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Overranked Soldier

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

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

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

This trope manifests in certain ways:

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

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

Generally speaking, senior members of the British Royal Family hold military rank and Regimental commands, but these are strictly honorary - the real business of command is done by trained professionals and the royals are figureheads. Junior royals are expected to serve as junior officers in the Armed forces, and here their responsibilities and duties are consistent with rank. Prince Charles, for instance, commanded a Royal Navy inshore ship, HMS Hunstanton. (His father commanded a destroyer, with some distinction, in World War II, but that was before he married into the Royal Family. He died a Lord High Admiral, but that was an honorary rank.) Prince Andrew was a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War and was a full-time military officer for over 20 years; their brother Prince Edward wimped out of Royal Marines officer training (indicating that some standards apply to Royals as to ordinary joes); the current Duke of Kent served for 20 years on active duty. But older royals are ceremonial figureheads, not active soldiers and sailors. For instance, King George VI had generals' rank, but no generals' duties, in World War II (though he had served as a junior naval officer in World War I).

Contrast Almighty Janitor, who is Underranked. Typically leads to The Main Characters Do Everything.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Irresponsible Captain Tylor: Justy Ueki Tylor is lazy, having joined the military so that he can retire with a fat pension check. He is also uncontrollable, issuing controversial and outright ridiculous orders to his crew, like "Do whatever you want." He had probably never even seen the cover of the USPF military's rulebook, considering how often Commander Star and Lieutenant Yamamoto have to bring them up. He's also all of twenty years old, and a Lieutenant Commander. The only reason he has that rank is because he rescued an old war hero from a hostage situation. This trope is subverted in that Tylor's irresponsibility does get him sent to an obscure section of the galaxy. Sheer luck is the only thing that ensures he regains his rank half the time.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist. All registered State Alchemists receive an automatic military rank of Major, regardless of their age, and afterward they can be promoted like a normal soldier. This is at least part of the reason that Roy Mustang is resented by several members of the High Command; at the time of the series, he's only 29 years old and already a full Colonel because he became a State Alchemist at the age of twenty. Interestingly enough, though, Ed is never addressed as "Major" and rarely treated as a superior officer. This is mostly because Ed doesn't hold a high opinion of the military and therefore tries not to play up his status; among other things, he forgoes the military uniform most State Alchemists use for his own trademark red coat. He also has stated that he doesn't really like the idea of people having to "kiss up" to him and would rather interact with others as equals. His low age and, er, stature, also make it easier for those aware of his rank to ignore it even if they are lower ranked soldiers.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes:
    • Reinhard von Lohengramm was made Fleet Admiral and placed in command of half the Imperial fleet at age 20. Though he had genuine battlefield accomplishments, high command constantly tossing him into dangerous missions and his sister being the Emperor's favorite concubine explained his extremely rapid promotion, it is still ridiculously young. Then he creates his own admiralty from officers loyal to him, leading to a group of Vice Admirals ranging from early 20s to mid 30s being commanded by the twenty-year-old brother of the Emperor's favorite concubine. Given the setting, though, it actually makes sense.
    • His archrival, Yang Wen-Li, is a more subdued example. He did made a flag rank at 28 (a Rear Admiral, to be precise), which is ridiculously young, but everyone around very much treated it as something exceptional. It was also kind of justified by Yang being a bona-fide military genius who saved the Alliance's collective ass more than once, him having friendsnote  in high places, who decided just for once to promote a genuinely competent officer instead of a political appointee, and his promotion being in part a piece in the powergames of the Alliance's top brass (covering up the fiascos caused by incompetent political appointees by lionizing and promoting a junior officer who salvaged something from the resultant disaster after said appointees got themselves killed).
    • Later, as the power structure in both the Empire and the Alliance started to crumble, the chain of command crumbled as well, degenerating into petty warlordships and civil wars, so both men became military dictators simply as a consequence of their fighting prowess and desire to keep at least some semblance of order in their respective nations. Well, Yang became. Lohengramm actively strived for power.
  • Lyrical Nanoha:
    • Hayate Yagami, Lieutenant-Colonel at 19. Even if you assume she started her career at nine — there are better places to discuss the Values Dissonance — ten years does not a Lieutenant-Colonel make in a Real Life military barring severely extenuating circumstances. Contrast Nanoha, who's more reasonably a non-Navy Captain. The justifications are, first, that powerful mages are quickly promoted through the ranks anyway(Hayate is the highest ranked mage in the series, at SS, albeit with Awesome, but Impractical magic), with ranks often being considered "decorations", and second, that Hayate has connections in the highest ranks and was bucking for promotion since the day she joined. It's also revealed that Hayate, being a former criminal, was put in command of Mobile Division 6 because she was considered expendable in case anything went wrong and she had to take the fall for it, and Hayate herself notes that the officers at headquarters tend to see her as a young girl first and a Lieutenant Colonel second, indicators of factors apart from a belief in Hayate's merit.
