered by a nuclear reactor, American subs would have been able to hear it. In Real Life, the real concern over stealthy (well, stealthier) submarines comes from an older technology: diesel-electrics. Since diesel-electric submarines only use their diesel motors when on the surface and rely solely on battery power, which is extremely quiet because there are no moving parts, when submerged, they are much stealthier than a nuclear submarine. They are also much slower when submerged and can only stay submerged for limited periods of time, which is why nuclear power has generally been considered a big advance.
    • The officers of a Russian sub would probably not walk around in parade uniform all the time. In fact, they certainly wouldn't: when the sub is deployed, the regulations require all personnel on the boat, both the officers and the ratings, to wear the same fatigues, distinguished only by their position pip on the left shirt pocket.
    • The whole reason for Ramius to be dissatisfied with the Soviet system is pretty dumb as well. While the Soviet brass was more dismissive of their personnel than their US counterparts, Ramius is not only a full captain (equivalent to an army colonel) and thus high-ranking anyway, but he is a nuclear submarine CO - a resource the Soviet military emphatically didn't have growing on trees, and thus they were treated much more carefully than more replaceable men in uniform. Another matter is that he simply wouldn't be approved for the position had his superiors had even the slightest doubt in his loyalty.
      • The book goes into better detail about Ramius' motives. While Ramius has irritated the Soviet Navy brass with criticisms of procedure to the point where he's unlikely to be promoted to admiral, his criticisms were all of operational matters, not politics, and Ramius himself preferred serving at sea anyway. Although secretly harboring some Lithuanian nationalist sentiment, he was at least outwardly completely loyal to the Party until his wife died from a drunken surgeon's mistakes and the doctor couldn't be prosecuted due to his Party connections which outweighed Ramius' own clout.
  • In the film Below, the ghost story is set on a submarine and an incredible amount of artistic license is taken with how roomy the submarine is. Few movies can accurately portray how cramped, crowded, and claustrophobic a submarine is, but this particular submarine is shown to have fairly large rooms, multiple decks, and corridors wide enough for two people to walk comfortably side by side. This was mainly done to allow characters enough room to wander off by themselves so that spooky events could ensue, also its much easier to film in a wider space. Both modern and World War II era submarines are so cramped that all off duty personnel are usually expected to be in their racks so as to stay out of the way of the people on duty. Only the largest "boomers" could even try to approach having this much space.
    • For contrast watch Das Boot also on a WWII era submarine (Type VI Ic U-Boat in this case). The space is so cramped that officers having dinner are forced to stand up against the nearest bulkhead anytime someone needs to pass through.
  • In An Officer and a Gentleman, officer candidates continually refer to Gunnery Sergeant Foley as "Sergeant". Navy OCS candidates refer to their Marine drill instructors as "Sergeant Instructor" (followed by proper rank and last name if referring to a specific instructor rather than the one yelling in your face). In addition, while the United States Army allows the use of "Sergeant" for any NCO from E-5 to E-8, Marine Corps etiquette insists on referring to non-commissioned officers by proper rank, and even though the Army doesn't require them to be called anything by sergeant, E-8s are often referred to as "Master Sergeant" anyway.
  • A Few Good Men:
    • As he is leaving after questioning his client, Tom Cruise's Lt. Kaffee turns and says, "Whatever happened to saluting an officer when he leaves the room?" whereupon Dawson stands up and pointedly shoves his hands in his pockets. Great moment, great scene... except that Marines don't salute indoors, while Navy officers would not expect a salute indoors. (Specifically, in the Navy and USMC, covers (i.e. hats) are not to be worn indoors except for a few rare occasions...and in those branches, you are not supposed to salute without your cover. Therefore, there is a very small chance of saluting indoors for members of those branches of the US military.) Dawson does finally manage to salute Kaffee (again, indoors) at the end of the film. At this point, he is a prisoner whose sentence includes discharge from the service; such individuals are not permitted to salute or return a salute (though Dawson probably knows this and is breaking the rules out of respect).
    • The premise for the entire plot edges on the unfeasible, if only because the personnel details of a junior enlisted Marine would be so far below the pay grade of a full-bird colonel running an entire base that it wouldn't be worth his time and effort to get involved in them directlynote . Indeed, his insistence in getting involved in what should have been a very straightforward matter of discipline easily handled by subordinates is what ended up costing him his job and freedom.
    • Additionally, Lt. Kendrick admits on the stand that he had a subordinate punished by depriving him of food for a week. He's not the one on trial, so nothing happens to him. In reality, he would've been immediately arrested and, probably, drummed out for violating the UCMJ.
    • Crossing over with Artistic License – Law, there is no such charge as "conduct unbecoming a Marine". "Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" exists as UCMJ Article 133, but Kaffee's clients are enlisted Marines and can't be charged with it.
      • That one's a relatively minor mistake because Article 134 (ie. the "General Article") is often used in similar "catch-all" situations for enlisted personnel. Though the charge is usually phrased along the lines of "Bringing discredit to the service" or "Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline".
    • The notion that the Cuban Revolutionary Army troops on the other side of the Guantanamo perimeter fence might take a potshot at Kaffee in his dress whites (as suggested by the Marine who takes him on a tour of the facility) borders on ridiculous: Cuba isn't stupid enough to pick a fight with the United States that way, especially not after the fall of the Soviet Union (the breakup happened during the film's production). Probably justified due to Colonel Jessup's General Ripper mentality towards the Cubans coming downstream, though: the fact he can't seem to accept that the Cold War is over is a major part of his motivation.
  • Not that Hobgoblins was a bastion of reality in film, but Nick salutes his sergeant (who should know better than to wear his uniform at a strip club) at Club Scum. He also has insanely long hair for a soldier fresh out of basic training.
  • Full Metal Jacket:
    • The Marines are shown saluting officers while in Vietnam. This is a big no-no. You do not salute officers in a war zone because it immediately identifies the officer to the enemy, making them a target. Another error: in the scene with Joker explaining his "Born to Kill" graffito, the officer initiates (just barely, but still) the salute. Wrong: the junior rank initiates the salute, always, in every branch. This was altered from the original novel (The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford, himself a Vietnam veteran): Joker, being Joker, was saluting the officer in a combat zone on purpose - and when explicitly ordered to.
      "Corporal, don't you know how to execute a hand salute?"
      "Yes, sir." I salute. I hold the salute until the poge colonel snaps his hand to his starched barracks cover and I hold the salute for an extra couple of second before cutting it away sharply. Now the poge colonel has been identified as an officer to any enemy snipers in the area.
      "
      • In reference to this, saluting in the field is known as a "Sniper Check", and lampshaded by saying it while doing it in an attempt to either discourage newer officers or hasten their replacement.
    • R. Lee Ermey, a former Drill Sergeant Nasty in Real Life, once said in an interview that a drill instructor would never be allowed to slap, choke or punch a recruit even in his days as a young Marine; any who did would be stripped of their command immediately. While it is true that training staff were likely to get physical back then, as opposed to only doing so to stop an immediate threat to the recruits as it is now, they were just quick jabs to grab a recruit's attention and nothing breaking or humiliating. His character was also much more verbally abusive than any drill instructor would ever be allowed to be.
    • Ermey's performance codified a lot of Drill Sergeant Nasty scenes in future media, which usually feature a single Drill Sgt yelling at recruits with no other staff in sight. In actuality, boot camp involves multiple training instructors hounding recruits and dividing tasks between them, with these usually being junior NCO ranks while the Senior Drill Sgt. only assigns punishments if a recruit really messes up or the infraction was done in front of them. The Junior NCO staffers meanwhile actually do most of the yelling and instruction, whilst in the movie they are rarely if ever seen, meaning that a scene where Hartmann is looking for who mouthed him off usually wouldn't happen as one of the Juniors walking around would have spotted it. The Juniors are also the actual reason punishments in boot camp are harsh, since there are many of them walking around to look for every infraction.
    • In general, a real Drill Sgt. as noted by Ermey would instantly judge Pyle unfit and force him out of training, as doing otherwise would lead to mental breakdowns and accidents that would negatively impact the rest of the training platoon.
    • Taking even a single round of ammunition, never mind an entire clip, from the firing range would be next to impossible. Live rounds are only given out at the range, and every round is accounted for: you will be given twenty rounds, someone will stand by you and see that you load and fire twenty rounds. And then there's the continual inspections and searches down to the lint in your pockets: it's not just to teach them an eye for detail and adherence to rules, but also to make sure that recruits don't have anything they shouldn't. But then we wouldn't have the most iconic scene in the film, would we?
    • Like the above, being able to smuggle your weapon into the barracks and bringing it out at night is similarly unlikely in Boot Camp, especially in Boot Camp. Weapons are stored in the unit's Arms Room when they are not being used for operations, training, or maintenance and are only taken out for those purposes before being secured back in the Arms Room afterward, with strict accountability of every single weapon.
  • The Four Feathers: Well, a British campaign was fought in the Sudan in 1884. That's about all it gets right. Major points include: the British wore grey, not red, in the Sudan, the force sent was much larger and comprised several regiments, not just one, and the most egregious flaw, the Battle of Abu Klea was a British victory.