    • Just as bad: Chrono Harlaown reaches the rank of Admiral with fourteen years in service. His mother is also an admiral in the Navy (albeit for an unspecified length of time; she is 31 upon her first introduction), and he's one of those connections that helped propel Hayate to battalion command. In Chrono's case, the justification is that after his dad died in the line of duty when he was just 3 years old, Chrono went all Bruce Wayne, becoming a fully fledged Enforcer by the age of 14. Enforcers, for the record, are the elite of the elite within the Bureau, with the personal authority of a Field Officer, so his advancement to an Admiral ten years later wasn't much of a career ladder jump.
  • One Piece:
    • Averted with Commodore Smoker. He is said to be stronger than his Captain rank implies. However, he is stuck at the rank of Captain for a very long time due to his insubordination with his superiors in the Marines. The only reason he is promoted to Commodore at all is part of a conspiracy by the World Government — he just happens to be in the area.
    • One Piece does have a number of examples played straight, most notably Vice Admiral Garp, who actively and openly helps pirates, laughs at top-ranked Marines for their mistakes, and recruits from questionable places. He has been offered several promotions to Admiral. However, Fleet Admiral Sengoku does sometimes wonder to himself how Garp managed to climb up the ranks with the attitude he has. Then again, the Marines are (for the most part) based on Asskicking Leads to Leadership, and Garp is probably the strongest marine in the entire force next to Sengoku himself. Sengoku mentions that Garp would have become an Admiral, but he refused due to not wanting to take orders from the Celestial Dragons, an act of insubordination that would have cost him his job if not for his accomplishments.
    • While not exactly a soldier, Buggy should obviously not be one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea. He's one of the weakest pirate captains in the series, and the only reason he gets the position is pure dumb luck, having been a former member of Pirate King Gol D. Roger's crew who'd recruited several dangerous prisoners while breaking out of Impel Down.
  • Rebuild of Evangelion: Asuka is a Captain in this version, at 14. Not that she acts even remotely like a military officer, particularly around Misato, who is, after all, her CO. For that matter, Misato is a Lt. Colonel at age 29, whereas in the original series she was a much more realistic Captain who got promoted to Major partway through the series (possible, assuming she joined the military young).
  • Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross/Robotech: The Masters Saga: Jeanne Francoix/Dana Sterling begins the series aged 17 and ranked a Sergeant Major, later being promoted to Lieutenant. While the promotion to Lieutenant based on merit is plausible, her initial rank of Sergeant Major is most definitely not, and is even more outrageous than Ocelot's rank. Both because of her age AND her attitude to authority, it'd be totally impossible for her to hold this rank.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny: Kira Yamato is an interesting example. He was promoted from Second Lieutenantnote  to Admiral at once, being eighteen, but this was a) a wartime express promotion, as Orb's forces were decimated at that point, b) he was their best pilot anyway, and was given that rank so that his status would reflect this, and c) because he was the brother of a ruling monarch of one nation, and the boyfriend of a democratically elected leader of the other. It may not mean much, given how Mildly Military the forces in that universe seem to be, and he didn't exercise his authority much as well, though when he did it, these were usually quite competent decisions.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam:
    • When the White Base crew, formerly an irregular unit headed by a Space Cadet, is brought into the Earth Federation Forces, most of the crew get reasonable ranks. The exception is Ace Pilot Amuro Ray, who is appointed a Chief Petty Officer, a senior noncommissioned rank that usually takes years to work up to. No explanation is given for this. In Tomino's Gundam novels, written largely to tell a more consistent story after all the screenplay shenanigans in the heavily troubled anime, he wasn't even a civilian to begin with, but a fully trained cadet on his middie cruise shortly before commissioning. After the White Base finally made contact with the main forces he just received the commission he was due.
      • This is partly justified - within military rank structures, officers are leaders with more generalized abilities, and senior enlisted forces are technical experts in their career fields. Amuro was the best mobile suit pilot on the White Base, so being made one of the highest ranked NCOs on the ship was appropriate as it reflected his technical superiority and experience with the Gundam.