  • Down Periscope:
    • There's plenty of stuff that has those actually familiar with the Real Life US Submarine Service laughing not only at the intentional comedy, but the unintentional variety as well. While some of the inaccuracies are due to writer ignorance, and some are due to Rule of Cool or convenience to the plot, some of the issues surrounding the USS Orlando can be chalked up to the film production staff not having access to classified USN information.
    • To say nothing of the fact that Nitro is apparently both the ship's electrician and a radio operator. In any Real Life Navy, they are separate rates. There is a radio operator seen, played by Patton Oswalt in his first film appearance.
    • While it's possible that the Stingray's initial crew might have been dredged up from whatever layabouts could be found to fill the necessary billets, however ineptly, for the purpose of a temporary exercise, it's ridiculously unlikely the entire same crew would be allowed to transfer to a completely new submarine with entirely new systems and protocols.
  • Battleship abandons all attempts at nautical terminology from the start. Also, see Artistic License – Ships for all the ways the creators got warships wrong.
  • In The Blue Max the costume design department perhaps attempted to show off their work - only to fail miserably, dressing each one German pilot into the uniform of the Prussian 1st Uhlan Regiment - which Manfred von Richthofen (a.k.a. The Red Baron) usually wore, but which was certainly not a general issue in the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte). Also, the German aircraft are depicted sporting the curve-sided crosses (cross pattée) insignia, which is incorrect for the period post March 1918; also using armament without any ammo feed. Apparently Rule of Cool reigned supreme.
  • Lord of War
    • The Soviet Union phased out the AKM note  in 1974, replacing it with the similar-looking-yet-very-different AK-74, in 5.45x39mm. Further, Soviet troops (including Nicholas Cage's son Weston) in 1991 are shown using Norinco Type 56-1, Chinese copies of the AKMS, despite Soviet troops never using Chinese equipment, especially after the withdrawal of 7.62x39mm weapons from service, and Czech SA Vz. 58 rifles, in the background of the Ukrainian armory. The majority of rifles given to guerilla troops, however, are, in fact Soviet AKM rifles and East German AKMS rifles, as well as the occasional real, very rare AK-47.
    • Yuri tells Uncle Dimitri to flub his numbers so that instead of 40,000 AK-47s, he has 10,000 and thus is "severely depleted," needing to order more from the factory. Yuri says that this number is low for a battalion, which has only 500 riflemen, and so 10,000 assault rifles is a ridiculously high amount of guns. In addition, as a major general, Uncle Dimitri would be in command of a division, of which 10,000 AK-47s is a bit more understandable.
  • Under Siege probably has dozens upon dozens. One that would probably go unnoticed to most though is that it's stated Steven Segal's character lost his SEAL standing and clearance and only had the options of becoming (cross-rating) to Yeoman or a cook (Mess Management Specialist at the time). It's never stated what his source rate was (back then SEALS were one of 8 regular ratings), so assuming it was one that required a clearance (for instance, if he was a Boatswain's Mate, he could have stayed as one, but not a Photographer's Mate), he still couldn't become a Yeoman, as it requires a secret clearance.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger:
    • Despite being awarded the Medal of Honor, Steve never wears the appropriate ribbon - possibly justified, since the USO arranged his exemption from the usual regulations regarding his uniform.
    • The various awards seen on Captain Rogers' uniform are described here. While most are plausible (or fictional) one inaccuracy stands out. Steve wears an American Defense Service Medal - an award specifically for those who were in active service prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor - despite the movie showing him enlisting long after the US entered the war. Note that this may have been deliberate on the part of the filmmakers, as in the comics Steve did enlist beforehand.
    • The campaign award that Steve is eligible for - the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal - is missing from his uniform. Note that this is actually an aversion: while the award was authorized in 1942, the actual medal design was not finalized - and thus none were issued - until after the war.
    • Steve salutes Phillips and then lowers his hand without Phillips ever saluting him back. Military etiquette is that the junior salutes first but holds the salute until it is returned.
    • The way Peggy Carter publicly assaults a soldier would be completely unacceptable in real life, and all the more so when she is a foreigner. If General Patton didn't get away with beating on a GI scot-free, an SOE Agent certainly isn't going to. Never mind firing a gun at Cap, which would have her instantly court-martialed.
    • The Red Skull, when he was still a member of the Nazi Party, wears an Allgemeine SS uniform with SS-Obergruppenführer (3-star General rank) collar tabs, but a SS NCO peaked cap (black chinstrap, not the silver-braid chinstrap of officers) and no visible shoulder boards. This would be an unacceptable breach of uniform regulations and etiquette for a German officer, but given his attitude towards his fellow Nazis (which got him Reassigned to Antarctica), one assumes that he didn't give a damn whether his uniform was correct or not.
    • Two aversions, though: Steve addresses his drill sergeant as 'Sir' which is correct for that era in the US Army, and after pulling a Military Maverick maneuver he submits himself for military discipline. Of course, who's going to court-martial someone who single-handedly rescued 400 POWs?
    • Another case that would be anachronistic is justified: while military units were not fully racially integrated until 1948, the Howling Commandos are shown to be a special case, since Steve has more than enough authority to demand these specific men be on his team, regardless of race.
    • Nazi officer Schneider is depicted wearing the SS' all-black uniform, which would've been phased out by the time the movie is set. Bizarrely, the other SS officers in the scene with Schneider are wearing the correct "feldgrau" (gray) uniforms of the era.
  • The 2013 film Phantom, starring Ed Harris and David Duchovny, is mostly set inside a Soviet submarine. Duchovny's character is portrayed as a member of Osnaz, an allegedly radical faction within the KGB. Radical or not, this is a big factual error. Osnaz was a generic designation given to the special forces of the Soviet Police (Osnaz short for Osobogo Naznacheniya, meaning Special Forces), while the KGB had its own special forces, namely the Spetsnaz (short for Spetsiyalnogo Naznacheniya, meaning the same as the above).
    • Additionally, in the context of Moscow Centre, "Osnaz" has always referred (and still refers) to a specific unit, a SIGINT branch of GRU, that is, a military intelligence agency as opposed to KGB's civilian/political one. It's basically the Russian equivalent of No Such Agency, only with less domestic wiretapping (that'd be KGB/FSB turf).
  • In Hussar Ballad uniforms are historically accurate, except those were parade uniforms, not used in a real war. Rule of Cool, since the day-to-day uniforms looked much less nice.
  • In The Dirty Dozen, Colonel Breed bullies his way into the Dozen's training camp and tries to coerce them into explaining their mission. Since he wasn't authorized to be in said camp or to know anything about their mission, this should have gotten him a long and uncomfortable interview with Intelligence while they figured out whether he was an enemy spy or just a pushy jerk with no respect for operational security and need-to-know. Instead, he remained in command of his unit, which held a critical role in a major exercise the following week.
    • During said exercise, the Dozen capture Breed by repeatedly ignoring the rules of the exercise. This would invalidate the exercise, definitely annoy all the brass who had arranged for the exercise only to have it ruined, and likely invalidate the terms of the challenge they had to complete in order to get their ultimate mission greenlit instead of scrubbed (and the Dozen returned to prison).
  • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a character is identified as "Colonel West" but wears the Starfleet naval insignia of a vice admiral. Fandom has understandably made hay out of this.
  • The Spy Who Loved Me. A female undercover KGB agent sends a message via radio and ends with the phrase "Over and out" while awaiting a response. The male agent she's calling responds and also ends his message with "Over and out".
  • The Action Prologue of The A-Team has a drug lord, a corrupt Mexican Army general, pursue the team from Mexico over the border into the US, whereupon an F-22 pastes the drug lord's helicopter with a missile. As mentioned in the description, they'd have needed the President's permission to pull that off: US planes are not permitted to launch over US soil without White House authorization, not to mention shooting down a Mexican Army general, corrupt or not, would be a major international incident (not an insurmountable one under the circumstances, but enough it probably wouldn't be done just on Hannibal Smith's whim).
  • Superman II
    • While on duty, a Metropolis police officer uses the phrase "over and out" during an official radio communication.
    • While talking on the radio with the Metropolis airport control tower, the pilot of Air Force One says "over and out".
    • A soldier in a U.S. Army convoy uses the phrase "over and out" during a radio call to another Army unit.
  • Transformers, while actually letting the US military be effective against the Decepticons once they've adjusted (rather than leaning on Armies Are Useless), confuses some terminology. Cybertronians are shown to be vulnerable to thermal penetrators, specifically "105mm sabot rounds" which apparently ignite from magnesium (originally fired from the howitzer on an AC-130 gunship). Sabot rounds are kinetic penetrators: a sabot is a section of a cannon shell that falls away from the main body of the round in flight to enable a narrower round to be fired from the same barrel, such as with the armor-piercing shells on modern tanks.
  • Jaws. While talking on the radio with Mrs. Brody, Quint (a former U.S. Navy sailor) ends the call by saying "over and out".