    • Bright Noa and Mirai Yashima, meanwhile, invert this trope and create another example into the bargain. Once the White Base is regularized, Bright receives the rank of Lieutenant JG, and Mirai is commissioned as an Ensign; this is for the commander and executive officer of a carrier command that previously merited a full captain. In this case, the brass weren't going to break up a well-functioning unit in the middle of wartime, but they also weren't interested in ranking Bright up too far beyond his seniority (LTJG was already an accelerated wartime promotion). This situation gets downright weird when Lieutenant JG Sleggar Law is assigned to a flight position to replace lost crew; while fitting his rank, the position puts him below Ensign Yashima in the chain of command.
    • On the Zeon side, Dozle, Kycilia and Garma Zabi are a Vice Admiral, a Rear Admiral, and a Colonel, at 28, 27, and 20, respectively. The fact that they were the children of Zeon head of state Degwin Zabi played a major part in that, though Dozle and Kycilia clearly show that they were capable of handling the responsibilities of their ranks. Garma's need to likewise prove that he earned his rank instead of being handed it for being his father's favorite child played a key part in Char's scheme to lure him into the battle in which he died. Char himself made the somewhat more reasonable but still improbably high rank of Lt Commander at 20 as a result of sheer badassery, most notably five solo capital ship kills during the Battle of Loum.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, Lt JG Monsha not only drinks on duty, he drinks while piloting. He also hits on every female to cross his path and is continuously rude to every pilot who isn't a member of his original squad. Presumably this is why he's only a junior lieutenant despite being a famous ace from the One Year War, but given that the war had ostensibly been over for three years at the time of this anime, one has to wonder why he's still allowed to wear the uniform at all given his conduct.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, Lt Commander Natola Einus, Captain of the Diva in Generation 3, is a mixture of I, III and V. She's a Lieutenant given an accelerated promotion she did not earn and was not ready for so she could be given command of a mothballed battleship as an act of petty spite against both her (over perceived Nepotism) and the retired hero who requested that the ship be launched so he could access some of its special systems despite her youth, lack of time in grade, or the fact that she had yet to serve on a ship in any capacity, much less a command one. Her being totally unqualified for her command is blatantly obvious to everyone on the ship (including herself), to the point that when she first manages to make an intelligent command decision for herself instead of deferring to someone she outranks, everyone on the bridge is shocked.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Arise gives Batou the rank of a Commander during his service in the Republic of Kuran. His command there is basically a platoon-sized unit that's normally commanded by a Second Lieutenant. Motoko, a Major, is somewhat more justified, in that she's explicitly from a secret Special Forces unit that uses its officers in solo missions.
  • Full Metal Panic!:
    • Sōsuke Sagara is 16 at the beginning of the anime, but a fearsomely-skilled sergeant in a paramilitary organization, although this is explained by a history as a child soldier in Afghanistan; its also a way to logically hang around the schoolgirl-aged Chidori.
    • His commander, Teletha "Tessa" Testarossa, is about the same age and has her position almost solely by virtue of the bizarre racial memory gift possessed by those called The Whispered, which means that she designed the submarine she commands.
    • Sōsuke's colleague Kurz Weber also qualifies, though not to quite the same extreme as Sōsuke and Tessa; he's only nineteen at the start of the series and the Light Novels eventually reveal that he began training as a sniper at the age of about fifteen.
    • Also, note that while they have military-styled chain of command, Mithril technically doesn't belong to any established military — it's just a Private Military Contractor writ large, legally making all them just civilian security guards. Very heavily armed security guards.
  • In a nonmilitary example, in GATE, the Japanese Foreign Ministry sends Kouji Sugawara, a 30-something man, as an official envoy to the Special Region. He is backed up by an actual ambassador on site, but she stays at the embassy while he is on point for negotiations. In the Japanese diplomatic service, where the seniority is a very Serious Business, this is ridiculously young for a plenipotentiary, and was probably done just because Sugawara, one of the ministry's numerous aides and undersecretaries, was considered more or less expendable, and should anything untoward happen to him, this wouldn't have hurt or embarrassed the real bigwigs. The JSDF, though, is pretty conventional in this regard, largely avoiding Artistic License – Military, as the author is a former military man himself.
  • Code Geass:
    • Suzaku Kururugi is promoted from Private to Warrant Officer (a full ten ranks) literally overnight and only a couple months later is a Major, despite being only seventeen at the time and his formal education ending when he was nine. The first promotion is justified as being a bribe by Cornelia, the current Viceroy of Area 11 and Chief General of the Army.