  • Inglourious Basterds:: The "Gestapo major" who cottons to the Basterds' roleplay in the basement bar is all wrong on multiple counts: Gestapo agents were plainclothes secret policemen who seldom wore uniforms; the black SS uniform he is wearing was obsolete by 1944; and he is addressed as "Herr Sturmbahnfuhrer" - not only would he use the police rank Kriminalrat or "Criminal Detective", not an SS rank, but prefixing "Herr" to his rank was a German Army practice which was strictly forbidden in the SS on Himmler's orders.
  • X-Men: Apocalypse has the scene where all the nuclear weapons are launched into orbit, which while impressive-looking, goes against all of the real military plans, as missile silos are very spread apart in order to maximize the number of targets required for a counterforce strike.
  • The Imitation Game, set in World War II, has a sequence where the protagonists discover the Enigma code right before a planned German raid on British forces. Alan immediately decides that they can't let anyone know about this - as the Germans will know they've broken the code and therefore change it - and thus lets the raid go ahead for Rule of Drama. In such a situation, these low ranking code breakers would not make a decision like that - and it would be made by their superiors. Unsurprisingly it didn't happen in real life: this was inspired by a real-world conspiracy theory about the German air raid on Coventry, England.
  • Stop-Loss:
    • The epilogue shows Rico and Steve's brothers among the soldiers heading back to Iraq. The epilogue can't be set more than a month later, so the brothers should still be in boot camp (they hadn't even enlisted when Brandon and Steve return home at the start).
    • When Brandon visits Rico, the latter calls him 'sir'. Brandon is only a Staff Sergeant and would not be called sir, which is reserved for actual officers.
    • Tommy is shown being given a funeral with full military honors, despite being dishonorably discharged before his suicide.
  • Discussed Trope in Apt Pupil. Dussander points out that the replica uniform Todd got him is incorrect. He held the SS rank of Sturmbahnführer (major) but the insignia designate him to be an Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant-colonel).

    Literature 
  • Jack Ryan
    • Mostly averted in The Hunt for Red October: Tom Clancy got so much about submarine operations right that he was briefly investigated by the Department of Defense to make sure they didn't have any leaks. That said, there are still some mistakes.
      • The main conceit of the "caterpillar" magneto-hydrodynamic drive making the eponymous Red October nearly silent misses that the noisiest thing on a nuclear submarine is the reactor's cooling systems, not the propellers. Soviet submarines were particularly noisy. Diesel-electric submarines such as the Kilo-class are much quieter, but sacrifice speed and underwater endurance.
      • Red October is to be paired with a Lira/Alfa-class attack sub, the Konovalov, for testing the caterpillar drive. The Soviets didn't give individual names to Lira-class boats: they were all given numerical designations beginning with 'K' (e.g. K-63).
    • Clear and Present Danger
      • Tom Clancy messed up with a conversation between an officer and a "Seaman First" in the United States Coast Guard. "Seaman First Class" was a World War II rank, not a contemporary one.
      • In the same book, the Coast Guard cutter Panache has as part of its crew two separate Master Chiefs. For a ship of that size, which would have barely one hundred crew members, one Master Chief would be too many. Justified in that the Coast Guard gave the captain the pick of the litter as far as a strong team of enlisted experts, but still.
  • The Legends of Dune prequels take place tens of thousands of years in the future, which means that the authors were free to create whatever ranks they wish. The idea of a starship commander leading ground troops is still completely ridiculous.
  • S.M. Stirling and James Doohan got the Navy and Marines entry-level officer ranks mixed up in the Flight Engineer trilogy. Second Lieutenant Cynthia Robbins should be an ensign, and the two Marine pilots assigned to Commander Raeder's command in The Privateer are ensigns when they should be second lieutenants.
  • In The Magicians, it's stated that one of the students at Brakebills was the son of a five-star general. The United States Army hasn't promoted anybody to that rank since 1950, and the last one (Omar Bradley) died in 1981; the book is set post-2000 and though the series operates on the rule of Like Reality, Unless Noted, there's no clear indication that US military history is really that different within the setting.
  • Avalon Hill's The General magazine Volume 25 #3, article "Riding With The Best". In a fictional account of a U.S. Army Sherman tank crew on a mission, the recon platoon leader ends a radio conversation with "Roger, over and out".
  • In-Universe example in the RCN novel When the Tide Rises. Adele Mundy attends a play loosely based on her own ship's mission in the previous book and spends most of the performance complaining about the inaccuracies in the production. These range from uniform mistakes (putting people in the semi-dress 2nd Class uniform when they ought to be in utilities, for example) to the fact that, while the holographic video portion of the performance consists of actual combat images from Princess Cecile (they were sold to the playwright by a crew member, who sent the money to the families of wounded or dead crew), they combine all the battles since the first book rather than just the fight for Dunbar's World.
  • Too many to count in Victoria. To be clear, the author, one William Lind, is a military theorist who wrote the book as much to show his ideas for how leaderless insurgency, clever tactics, light infantry and low-tech conquer all as he did a Take That! against all the forces of liberalism. Some examples include:
    • Live-fire infantry training with offset aim alone preventing casualties, modern warships destroyed with spar torpedoes, Russian T-34s as the ultimate tank design for rear area strikes which are apparently the sole purpose of tanks, antiquated 1950s radar easily spotting stealth bombers, etc. etc. Platoon strength militia units with no logistics or coordination with each other are upheld as vastly superior to existing military, to the point of being called upon to train the actual military. At one point, the protagonist shows his contempt for the established military by sleeping through a briefing containing such useless trivia as local politics, road and weather conditions.
    • Also the hero, John Rumford's, Establishing Character Moment as a young US Marine is interrupting a ceremony honoring the Corps' war dead rather than let a female Marine participate. No woman fought at Iwo Jima, he insists, so no woman has a right to speak the words and honor the dead. In reality, women have been a part of the USMC since 1918, served in combat areas since Vietnam, and as of the story's beginning have been full and equal parts of all save small unit ground combat for over twenty years. There are no male, female, white, black etc. Marines, only Marines. Besides, disrupting a remembrance ceremony is far more disrespectful than any imagined slight. Exactly none of these points come up when his CO chews him out and he gets discharged, only that a congresswoman is hounding him to be inclusive. If anything, his fellow Marines seem to respect his stand on the issue.
    • Crossing over with Artistic License – History, Rumford also asserts that no army that has included female front-line combatants has ever been successful. Hilariously considering the book's above-mentioned idolization of the T-34, the same war that produced said very fine tank also saw the Soviets field female snipers, machine-gunners, tank crew, and combat pilots, the latter including a very famous all-female bomber regiment. In all, ninety women received the Gold Star Medal and the title Hero of the Soviet Union during World War II, most for service in front-line combat.
  • Justified in Aeon 14, which has little distinction between Space Navy and Standard Sci-Fi Army, with various "Space Forces" using a mishmash of army and navy ranks apparently based on occupational specialty. For example, in Outsystem, main character Tanis Richards holds the Terran Space Force rank of major as a counterterrorism operator. The In-Universe explanation is that a hard administrative division between service branches is considered Cool, but Inefficient by most factions because the "army" is dependent on the space force for transport and logistics, though the TSF and its descendant the ISF notably still maintain a Marine Corps sub-branch.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. showed a wedding of a young Navy ensign. He and all his buddies were in choker whites, sporting impossible ribbon racks full of awards they couldn't have earned, some for wars they were infants for, along with warfare devices they couldn't have gotten yet (dual Surface AND Subsurface Warfare Pins)... not bad for being in the Navy less than two years!
  • Arrested Development is a serious offender. Buster seems to be in and out of boot camp whenever it's plot convenient, and the uniforms (when not grossly inaccurate) were out of date by about seven years. Not to mention you wouldn't get a medal for getting injured from a non combat accident, and tricking someone into reenlisting is highly illegal. Given the show lives by the Rule of Funny, most of the inaccuracies are probably intentional.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The series tends to portray "cruisers" as midsize warships and "destroyers" as large warships, in a reverse of historical norms.
    • The series has some problems with Earthforce naval ranks. The uniforms in the series are pretty clear: blue for naval personnel, gray for security, olive drab for ground forces. However, General William Hague and Major Ed Ryan are both apparently naval officers and wear blue, whereas the rest of the cast follow the standard NATO naval rank system.
  • Blackadder Goes Forth, whilst generally fairly accurate on many uniform and insignia aspects (excepting the fact they are dressed perfectly accurately for 1914, not 1917!), has an easily missed error in the form of Brigadier-General Sir Bernard Proudfoot-Smith. The rank title is in fact correct for the era (it's currently just Brigadier, without the hyphened General, in the British Army). His insignia is, however, incorrect: Brigadier-General during WWI wore a crossed baton and sword (similar to other generals, but without any crowns or stars above).
  • In Bones:
    • A Ranger Colonel shows up to recruit Booth to train soldiers in Afghanistan. He immediately recognizes the Colonel as an army ranger, presumably due to the 75th Ranger patch on his right shoulder. Instead of a flag (argh!). Also, the Colonel is wearing a (deformed) black beret instead of the Ranger tan.
    • Agent Booth himself at the end of the same episode counts as well. Wearing a presumably new uniform that looks like it came from the "reject" pile of the local CIF. Would be an aversion except that Booth has been reinstated to the rank of Sergeant Major and would at least ensure his uniform was presentable.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Initiative can't seem to figure out whether it's a special ops arm of a civilian agency or a unit in the military, and if so, it's not sure which agency or which branch. In one episode Riley refers to his colleagues as soldiers, in the next they are Marines. (There are some implications the Initiative is a unit all its own, and that personnel from all branches have been transferred there due to being deemed suitable for the program, but noting definitive.) Others use the terms interchangeably to refer to Riley. They answer to a civilian at first, but then are taken over by a general. Insignia seems to have been chosen by grabbing stuff at random and pinning it on wherever it would fit. Though they do avert Mildly Military by being very well disciplined with a clear chain of command.
    • Fanon has attempted to explain all this by saying that the Initiative was a civilian agency that used active duty soldiers from multiple military services simultaneously, and that any military personnel put in charge were doing so on a... well... you get the idea. When told this theory, Joss Whedon's response was to nod vaguely and say "Sure... if that works for you... I guess."
  • In the Disney Channel Original Movie Cadet Kelly, Hilary Duff and Christy Carlson Romano would have been discharged for what they did to each other if it had been military rather than a school.
  • An episode of Destroyed in Seconds had footage from a helicopter crash during a Russian airshow. The helicopters were Mi-2s, but the narrator continuously refers to them as "M1-2s". The narrator then calls them "state-of-the-art". They aren't, having been introduced in 1965 and phased out of front-line service in most armies which field them, including Russia's.
  • Doctor Who:
    • We'll start with New Doctor Who's 'saluting while not wearing hats' (if you are hatless, you can come to attention, or a version of it if sitting down, when wishing to show respect to a superior officer within most Commonwealth countries). Yes, it means that the Doctor can do his 'no don't salute' bit, but would it cost them too much to borrow the hats?
    • "Day of the Moon"
      • Rory, dressed in civilian clothes, salutes the NASA personal in 1969 with the British-styled salute. The NASA personnel are explicitly confused by his usage of the British salute, so it's certainly an in universe example.
      • President Nixon leans on the NASA employees to keep quiet because he is their "Commander in Chief". Commander in Chief refers to his position as being in charge of all US Armed Forces, but NASA was (and is) a civilian federal agency. Possibly said as a shorthand as the President is technically the ultimate boss of any federal agency.
    • "The Pyramid at the End of the World": The colonel in charge of the American military contingent is wearing the rank insignia of a four-star general.
    • "Survivors of the Flux": In the scene where UNIT has just been founded, Lethbridge-Stewart makes a brief audio-only cameo, using a sound recording from an earlier story. Another character then refers to him as a Corporal. While it is possible in the British Army for a non-commissioned officer to be promoted to a commissioned rank (known as "soldier commissions" or "late entry commissions"), it is not especially common, and a person who had taken that career path would probably be older than Lethbridge-Stewart was at the time of his early appearances as Colonel and Brigadier.
    • Torchwood. Captain Jack Harkness' greatcoats all bear the rank insignia of "Group Captain", which is a full title in itself, is never referred to as "Captain", and has the equivalent of "Colonel" in the armed forces. Not to mention the fact that in his first appearance, his uniform is that of a "Squadron Leader". Possibly justified, as he originally stole the identity in question, and while he probably figured it out later, he's shown to be very attached to his greatcoat, rank insignia and all, so probably doesn't care.
  • In Enemy at the Door, set during World War II, most of the recurring German characters are in the Wehrmacht (regular military), but Reinicke is an officer of the Waffen-SS (which had a separate command structure and its own ranks). Early episodes aren't consistent about recognising that the SS had different ranks from the regular army, with Reinicke frequently addressed or referred to with the army rank of "Hauptmann" instead of the SS rank of "Hauptsturmführer".
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: John Walker is a US army Captain, and the first person in history to be awarded three Medals of Honor. An extremely unlikely event due to the politics involved, as a matter of fact, only 19 were awarded twice, the last being in WWI. Moreover, it is implied he received all three for the same event, which have been prohibited since 1918. Finally, considering his record and age, it would be practically imossible for Walker to still be a Captain.
  • A French Village: In the series' first season, the commanding officer of Villeneuve's German garrison is addressed as "Mein Kommandant", a literal (and incorrect) German translation of the French way of addressing to an officer having the rank of major (German officers aren't addressed this way, not to mention "Kommandant" isn't even a real German word). The correct phrase would be "Herr Major".
  • In the Fringe episode "The Arrival", a photo is shown of a Marine from an incident in 1987. Not only is he wearing digital camouflage, which was not introduced to the Marine Corps until the early 2000s, but it's ACU instead of MARPAT. What the Marine should be wearing are BDUs.
  • In the Gilmore Girls episode "Chicken or Beef," at Dean Forester's bachelor party, one of his friends, Kyle, is shown to have enlisted in the Navy and is wearing his Dress Blues uniform. While the character has graduated high school just months prior, his uniform is that of an E-5 and has two hash marks on the left sleeve. It would be impossible for a high school graduate to obtain this rank in a matter of months, but more to the point the hashmarks on his sleeve mean Kyle has been enlisted for between 8 and 12 years (one hash mark indicates four years of service).
  • The opening of Hogan's Heroes shows Colonel Klink (who's in charge of Stalag 13) initiating the salute. As mentioned above, that's not how it works. Then again, all the Germans on the show are idiots.
  • In JAG the research and accuracy became better through the years the show was running, though inaccuracies could always be found. Having a Marine Corps veteran as its creator, executive producer, and show runner probably helped. Being Backed by the Pentagon probably helped a great deal too.
  • Jericho (2006), in a rare in-universe example. U.S. Marines come to help rebuild and resupply the town. A former Army Ranger notices details that are wrong; one calls an NCO 'sir', they say 'hooah' (Army) rather than 'oorah' (Marines). They are simply civilians wearing uniforms and using the town's resources.
  • M*A*S*H has too many to count, but a few stand out above the others:
    • Frank Burns demands and receives a Purple Heart for getting an eggshell in his eye during an artillery barrage. In real life, he would have been denied as the injury wasn't directly caused by enemy action. The episode actually addressed this point: Frank wouldn't have been eligible for the medal, but the injury was entered into his records as "shell fragment in eye", which happened during an artillery attack on the unit, which got the medal approved by I Corps, which presumed it was an artillery shell fragment instead of an eggshell. Note that Hawkeye was not amused at the trickery and how it cheated the value of the medal to injured soldiers that came through the 4077th. So, not an error on the writer's part; an error on the Army's part, In-Universe.
    • Potter is correct in stating that the Army Good Conduct Medal is only for enlisted soldiers. He's wrong in insisting that his status as a prior-service enlisted soldier entitles him to wear the medal, which he is seen wearing from time to time and he has his medal framed on his wall. What he (or the writers) failed to realize is that the medal was awarded long after Potter was an enlisted soldier and that the retroactive dates don't go back to when he was enlisted and eligible for the award.
    • At one point Hawkeye and BJ try to take Corporal O'Reilly into an officers-only area with them. Hawkeye plucks a pair of captain's bars from BJ's shoulder, attaches it to Radar's cap, and (inspired by the ranks of lieutenant-colonel and sergeant-major) declares him a "corporal-captain". And this works. They only had to convince one suspicious officer (though this itself is unlikely) and given that he was in the club, he'd likely enough to believe their story of the Army seeking opinions on a possible new rank.
    • 1970s shaggy hair and sideburns is and was completely out of Army regulations, almost all CIVILIAN men at the time kept their hair much shorter than that. Now given, the writer of the original book said conscripted surgeons in the war got away with ridiculous things because of the scarcity, it wouldn't explain the regular and career soldiers for the reasons above. During Colonel Blake's tenure as CO the failure of the enlisted men to observe regulation grooming standards can be explained as 'since the commanding officer didn't care about the regulations, nobody bothered following them' (after all, if there's one constant thing about the military it's that if the CO consistently lets something slide, the troops will happily slide on it as far as they can get away with), but one of Colonel Potter's character elements was that he actually was "regular Army" in mindset re: enlisted discipline.
    • Now given that the time scale for the 12 year series doesn't really fit into a three year conflict anyway, but most conscripted surgeons only served a year in country. Hawkeye is apparently there throughout the entire conflict.
    • Occasionally, references are given to "points," which a draftee accumulates in order to determine his time-in-service; Trapper is sent home after accumulating enough points, and a racist combat unit commander volunteers his black troops for dangerous missions in order to accumulate points faster and rotate them out of his unit. This refers to a system used for WWII which was discontinued by the time of the Korean War, and never applied to medical personnel in any case.
      • According the U.S. Army Center of Military History “…a soldier earned four points for every month he served in close combat, two points per month for rear-echelon duty in Korea, and one point for duty elsewhere in the Far East…The Army initially stated that enlisted men needed to earn forty-three points to be eligible for rotation back to the States, while officers required fifty-five points. In June 1952 the Army reduced these requirements to thirty-six points for enlisted men and thirty-seven points for officers.”
  • Madam Secretary:
    • The series has several Stock Footage Failures involving military equipment, e.g. using an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer as a stand-in for a minesweeper, and saying said minesweeper has depth charges in the bargain.