    • Suzaku's coworker, Cecile, is also a Major despite being only twenty-four even though the rank usually requires a full decade of service.

    Comic Books 
  • Les Tuniques Bleues: This was the focus of the album Des Bleus et du blues, with General Grant holding an important meeting of his highest-ranking officers, including a few that he intended to fire from the army. As far as regular characters go, Captain Stilman is infamous for his cynicism, laziness and general incompetence (although with a few flashes of true brilliance).
  • During the controversial Civil War storyline in Marvel Comics, Tony Stark is examining a file on Frank Castle (AKA the Punisher). The file details Frank's time as a U.S. Marine during the Vietnam War, specifically referring to him as having been a 21 year old Captain. Even more impressive/odd is that Frank originally enlisted in the Marines, earning an officer's commission later on in his deployment. This may be somewhat justified, however, as Frank was an amazing soldier with a background in black ops; his promotions may have been based on skill as opposed to time served (in the MAX continuity, Nick Fury arranges for his promotion after he and Frank go on an assassination mission).
  • Even by the standards of Comic-Book Time and Continuity Snarl for Marvel Comics characters with long histories, the military status of Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) is still improbable. She retired from the U.S. Air Force at the rank of full Colonel (O-6)... apparently before her first chronological comic book appearance as director of security at "The Cape". Absent some highly unusual situation, one would expect Carol to be at least pushing 40, and this is before her entire career as a superhero. While she's depicted as an experienced hero in current stories, she isn't drawn or treated as if she's anywhere near as old as her backstory would suggest.
    • This is actually a subversion. Carol retired from the Air Force to become head of security at the Cape with a rank of Major (O-4) at the age of 28, which is impressive, but absolutely doable. Her promotion to Colonel came in the early '00s, after her Air Force commission was reactivated, and was a special promotion courtesy so that she could run a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Before that, her role in Air Force Intelligence gave her "the ability to temporarily upgrade to Colonel on missions" because "the extra clout came in handy", but it wasn't a permanent rank.
  • In G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel), while Hawk is a capable leader, he's somewhat young to have already reached the rank of general, and still spends too much time in the battlefield to be one. The age issue also applies to his predecessor, General Flagg. Modern versions of the franchise tend to have Hawk as an older man, or as a Colonel (and the Joes a smaller organization as a result) to avoid the issue.
  • Tintin is accidentally recruited into the San Theodoros army when (while drunk off his ass) he's yelling "Long live Alcazar!" in front of a firing squad just as the prison is taken by pro-Alcazar rebels. This gets him promoted to colonel and the general's Number Two, while the general's former Number Two gets demoted back to corporal after unwisely noting that Alcazar's army has 3487 colonels and 27 corporals. This makes a bit more sense than as this is a revolutionary army where promotions are often handed out more by loyalty to the cause rather than by competence.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Earth-Two/Golden Age version of Steve Trevor managed to make it to colonel in his early twenties without seeming to have anyone reporting to him (besides his secretary Lila) and still mostly acted as a solo field agent on undercover missions.

    Fan Works 
  • Carried to absurd levels in Stephen Ratliff's Marissa Picard series of Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfic, in which the title character becomes a fully-commissioned starship captain (of a starship bigger than the Enterprise, in fact!) while still a pre-teen, and Admiral of the Fleet at age 21.
  • Similarly, but not quite to the same extent, the original "Mary Sue" from A Trekkie's Tale was a 15-year-old lieutenant.
  • Lampshaded and justified in Bait and Switch. Captain Kanril Eleya and her command staff are by and large very young for the ranks they hold (Eleya is 29), but it's due in large part to a heavy dose of You Are in Command Now since the Federation is A) in a full-scale war with the Klingons and B) under attack by the Borg. She is explicitly stated to have been fast-tracked to captain.
  • In Boys Do Tankary, the teenage boys vary in ranks, from a Warrant Officer to a Major, none of which they seem old enough for, even considering that Vincent, who has the rank of Major, was forcibly enlisted into the army at the age of six.
  • In Chapter 75 of BlazBlue Alternative: Remnant, Tsubaki Yayoi becomes a member of the Ace Ops, an elite military unit comprised of the best among Atlas' graduates, despite the fact that she's still in her late teens and hasn't even finished her first year at any Huntsman Academy yet. According to Ironwood, the reasons for him giving her the position stem from her combat prowess displayed during the Fall of Vale, him wanting to have her weapon (the Izayoi) under his direct command, and his need for people who will be unquestioningly loyal to him.