    • There's also an extremely silly case where Henry (a retired Marine Corps captain) reads a pair of Air Force second lieutenants the riot act for badmouthing his wife and being drunk in uniform. That isn't the Artistic License. The Artistic License is when a later episode misidentifies the flyboys as having been Marines: the twoie-louies were wearing dress blues, and the Marines' look nothing like the Air Force's (what the previous episode showed).
    • In the season 3 premiere, Elizabeth persuades President Dalton to close the Navy base in Bahrain after it's badly damaged in a global warming-influenced cyclone shortly after a major upgrade; they plan to build a new base in Tunisia to support its fledgling democracy. Good politics, but Tunisia is in North Africa, thousands of miles from the Persian Gulf, not to mention being just across the Mediterranean from Italy, so there's no real military advantage to be gained by the move.
  • Played for laughs in Mr. Bean.
    • Bean once approaches a Queen's Guard and starts combing his fur hat and sticking flowers in it for a selfie, with the Guard not doing much more than standing like a statue and giving the occasional worried look—and then stomping off at the call of shift change just when the timer on Bean's camera takes the picture. As various hecklers and tourists have discovered (check YouTube), the Queen's Guard will usually ignore just about everything except laying hands on them or otherwise actively interfering in their duties, at which point you find out that despite the goofy-looking Bling of War uniform, they're real active-duty British soldiers and take their job very seriously.
    • In another episode, Bean approaches a British Army section taking part in an open house at a school. After observing their Drill Sergeant Nasty yelling Angrish at them and then walking off, he starts making random coughing noises that the soldiers take as commands, and leaves them collectively standing on one foot waving a hand. Cue the sergeant coming back just after Bean leaves.
  • The setup for one early-season NCIS: Los Angeles episode has US Marines on patrol duty in a desert come under attack... then the camera happens to pass a sign showing they're in southwestern California rather than Iraq or Afghanistan. Ostensibly they're there helping with border security, which is a violation of the post-Civil War Posse Comitatus Act that sharply limits the use of US troops in domestic law enforcement. If they'd been National Guard, it would've been okay (the Guard answers to state governors rather than the federal government), but also would have put it out of NCIS's jurisdiction (which covers only the Navy and Marines).
  • Parks and Recreation had one during the "Sister City" episode, where a group of military officers from Venezuela visit Pawnee. To anyone with military experience, it's plain that their Venezuelean Army uniforms are just US Army uniforms loaded with bling. Among others, they're wearing US Army Combat Infantry badges and the medal ribbons on their uniforms are all US military decorations.
  • In the third season of seaQuest DSV, after Captain Hudson takes over from Captain Bridger, he insists that the titular sub is now a warship and is no place for civilians. To stay aboard the sub, Lucas asks Hudson if he can stay if he enlists into the navy. Hudson agrees, and Lucas is given the rank of ensign. That's right, a civilian scientist with no military experience is immediately given an officer rank and starts serving aboard the sub without even having to go through bootcamp. Later, an ex-con gets the same treatment and immediately becomes a sub-fighter pilot.
  • Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby has a very minor one; Gormsby's medals are upside-down (making them appear in reverse order). But it's enough to make most watchers from a military background flinch.
  • Sherlock contains several examples of details that were accurate in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's time, but are not accurate for the series' 21st century setting:
    • Watson's backstory in the British Army. He states on several occasions that he is from the "5th Northumberland Fusiliers". The unit name is a carryover from the original Doyle stories. Watson served with the 5th (Northumberland Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Maiwand in 1880. The regiment was renamed simply to 'Northumberland Fusiliers' in 1881, but was frequently referred to as the "5th Northumberland" for decades thereafter. The regiment became part of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in 1968, before the current John Watson was even born. Additionally, he was a surgeon - not a normal soldier - so he should really be saying he's from the Royal Army Medical Corps.
    • "The Hounds of Baskerville" features Major Barrymore, an officer with a full beard, which is not allowed by British Army regulations. Barrymore had a beard in the original story and in every other adaptation, which undoubtedly is the reason for his beard in Sherlock.
      • British Army regulations do allow the wearing of a beard if there is a serious medical or religious reason (e.g., skin condition prevents shaving or the soldier is a devout Sikh) or 'operational reasons' as decided by a sufficiently high ranking officer (e.g., patrolling in the desert for weeks and there's not enough water for shaving). Of course none of these are mentioned or obvious in the episode so Artistic License is the most likely explanation.
    • The extras in "The Hounds of Baskerville" are also clearly overage, and do not wear uniforms correctly.
    • Sherlock refers to the soldier who asks him and Watson for help as a Grenadier. The problem is that the soldier is actually serving in the Scots Guard and all OR1s (typically called privates) in Foot Guard regiments are addressed as Guardsman.
  • Soldier Soldier had to fudge things around the edges; it couldn't depict any genuine British infantry regiment, so wholly fictitious ones, with plausible back histories, had to be invented.
  • Sons of Anarchy had an episode where several sailors can be seen in the escort services house in dress whites. Where exactly their ship pulled in is never really explained. Given they're in uniform it would imply it's Fleet Week, which would be in San Francisco. Seems like a long way to go for a whore house...
  • Space: Above and Beyond:
    • Cooper Hawkes ends up getting arrested due to a combination of Fantastic Racism and a misunderstanding with the police after a group of thugs try to hang him in an alleyway. The judge sentences him to serve his debt to society via military service... by putting him through a commissioning program to become a space fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. The Drill Sergeant Nasty even goes so far as to describe the entire situation as a cruel prank played at his (the drill sergeant's) expense. While the US military did do this in the past, A) they only recruited enlisted men this way, not officers, and B) they officially ended this practice several decades before the series was made, never mind set. Hawkes would have had to obtain a waiver after the fact; he most certainly would not have been shipped from jail still in a prison jumpsuit and shackles. Besides which, becoming an officer in the US military requires a college degree (whether from a civilian university or a service academy).
    • The military had long since abandoned the issue of sending letters to inform families of their dead loved ones. Appropriately, to avoid exactly the sort of situation Nathan finds himself in one episode. His parents not getting the letter and still believing his brother is alive the episode after he was killed in action.
    • No, Colonel McQueen, the real Marine Corps does not routinely send AcePilot naval aviators in as infantrymen (the 58th actually complains about this in one episode). Despite the Marine creed that every Marine is first a rifleman, that would be a stupid risk of very expensively trained officers. This is also deconstructed in "Sugar Dirt" when the 58th leaving their fighters under orders to join a ground attack results in them getting shot up on the runway.
    • In the pilot, the (supposedly) elite Angry Angels squadron wears custom uniforms and berets. This is frowned upon by the Marine Corps: official policy is that all Marines are the same, to the point where they've even abolished unit patches.
  • Stargate-verse
    • Mostly averted, although there were some uniform oddities that popped up now and then, most notably an airman in the pilot wearing the insignia for both a Staff Sergeant and a Major. It was officially endorsed by the U.S. Air Force, and had military advisers on board to avoid most flagrant mistakes (they would reportedly even complain if Amanda Tapping let her hair grow longer than regulation in her role as Samantha Carter).
    • The Stargate SG-1 pilot episode also saw such flagrant errors as salutes given while indoors (you don't salute a superior while indoors), and a Captain reporting to a Colonel while in the same room as a General. (The Captain would have reported to the General, as he was the highest ranking officer in the room.)
    • While U.S Air Force soldiers are depicted rather accurately, the same cannot be said for the Russian forces we see on the show. This is most prominently displayed in "The Tomb", which is chock full of inaccuracies. For starters, the Russian Stargate team are stated to be from the Russian Air Force, which unlike the U.S Air Force, does not have any ground troops. It's possible that a writer mistook the Russian Airborne Troops (Vozdushno-desantnye voyska Rossii, or VDV) for members of the Air Force. They are also shown wearing black berets, as opposed to the blue berets of the VDV, one of their most distinctive uniform features, while black berets are worn by Naval Infantry, Russian tank troops and the now-defunct OMON special police unit.
    • The Air Force throughout the franchise is remarkably effective at defending its dominance of the program, considering that even after the introduction of the F-302 Space Fighter and BC-303 and -304 battlecruisers, most of their missions are ground warfare operations for which the other branches are more known. Realistically Stargate Command would be much more of a joint operation: while the Air Force would probably still be in charge given that space is part of its remit, there would probably be a lot more Army and Marine Corps personnel going offworld than are present in the series, since Air Force special forces troops are more organized around supporting air combat operations than directly attacking the enemy. The same issue applies to Jack O'Neill's backstory as a special warfare operator: he's shown conducting (a Lotus-Eater Machine recreation of) a mole-extraction mission in East Germany, something for which they most likely wouldn't have used an Air Force team in reality.
    • Stargate Universe:
      • A character is consistently identified as a Sergeant despite wearing the rank insignia of a Senior Airman. This is sort-of understandable, as modern-day Senior Airmen in the USAF wear the same rank insignia that Sergeants did back when the Air Force rank of "Sergeant" existed. That USAF rank was eliminated in 1991 (it was at the same paygrade as a Senior Airman anyways) and the insignia repurposed.