  • In The Weaver Option, Taylor is 16 years old (too young to enlist at all outside of Death Worlds and Fortress Worlds) when she becomes Major of the Imperial Guard unit she just joined. A few months later she becomes Acting Colonel in the course of the Battle of the Death Star after the Colonel is killed, and the decorations she earns after the fight promote her to Major General first and later to General. After seven years as Governor of Nyx, she retakes her General position and leads a fleet and army in the Battles of Pavia and Commorragh, which grant her another decoration that promotes her to Lady General, which is just two or three steps down from the highest echelon of the Guard. Definitely a case of too young, but not of too incompetent.
  • Parodied in With Friends Like These where a Parody Sue claims to be a Lieutenant Colonel (of a military branch that doesn't exist) at eighteen, on top of having three PhDs. Once Suu destroys his Plot Armor, Motoko swiftly decapitates him and they bury his body out in the woods.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Heartbreak Ridge: Tom Highway (Clint Eastwood) is a Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) in the US Marine Corps, which is more than plausible given his age and how long he's been in, both of which are lampshaded throughout the film. However, given his conduct, it's hard to believe that was allowed to stay in to close to mandatory retirement and not forced into retirement, if not court martialed and discharged from the Corps. In the film, in addition to showing little respect for the rank and authority of his superiors, he's shown being arrested twice for drunk and disorderly conduct, and both the judge and his CO in the beginning of the film mention that it's happened multiple times before. Justification? Being a living recipient of the Medal of Honor actually can plausibly excuse a hell of a lot in the military.
  • Top Gun: Tom Cruise's character, Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell. The stunts he pulls during training make it a miracle he even gets to fly in combat, let alone not be demoted. It's supposed to show that he's just that good.
    • In Top Gun: Maverick after 34 years Maverick is a captain who is only kept on due to Iceman's protection who by then is the commander of the Pacific Fleet, and his insane qualifications including the only active pilot who has dogfight experience. Even without the reckless stunts he still pulls, the fact that he hadn't made it past Captain after 34 years would have removed him from the Navy by this point due to the US Military's "Up or Out" (soldiers who are passed over for promotion too many times are discharged to free up their slot for a younger soldier to fill, to prevent people who have been promoted beyond their competence from blocking the careers of up-and-comers by their mere existence) policy.
  • Star Trek (2009) ran into this in its dual role as an Everyone Meets Everyone story and an origin story for James T. Kirk. We see Kirk join Star Fleet, and in almost no time he's captain of the Enterprise. At the start of the film he's outranked by all of the characters we know as his crew (all of whom had actual jobs and positions); he's still a cadet in training. The plot is basically built to justify this: Starfleet loses droves of experienced personnel, and Kirk receives two field promotions in the resulting crisis. By the second film, however, we discover that Starfleet simply let the up-jumped cadet continue captaining their flagship... until he breaks the rules one-too-many times, and gets (temporarily) removed. Only Pike's intervention kept him in the general chain of command. It is worth noting that most of Kirk's character arc in the second film involves learning that while being lucky is all well and good, but being level-headed and respectful of the lives under his command is more reliable and appropriate for the captain of the flagship.
  • Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen: Chief Master Sergeant Epps jumps from Technical Sergeant (E6) to Chief Master Sergeant (E9) in two years, a rank which often bumps a soldier out of field duty, and with a promotion time frame between those two positions closer to 10 years.
  • Private Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger is promoted directly to captain in the U.S. Army after the Super-Soldier testing project is shut down. This is entirely a political appointment; he needs to be a captain because "Captain America" is a propaganda symbol and an ad for war bonds. Also, "Private America" sounds less like a superhero and more like something else. In fact, he gets slapped down the time or two he actually tries to use his rank in the first half of the movie. He uses it as a Badass Boast during his first rescue, stating that he was Captain America and had punched out Hitler several times (he only did so on the staged shows). After his rescue of the men from the Hydra weapons factory, he earned the respect of the men and seems to have been formally recognized as a Captain, even being given his own commando unit (given that he is a one-man army and had single-handedly saved 2-3 companies worth of soldiers on his first "mission", exceptions were to be made).
  • Hopper in Battleship is a naval lieutenant and yet he is insanely brash, often insubordinate and does not have even a drop of his men's respect. For most people who have actually served in the military, it's a surprise that he even finished his basic training let alone got commissioned as an officer. At least the admiral has finally had enough of this and tells him that this training exercise will be his last. It is also lampshaded in the movie. When people hear Hopper's now in charge, their reaction runs from This Is Gonna Suck to "Oh, Crap! we are all gonna die!"