      • The 20-year old Master Sergeant Ronald Greer. Master Sergeant is a rank that requires at least 16 years prior experience, meaning Greer could not possibly have reached that rank at his age, unless we assume some kind of Applied Phlebotinum or time dilation plot went on behind the scenes. This being both Stargate and a more serial show than even SG-1 was in later seasons, this seems unlikely... note 
  • Star Trek:
    • In Star Trek: The Original Series, costumes often did not match stated ranks, and there would be some confusion over what rank a character held. The only character to receive a promotion during the run of the series is Spock, who starts out as a Lieutenant Commander and is promoted to full Commander at some indeterminate point in the first season. However, he wears the two-braided shirt, denoting a full Commander, throughout. Many other characters described in dialogue as a Lieutenant Commander also wear the two braids of a full Commander. There is also no real distinction in costuming between junior officers and enlisted crewmen.note 
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • Usually averted. DS9 does manage to keep everyone's ranks straight, even the Army style ranks of the Bajoran military. The only gray area is Chief O'Brien,note  but even he is consistently recognized as a specialist officer (NCO/Warrant) rather than a commissioned Starfleet officer, allowing him to, among other things, avoid getting in dress uniform and going to formal occasions a few times.
      • Occasionally you see the Chief chew out an Ensign for screwing up an engineering task (he's still respectful about it), which some people complain about. This is actually Reality Is Unrealistic: If you're an Ensign Newbie and your commanding officer has placed you on work detail with a decorated CPO whose job designation is Chief Operations Officer, he's allowed to chew you out over your failures with the engineering. Indeed, in some military services, mentoring inexperienced officers was one of the duties of senior NCOs, given their experience. Another point about his rank was actually brought up by the character: when Nog is accepted to Starfleet Academy, O'Brien muses that if Nog ever makes ensign he's going to have to start calling the kid sir.
      • Season seven's "Field of Fire" has Ezri Dax refer to a bit character as "not the first drunken ensign I've escorted home".note  However, the character's rank insignia, one gold pin and one black pin, is that of a junior grade lieutenant (and he's correctly referred to as a lieutenant in the preceding scene).
    • Star Trek: Voyager:
      • In "Learning Curve", Tuvok is ordered to train the Maquis crewmembers who are having trouble fitting in. Instead of giving them a crash course in Starfleet procedures to show why they are necessary, he acts like a Hollywood Drill Sergeant Nasty and has them Toothbrush Floor Scrubbing.
      • In "Equinox, Part I", Captains Janeway and Ransom are momentarily confused over who's in charge since they're of equal rank, as though it's something that doesn't happen. In Real Life, the method that's been followed for centuries is plain, simple seniority—whoever was promoted first calls the shots. Starfleet's own regulations essentially boil down to "whoever has the more badass ship," which isn't unreasonable, but neither captain should be acting like this is something that requires a deep dive into the rule book, because they've both been in Starfleet long enough that they'd have witnessed or experienced it back home: officers being superior due to positional authority rather than rank is very common.Real Life 
      • In "Scientific Method", Captain Janeway orders Tuvok to crack down on discipline. "You're Security Chief. Don't thirteen department heads report to you every day? Straighten them out!" The writers appear to be confusing the job of Security Chief (responsible for tactical and internal security) with Chakotay's position of First Officer (responsible for day-to-day management of the ship, who would therefore have all the department heads reporting to him daily and have the authority to discipline them if needed).
      • In "The Cloud", Lieutenant Tuvok tells off Ensign Kim for making the "junior officers" nervous. Both ranks are regarded as junior officers, as is anyone below the rank of Commander. This confusion may be due to them both being department heads (Kim in charge of Ops, and Tuvok in charge of Tactical/Security).
  • In the Supernatural episode "Devil May Care" (S09, Ep02), the Army's military police are shown investigating a crime scene on a Navy base instead of the Shore Patrol or NCIS. (For that matter, Army MPs would not be doing major crime scene work; that's what Army CID (Criminal Investigation Division) does.)
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): "Probe 7, Over and Out". When Colonel Cook's superior General Larrabee ends his radio communication with Cook, he says "Over to you, and out", an example of incorrect radio protocol.
  • Under the Dome:
    • One episode mistakenly describes and depicts the MOAB bomb as a missile instead of a bomb. It's also unlikely that the MOAB would be used to destroy a hard target such as the dome, since it's a fuel-air device designed to airburst and demolish softer targets over a wide area. (In the original novel the scene involved a tactical nuke.)
    • It can probably be forgiven for being a dream sequence, but when the one woman sees her Navy husband coming home from deployment, walking down the street, he's wearing a discontinued working uniform and wouldn't be authorized to wear it off base/ship anyway.
  • The West Wing:
    • The White House received weather forecasts from a Coast Guard 1st Lieutenant. The Coast Guard equivalent to this Army/Air Force/Marine Corps rank is Lieutenant (Junior Grade).
    • The Army Chief of Staff is portrayed as a three-star general. During peacetime, the job is always held by someone with four-star rank. (During wartime, it can also be held by a five-star; in the US, such ranks are used only in wartime.)
    • Aaron Sorkin in general seemed to have difficulty with military matters in The West Wing. He turned heat-seeking air-to-air missiles into radar-seeking air-to-ground missiles, and throughout West Wing's run talks about "Battle Carrier Groups" rather than "Carrier Battle Groups"... to name but a few. (This general ignorance is often expressed through the president, who typically plays The Watson to the Joint Chiefs.)
    • In the first season episode "The State Dinner" a carrier battle group is stuck in the path of a hurricane. The naval officer who briefs the president on it tells him that it consists of "the USS John Kennedy, two guided missile cruisers, two destroyers, and two battleships." This is pretty remarkable, considering the Navy retired its last battleships a few years before the start of The West Wing.
  • In The Wire, the second half of the fifth season has some plot points that revolve around whether or not a reporter is making up details in his stories. As part of his stories, he interviews a former Marine who served in Iraq. When the reporter first meets the Marine, the Marine talks about an "M niner niner eight", which (he explains) is a Humvee. He also calls a .50 caliber machine gun an M50 (which is actually an M2). Later, the Marine's credibility is called into question. Even a fellow Marine is questioned on the subject. In the second interview, the Marine correctly identifies the machine gun as a .50 caliber machine gun, but the audience is supposed to be left with the notion that the former Marine is a credible source of information, despite a few mistakes in his story.

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

    Video Games 
  • [PROTOTYPE]:
    • The Marine Base Commanders wear the scarlet and gold shoulder chevrons of a First Sergeant (on the utility uniform, no less), are always saluted and addressed as "sir", and, when they are given names, have varying officer ranks.
    • There are also errors in the equipment used by the Marines. They use UH-60 Blackhawks, M2 Bradley APCs and AH-64 helicopter gunships. These should be UH-1 Venoms, LAV-25s or AAV-7s and the AH-1 Super Cobra respectively. Even though one could handwave this by saying they are U.S Army attachments, they are all specifically stated to be Marine vehicles, including by the Marines themselves.
    • The final battle takes place on-board the USS Ronald Reagan, a US Navy aircraft carrier operating about a mile off the coast of Manhattan and launching Apache helicopters. In real life, the Reagan is part of the US Pacific Fleet, and wouldn't be involved in an operation on the East Coast. Aircraft carriers also don't operate that close to land, not only because they don't have to but also so they have room to change speed and orientation for flight operations. AH-64s would not operate off a carrier, because the Navy has more than enough of its own aircraft that it needs the space for.
  • The Aircraft Carrier level in Crysis is incredibly groan inducing to anyone who has ever served in the US Navy or knows anything about Naval Ranks. The fact that none of the ranks or uniforms make any sense points to a blatant case of not even bothering to skim the Wikipedia article. The Carrier CVN-80 being named the USS Constitution is also unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, being that the original ship bearing that name is still in commission. (CVN-80 has since been announced to be the next Enterprise.)
  • The detail in the aircraft carrier environments in Army of Two is pretty insanely detailed, and gets a lot of things surprisingly correct, and most of the minor changes for gameplay can be ignored. However, at the end of the level, the players are desperately searching for a lifeboat to get off the carrier...despite the fact that you run past dozens of lifeboats clearly visible in the background graphics. One wonders if they game designers simply didn't know what they were (the large pill-shaped things around the lifelines) or just ignored them for plot purposes.
  • Madou Souhei Kleinhasa is an eroge set in a fictional military, so the usual "no fraternization between officers and enlisted" rule gets ignored in some scenes. Roze and Llun also have ridiculously long hair, even by the standards of this page: Llun's hair goes almost to her hips, while Roze's hair is long enough to drag on the ground.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series
    • Given the Narm Charm, it's hard not to expect this of Command & Conquer Red Alert 2. Prominent general Carville is wearing insignia from an ROTC Cadet uniform (badges worn by student soldiers before they graduate college).
    • Given every female character in all of the games is intended to be a Ms. Fanservice, the nature of their uniforms should obviously be considered less-than-accurate. In the opening cutscene for the Allied portion of the Uprising Expansion, a female officer clearly has to modify the way she walks just to avoid flashing the camera.
  • Resident Evil
    • One of the most notorious errors in the entire series is that Jill Valentine is listed in the manual for Resident Evil 3: Nemesis as a former-Delta Force, the top secretive anti-terrorist unit in the U.S. Army. At the age of 23. Two problems here: 1) the Unit (as it is often called) recruits only from the most experienced members from the Special Forcesnote  and Army Rangers, neither of which admitted women to their ranks at the time of writing (much less in 1998). 2) Even if one assumes that women can be Berets or Rangers in the RE-verse, becoming a Delta operator becomes somewhere around ten to twelve years; Jill would have to be at least 32. Later games dodge this by simply listing Jill's skills and abilities without going into which branch of the military she was trained in, while the novelization states that Jill learned her skills from her father, a cat burglar.
    • Chris Redfield, meanwhile, is stated to be former U.S Air Force, where he served as a pilot. However, background material from the first game also states that he served as a "marksman", which would be under the purview of a dedicated ground-service branch such as the Air Force Pararescue service, and it would be extremely unusual for someone to have combat experience as such while also serving as a fixed-wing pilot. Chris is also stated to have experience flying VTOL's, which during the era that Chris served would have only consisted of the Harrier Jump Jet, which were exclusive to the Marines.
  • Half-Life: The HECU were only called "soldiers" or "the military". This is retconned in Opposing Force, where they received their current name and are established to be US Marines, this new characterization creates whole new problems:
    • The HECU medical personnel are referred to, both in-universe and out, as medics. The U.S. Marines, which make up the HECU's foot soldiers, do not use medics. They have corpsmen, who are actually from the Navy and have been specially trained to work and fight alongside the Marines.
    • Although they're identified as marines, HECU soldiers deploy various types of military hardware that are not used by U.S. Marines in real life, including U.S. Army's M2 Bradley IFVs (real-world marines use LAV-25) and AH-64 Apache helicopters (real-world marines use AH-1W Super Cobras), as well as U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters (real-world marines use AV-8B Harrier II fighters).
    • Averted with their individual uniforms, the HECU uses a white-and-grey camouflage with a green vest. While the US Military never used that kind of uniform note , this gear was a porotype developed in the 90s for urban warfare program called Operation Urban Warrior, showing that Valve did a little bit of research.
      • That begin said, US Marines don't wear berets. A Maroon beret, used by one of the models, would indicate they are from the Army's airborne troops.
    • Many times, the HECU troopers refer to themselves as "soldiers", which is a huge Berserk Button for US Marines, who insist to be called "marines" rather than a "soldier". Even the drill sergeants, who are supposed to literally drill the corp's internal culture into the new recruits, refer to them as "soldiers".
    • The boot camp tutorial of Opposing Force deserves special mention. Despite being a corporal (and thus having gone through basic), Shephard is still initially with the other recruits when in reality he'd be well past basic and specialization school. Boot camp is also depicted as being in Arizona (instead of either Parris Island or San Diego) and Shephard is randomly selected for advanced training into HECU, which is conveniently also located at boot camp. In reality, such a special division would be located at an entirely separate base and Shephard would have applied for such rather than being chosen out of the blue. All of that isn't even mentioning the other oddities present, such as regular drill instructors training both the recruits and the HECU (as opposed to trained officers as in reality) or that Shephard seems to be the sole Marine running through training and completes it in less than an hour.
  • Escape Velocity series
    • The original game had a major become an admiral. That's not even trying.
    • EV Nova may have an example with General Smart, a Federation officer who defected to the Rebels and is now in charge of their space navy. The Federation Navy appears to use US Navy ranks (the two named Federation officers, Krane and Raczak, are a commander and an admiral respectively), so the only two ways to resolve it is by having the Rebels use Army or Air Force ranks (given that the Rebels are of Federation extraction and do not have a secessionist goal, this seems unlikely), or that General Smart could have been a marine officer before defection (outside the USA, it is fairly common for marines to be a branch of the navy but use army ranks, and just because the Federation uses US ranks doesn't mean it is organized like the US military — some of the references to Smart seem to call him a General when he was still a Federation officer).
  • Justifiable as it's more a way of keeping score, but in the X-Wing games, your character's rank is a function of their game score. So if you perform well enough (or use exploits and other tricks to pad your score), your character can be a general being ordered about by fleet captains (about equal to a colonel) or even fighter lieutenants in the early game.
  • Grand Theft Auto:
    • In the games set in America, the army should technically not be allowed to go after the player character - The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 forbids the use of the US Military as a law enforcement agency.
      • That being said, in Grand Theft Auto V, (the first main game in the series to reintroduce the military after they were cut from Grand Theft Auto IV and its episodes) this is partially enforced. Generally, the military won't come after you if you're not near Fort Zancudo. Take a police chase to the vicinity of the base, or trespass or begin causing trouble in there, and you can bet that you'll be perforated by machine gun fire, tank rounds and a few air to ground missiles for good measure.
    • When you go to the amphibious ship in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the "sailors" you run into are merely the game's stock military troops, wearing green (not even a color palette swap to blue). Which would still be incorrect for the time period, the sailors would be wearing the classic dungarees.
      • Minor, but there is no LHD 69 either (only USS Wasp (LHD 1) was in service at the time too), but of course this is GTA, so what other hull designator would it be?
    • Sgt Vance in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories apparently has a lot of free rein, and doesn't report for any kind of daily duties, work, etc. during the part of the story he's still on active duty.
  • Valkyria Chronicles
    • Welkin's unit in the first game is very forgiving of uniform alterations; includes older, more experienced troops answering to a rookie commander younger than them; and includes numerous individuals who struggle or refuse to work properly together. It's also a civilian militia activated on short notice under Gallia's Universal Conscription laws. The enlisted armed forces are much better about it, wearing uniform and addressing each other according to rank.
    • The second game focuses on a class at the military college, and while the player's unit is explicitly the dumping ground for applicants that scraped into admission but fit nowhere else, there's generally a lot more discipline.
    • While all three games have the player in command of a platoon-sized unit (15-30 people), the game always refer to them as squads (8-12 people). This is a mistake by the English translators: in the original Japanese the player's unit is correctly referred to as shotai (platoon).
  • Freespace inverts its capital ship classifications from the historical norm. In Freespace, cruisers are the smallest capital ships, corvettes are the next level up, and destroyers are the heavy battleship units. In Real Life (circa World War IWorld War II era), destroyers were and are considered escorts and fragile speedsters, cruisers were still fast but eat destroyers for breakfast, and battleships were the heavy hitters. And corvettes were basically an upgraded yacht with guns, whose size and capacity is still outranked by the next class up, frigates (who likewise are outranked by the bigger but still just-as-fast destroyers).
  • Star Trek Online:
    • Using rank as a synonym for Character Level (from Lieutenant at level 5 to Fleet Admiral at level 60) results in a lot of Outranking Your Job and means the player is frequently taking orders from people they outrank by several grades, as well as resulting in a ludicrous Marissa Picard-like situation where you apparently went from junior officer to 5-star in eighteen months. It also inconveniences the developers in the event they ever want to raise the level cap again: the increase in rank cap to fleet admiral resulted in jokes that the next expansion would make you President of the Federation.
    • Miral Paris is a Starfleet security officer, which according to the game's conventions means she should be wearing red coloring on her uniform: red is for security and tactical personnel, as well as commanding officers and admirals. For some reason they have her in yellow, which is for operations and engineering specialties (though it included security personnel in the Star Trek: Voyager timeframe, which was when her mother served as an engineering officer; this is possibly a misplaced use of Generation Xerox). Season 10 makes the same error in the opposite direction by putting Sarish Minna, Deep Space 9's operations officer, in a red security/tactical uniform. Possibly the devs confused the term "operations officer" with the post of "strategic operations officer" held by Worf in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (for which he wore a red uniform).
  • In Criminal Case: Pacific Bay's eighth case, Colonel Spangler wears the insignia of a four-star general.
  • Sabre Ace: Conflict Over Korea's North Korean campaign has you flying as a Soviet pilot attached to the North Korean air force from the first days of the Korean War, but this state of affairs didn't begin in real life until April 1951.
  • Phantom Doctrine features randomly generated operatives (both men and women) from various intelligence services and special forces branches of the armed forces as available party members. The game is set in 1983 and the random generation can occasionally create combinations that couldn't exist at the time, like female US Marines or female Navy SEALs.
  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number: The Colonel says that he's being promoted to Lieutenant General when he returns stateside. However, Lieutenant General is a three-star rank, and the rank after Colonel would be Brigadier General, a one-star rank.
  • Muv-Luv Alternative: Besides apparently discarding fraternization regs (expected from an eroge series), American TSFs designated F-15E and F-22 take part in the Military Coup arc. Just one problem: the Americans are from the US Navy's Pacific Fleet, and those are names of Air Force birds.note 

    Webcomics 
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Lampshaded when absolutely no attempt is made to accurately depict a submarine's operations. The author says that this is because no matter how much he could have tried to make their actions accurate, someone would have found something wrong. Besides, the final scene fits the style of the comic better.
    Submarine Captain: Do all that stuff we have to do to shoot at him and then FIRE TORPEDOES!

    Western Animation 
  • In the Beavis And Butthead episode "Drones", a military officer bluntly admits his team accepts dropouts and delinquents, and the duo got easy access to the drone control center due to the crew's incompetence.