  • Part of the satire in Starship Troopers is the fact that Rico rockets up the ranks because his superior officers keep dying. He's a Private at the start of the mission on Planet P, then gets promoted to Corporal, then acting Sergeant, and finally Lieutenant all within the span of a day. "Fresh meat for the grinder" indeed. Carmen and Zander are watch officers within a year of their joining the fleet. Carl is the only one who seems suited to his rank (Colonel) after going through Military Intelligence training, though his young age still stands out among the older Psi-Corps officers. (Perhaps Psi-Corps rank is mostly ability-based.)
  • The Star Wars series really suffers from this.
    • Almost immediately after joining the Rebel Alliance, Luke is made a fighter pilot despite almost zero combat experience (this was explicitly his reward for saving Leia and the plans plus one of Red Squadron's pilots was out sick), by the time of The Empire Strikes Back he's a commander, and a general a year after Return of the Jedi in Legends (in the current canon he never made that rank); not bad for someone who's canonically 25 by the time of Return of the Jedi (though it does help that he's a Jedi and has his father's Ace Pilot skills). Plus he achived one the Rebellion's greatest victories by destroying the Death Star.
    • Meanwhile Han is first a captain and then a general in the same amount of time, despite not officially joining the Rebellion until Return of the Jedi, and spending the period between Empire and Jedi in carbonite. His initial rank is likely because he's the captain of the Millennium Falcon; it makes sense that the chronically under-equipped Rebellion would want to reward anybody who brings a battle-worthy starship with them when joining. But why he was both immediately promoted and switched from a naval to army rank is unclear. Lando also gets made a general shortly after joining the Rebellion himself (though mention is made of him having previous command experience and we met him while he was profitably running a city of tens of thousands, which might explain why he was given the rank). It gets really silly during the Endor mission, where General Solo commands a squad of around ten people, including Luke (a commander) and Leia, whose rank is never really defined, but appears to be somewhere between a political leader and a flag officer. At the very least Lando's mission (leading the assault on the Death Star II) was appropriate to his rank.
    • The Rebel Alliance does have the excuse of being massively outnumbered and outgunned by Empire so it's more than likely that people who prove they can get the job done are swiftly promoted because they are needed. They don't really have the luxury to play with regulations in a battle for the galaxy they could very well lose.
    • The prequel trilogy is much the same: the Jedi are all generals of the Clone Army, but inevitably end up fighting on the field. They clearly believe in leading from the front in a galaxy far, far away. What makes it worse is that the apprentices are given the rank of Commander, but are often shown to outrank pretty much everyone but a higher ranking Jedi (up to and including admirals). In The Clone Wars series Anakin's 14 year old apprentice Ahsoka was shown to lead several battles personally, and the results varied from strategic genius to getting her own men killed in over-enthusiatic attacks (occasionally in the same episode). Fridge Brilliance when you remember that it was set up by Palpatine, for whom chaos and bad leadership were actually plusses, given his endgame. No matter how bad a general a Jedi might be, there's no risk of them losing the war because Palpatine is Running Both Sides and arranges to make sure neither side can "win" prematurely, while in the meantime any Jedi who get themselves killed via tactical blunders will be a bonus for him.
  • The Dark Knight. Jim Gordon is promoted from Lieutenant to Police Commissioner literally overnight but still rushes out and takes personal command of emergencies when he should be delegating those responsibilities. The promotion is justified in that the top job in departments similar in size to the GCPD is actually a political appointment, and one doesn't necessarily have to have come up through the ranks. It's also heavily implied that Gordon is one of the few in the GCPD who isn't a Dirty Cop, and thus he can't trust anyone else.
  • One of the criticisms leveled at A Bridge Too Far at the time of its release was that Ryan O'Neal was far too young for the rank he was meant to be. In fact, O'Neal was actually older in reality than Brigadier General James Gavin was at the time of the events portrayed.
  • Commander Krill in Under Siege is a mix of type IV-V, harassing and provoking crew members he doesn't like for no real reason, often in ways that blatantly violate Navy regulations. To be fair, Captain Adams had noticed his XO's instability, and after the terrorists take the Missouri, they find he had prepared a performance review for Krill that would have torpedoed Krill's career over that had Adams lived to reach San Francisco and file it.
  • The entire Philippine military in the historical movies Heneral Luna and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is filled with these, largely because it was hurriedly created as an ad-hoc rebel army fighting first the Spanish and then the American colonisers. General Jose Alejandrino in the second movie discusses how he doesn't think there is a single proper soldier in the ranks, bar the first film's General Antonio Luna who actually has a military education and knows what he's doingnote , as they're either political appointees or capable but generally out of their league. For example, General Gregorio Del Pilar in the sequel has his rank at the age of 24 and is given command over an entire province with his detractors saying that this appointment is because he's the president's loyal attack dog. (In Real Life the Revolutionary Army had even younger generals—Manuel Tinio was promoted to that at 20, and still he survived the entire Revolution and Philippine-American War and lived far longer than del Pilar.)
  • In Project Moonbase, Colonel Briteis is a mix of III and V, showing no real leadership skills and totally unrespected by officers both above and below her. She was a Captain who got promoted three grades in one jump for political reasons after completing a high profile mission, and the fact that she wasn't ready for the extra authority shows.
  • The Police Academy films have this happen in law enforcement with pretty much the entire cast. The protagonist cops are generally type II, with Tackleberry arguably being type IV (and Lassard a more harmless type IV with his age-induced senility), while the antagonist cops (Proctor, Mauser and Harris) are a mixture of III and V.
  • In Justice League (2017), when Barry Allen presents his (fake) ID to the guards at the Kryptonian ship, the disparity between his looks and the rank on the ID (Air Force Master Seargant) cause them to check the ID more closely. Luckily, Cyborg is able to hack the system and validate it before it's flagged.

  • The Doc Savage novels. Four of Doc's aides had high military rank during World War I: Major, Lt-Colonel, Colonel and Brigadier General. Given how late the US entered the war, it seems unlikely that they could have achieved these ranks if they enlisted when the US entered the war. Fanon, as used by Philip Jose Farmer in his "biography" of Doc Savage, has them enlisting in other nations armies at the start of the war and transferring to the US Army when the US joined. Even then, Ham's Brigadier Generalship is stretching credibility.
  • Footfall, a Larry Niven-Jerry Pournelle novel, features a female Army officer who goes from being a Captain (a rank attainable at a relatively young age; the character is introduced when she is only 28 years old) to being a Lieutenant Colonel within the space of three years time. The subversion comes from the fact that she's directly promoted, twice, by the President of the United States, who as Commander in Chief of all American military forces has the right to promote whoever he wants any time he wants for any reason he cares to use.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • State Sec Citizen Brigadier General Dennis Tresca was a mere Corporal before the revolution. Somewhat justified by the Klingon Promotion-type side-effects of the post-coup purge of the secret police. In fact, it's repeatedly mentioned that the Havenite military is lacking in personnel with the experience normally required for the higher ranks, but they're forced to promote anyway as they need someone to fill those slots. Despite smaller losses, Manticorans also had to resort to rapid promotions during the war, especially given that they have a much smaller population and thus manpower reserves.
    • It's also mentioned that Havenites don't have experience in the lower ranks, leading to officers carrying out tasks that the Manticorans have Petty Officers normally carrying out (this was the case in the Cold War era Soviet Navy, not because of lack of experience but because of specificity of authority levels; USN sailors had broad authority at every level while Soviet sailors got their jobs and did them. This resulted in a system that looked strange to American observers but worked very efficiently in the Soviet Navy). Thus leading to competent officers having to do their own jobs, someone else's job, and likely get promoted to a position they aren't qualified for. And then shot by State Sec. Note that because this is a "prolong" society, where the average life expectancy for most humans is about 250-300 years, normal peacetime promotions tend to be slow. Honor herself attained List Captain rank at 42note , and it was explicitly said to be because of the rapid expansion of the Royal Manticoran Navy in preparation to the First Havenite War, as well as including promotion for valor under fire. In the neutral nations, such as Solarian League, an officer might expect to stay in a grade for decades on end.
    • The short story A Ship Named Francis is about a ship whose entire crew is this. Massive manpower expansions due to a war resulted in rapid promotion to many of the people who were already in the Navy, some of them to people who didn't deserve them. The Grayson Navy then dealt with this by transferring these people, who are a mix of types I-IV, to the Francis S Mueller, a cruiser which is deliberately never given any important assignments. The crew refer to the ship among themselves as Siberia. The whole thing is extremely silly and ridiculous, but is justified by the story being an explicit parody of Irresponsible Captain Tylor, and being written by John Ringo.