  • The Navy presented in DuckTales (1987) is rather... unique.
    • Donald is addressed as "Seaman Duck," yet wears a (upside down!) petty officer third class crow.
    • Admiral Gribbitz seems to be captaining the aircraft carrier (he should be the admiral overall in charge of its battle group, there's no ranked Navy captain to be seen who would normally be the ship's commanding officer).
    • Why the hell does an admiral spend so much time with a lowly seaman? Fraternization/Favoritism!
    • Aircraft carriers cannot open from the front to take in a submarine. Nor would they have room to put one in.
    • It's definitely done for Rule of Funny, but you can't swab an aircraft carrier flight deck (it's mostly a rough material called nonskid, swabs get stuck to it), nor would you really want to.
    • Also, in at least one scene, Donald is Peeling Potatoes on KP as a punishment. That isn't done any more. Mess halls have more efficient ways to do it nowadays.
    • Donald's court martial more resembled a Captain's Mast/Non-Judicial Punishment Hearing (or Admiral's Mast one supposes), and is still pretty off. He had no JAG lawyer present, no JAG judge presiding, no jury. And to nitpick, a trial for treason would probably take over a year to put together, and he would have been put in the brig probably for close to life, not merely busted down and booted from the service.
  • The episode of The Simpsons "Simpson Tide" takes Artistic License in lots of areas, as the show often does, but two examples could probably be chalked up to this trope. First of all, Barney's mother wouldn't be allowed an assignment on the submarine, as Navy regulations at the time forbid females from doing so. Second, the only way to be dishonorably discharged is to be court martialed, as Homer clearly was not.
  • A "wrong rank" version happens in an episode of Hey Arnold!. The ex-military substitute teacher gives his rank as "Lieutenant Major." No such rank exists. Given that a flashback established him as the drill sergeant of Gerald's father in the Vietnam era, he was likely meant to have been a retired Sergeant Major.
  • Bill in King of the Hill is supposed to be a sergeant in the Army, with a barber MOS. He has never transferred, deployed, nor does the Army have a barber MOS.
    • In one episode Bill, a sergeant, takes orders from a random corporal and calls him “sir.” Though it might just be to show how unassertive he is and how pathetic everyone else sees him.
  • G.I. Joe
    • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero can go from surprisingly realistic military procedure to outright tomfoolery. Duke or Flint in the first season seem to be almost always in charge, despite being a first sergeant and warrant officer, respectively, with many members of the team outranking them. And Duke is explicitly stated to be higher in the food chain than Flint in Season 2 (at least by then they had a general leading them). Not even getting into how every member of the Joe team can expertly pilot the F-14 expy, among other things.
      • This was invoked In-Universe in one episode where Cobra hacked into the D.O.D. computers to elevate Lifeline, Dial-Tone and Shipwreck to the rank of Colonel (instantly elevating them to just under General Hawk on the chain of command), in order to screw with the Joes' morale and field competence. This openly baffles the Joes they leapt over in rank, including field commander Beach Head:
      Beach Head: How is this possible? Shipwreck's not even in the army! Why not Roadblock or Slipstream or... ME!
      • Several members of the Joes sport facial hair (not just the ones who have Navy backgrounds), even though this has been against military regulations for some time. (Blame the action figure line, who did it as a selling point.) On the other hand, there are various exceptions on grooming standards for real-life special forces, too.
      • G.I. Joe team member Shipwreck is stated to be an E-7 at his introduction, but is pictured wearing "dungaree" uniform: blue chambray shirt and denim bell bottoms. While his rank insignia on his sleeve is correct for an E-7, this uniform would never have been worn by a Chief Petty Officer. Once promoted beyond the rank of E-6, the dungaree uniform was replaced by khakis.
    • G.I. Joe: Renegades
      • The show has people calling Duke "sir", when he's a Sergeant.
      • This version of Scarlett is called a "Lieutenant" in the credits and dialogue, but no such rank exists in the U.S. Army. No, not even Army Intelligence, where Scarlett came from. There are 2nd and 1st Lieutenants, but simply "Lieutenant" with no modifier is a Navy rank. Although, given the aforementioned pronunciation errors, and the informal structure of their group, it was never mentioned if she was first or second lieutenant, and both 2nd and 1st Lieutenants are typically called "Lieutenant" when talking.
      • Flint is listed as Warrant Officer in the opening credit sequence but is a Lieutenant in the show. His original rank in RAH was Warrant, so probably a production snafu.
  • While likely an intentional joke, the South Park miniseries "Imaginationland" had the two Army soldiers in charge of the Stargate spoof simultaneously wearing senior Sergeant patches AND General stars. Sergerals?
  • A deliberate example occurred in the 1960's Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Boris Badenov showed up at an American military compound and tried to seize control based on his seniority, claiming that he was a six-star general. When the general in charge showed that he, too, had six stars, Boris responded with "Yes, but yours don't light up". The rest of the base accepted this without question. Nobody points out that there is and has only ever been one six-star general in the US Army - George Washington, who was given the rank posthumously in 1976 so that he could outrank officers who held rank of five star general which was created in WWIInote , but used - which meant that at the time the episode was originally aired, both parties were claiming a rank that didn't even exist.
  • In The Venture Bros., Colonel Gentleman claims to be former RAF, despite the rank of colonel not existing in the RAF. The equivalent rank is Group Captain.
  • The Galaxy Trio:
    • Episode "Versus the Moltens of Meteorus". While Vapor Man is talking with his superior at Intergalactic Security (a military-style organization) he ends a radio conversation (where he received the message) by saying "Over and out".
    • Episode "Galaxy Trio and the Sleeping Planet". When an Intergalactic Headquarters radio officer receives a signal he concludes the transmission with "Over and out", and when Meteor Man receives a transmission from Intergalactic Headquarters he does the same thing.
  • Birdman (1967) episode "Professor Nightshade". A U.S. military officer addressed as "Admiral" is clearly wearing an Army uniform.
  • Dan Vs. gives us "Sergeant Saskatchewan", the most intently overly patriotic Canadian superhero ever. As he's based on a Mountie you'd assume he'd wear the RCMP sergeant emblem (Three chevrons pointing down with a crown above them) or at the very least the Canadian Armed Forces sergeant emblem (Same deal, just a maple leaf instead of a crown). Instead he wears the American staff sergeant emblem (Three chevrons pointing up).
  • While the Enforcers in SWAT Kats are an entirely fictional organization, and more like highly militarized police than actual military, there's still a few noteworthy issues:
    • The Enforcers' leader, Ulysses Feral, is stated to be a commander. However, in "The Wrath of Dark Kat," he addresses a subordinate as "Captain." The "captain" is a generic Enforcer pilot with no discerning rank insignia. Also, in real life, captains usually outrank commanders.
    • Lieutenant Commander Steel is almost always addressed as "Lieutenant," except by himself and on his nameplate. The correct shortened form of address for a lieutenant commander is "commander." Steel is likely addressed as Lieutenant in order to avoid confusion with Feral.
    • Sergeant Talon and most of the other generic sergeants have shoulderboards with one gold stripe apiece, almost identical to that of Lt. Commander Steel. The only real difference is that Steel's stripes are on the edges of his shoulderboards, while the sergeants' are in the middle.
    • The sergeant who appears in "Enter the Madkat" and "Katastrophe" doesn't just wear two slightly different uniforms in each episode, but both are different from the other sergeants'.
    • Evidence room clerk Smitty in "Katastrophe" has a sergeant's three rank chevrons on his sleeves. No other sergeant has these. Confusingly, they're on his dress shirt, not the jacket worn over them (presumably, anyway; Smitty isn't seen with his jacket on).
    • Felina is a lieutenant, but lacks any insignia to distinguish her from Enforcers of other ranks.
  • Sheep in the Big City had Private Public serve as second-in-command to General Specific, when in real life private is the lowest military rank possible aside from a recruit rank.
  • Superman: The Animated Series: In the episode "Ghost in the Machine", Lex Luthor is showing off his latest invention, an anti-aircraft laser cannon, by announcing that two Sidewinder missiles have just been fired at the building he and his assembled guests are in. The AIM-9 Sidewinder is an air-to-air missile used to shoot down other aircraft. It's not used to shoot ground targets like buildings and its targeting system wouldn't be able to lock onto one in the first place as it uses infrared sensors to lock onto the thermal emitions of jet engines.
  • The 1971 Woody Woodpecker cartoon "The Reluctant Recruit" has Woody tricked into joining the Foreign Legion. There are three errors in the cartoon:
    • Woody is tricked into joining the Legion when a recruiting office, presumably in the United States, makes him think it's a travel agency with free tropical vacations. The Foreign Legion does NOT recruit soldiers in their homelands. One has to travel to France to enlist.
    • The sergeant in the cartoon constantly trying to stop Woody's escape? While his uniform is mostly correct, his rank chevrons point upside down. They should be pointing upwards.
    • As for that sergeant's uniform, it dates from WorldWar I. By the 1970s, the Foreign Legion had switched to the more modern olive drab, khaki or camouflage pattern uniforms.

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Military

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