  • Catch-22 had Major Major Major Major (Rank, first name, middle name, last name). When he enlisted, he was instantly promoted to Major by "an IBM machine with a sense of humor almost as keen as his father's." Major can never go up or down in rank because the Almighty Janitor Ex-PFC Wintergreen thinks it's funny. In more general terms, pretty much every officer in the book is too incompetent and/or crazy to be suited for their given rank, and most of the enlisted aren't much better.
  • A huge example occurs in the Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars novelization, where Private Vega is promoted to Sergeant on his first day out of boot camp, over other, longer-serving, more experienced troops, due to a combination of nepotism and idiot luck. His absurdly fast-tracked promotions continue throughout the book until he reaches the rank of Captain at the end of several months. Vega thus combines being too young (he's still in his early teens) and incompetence (the most decisive order he ever manages to give is to charge), with an added bonus of being completely undertrained for his rank. Vega was afraid it'd be the opposite of nepotism, due to his relative being the drug-addicted Nod General Vega. His first promotion was due to luck (he randomly happened to see a heat signature of a weapon aimed at his squad from a vent) and skills he gained prior to enlisting (shooting bottles on a farm). His immediate superior even tells him he argued against giving him a promotion because he didn't earn it on merit but was overruled, as this promotion is mostly for publicity. The cancelled tactical shooter Tiberium was supposed to put the player in Vega's shoes.
  • Discussed in Orphanage. Jason Wander leads a strike team to one of Jupiter's moons. He is quickly field promoted to general-on-the-ground due to the insane casualty rate. Everyone there including him expect him to be demoted when the battle ends, however he remains a general (at only 19!) because as the "savior of the human race" the brass decided he's more useful as a symbol than a soldier- although he still has plenty of infantry life ahead of himself.
  • In Simon Scarow's Eagle Series of novels about the Roman Army, the two heroes are a hard-bitten centurion called Macro, who has risen to officer rank purely through merit and experience. And Quintus Licinius Cato, a youth who has grown up as an emancipated slave in the Emperor's palace. Macro is told by the imperial legate Vespasian that like it or not, Cato is on an unprecedented accelerated promotion through ther legion's ranks. He must, therefore, act as mentor to a young man who goes from recruit to Legionary to the junior officer rank of Optio in an incredibly short time, assisted by Vespasian's patronage. At first a man with no discernible military skills, Cato grows through the books into a very capable officer and soon outranks his friend Macro. And the manipulative future emperor Vespasian guards them and steers their missions for reasons all of his own...
  • Ciaphas Cain notes that Colonel Kasteen and her officer corps are generally very young and inexperienced to be holding their rank and position. Justified because everyone more qualified or senior than them had been eaten by Tyranids, and the Imperium almost always promotes unit commanders from within the ranks rather than transferring new officers in from other units.
  • Late in Ender's Game, the title Ender is promoted from the ostensible rank of Cadet straight to Admiral at the age of twelve. The justification for this is the whole point of the book: by this point he has already been the de facto commander of Earth's entire space fleet for some time; once the war is over, the promotion is largely political, and he very rarely pulls rank.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • In the backstory, Piotr Vorkosigan made full General in his early twenties. There was a war going on at the time, and the Emperor wasn't able to give him more substantial rewards for his services like supplies or reinforcements. Despite this, Piotr proved himself a Four-Star Badass, and kept that reputation well into his seventies, despite the nature of war on Barrayar evolving from horse cavalry tactics all the way into the space age over the course of his life.
    • Inverted with the head of Imperial Security through most of the series. It's not technically a military post — the Emperor points out once that while it has traditionally been held by a serving officer, there is no law that prevents him appointing a civilian — but it wields enormous power. When Simon Illyan takes the reigns, he is reluctant to promote himself above his predecessor, the legendary Captain Negri (who never bothered acquiring higher rank because he didn't need it to make people understand how important he was), and thus serves as a Captain for his entire career, while routinely tackling duties that are vital to the continued survival of Barrayar and commanding a force of thousands. He is drawing a Vice-Admiral's pay by the time of his retirement, though.
    • Had Lieutenant Miles Vorkosigan not killed his ImpSec career himself with that fake report, he would've become its head, as Illyan was already contemplating retirement and has been consciously grooming Miles as a successor all that time. So instead the job ends up going to someone who had already achieved flag rank as one of Ilyan's department heads, breaking the tradition of ostensibly underranked intelligence chiefs.
  • In the Oz books, it's clear that nobody in Oz really understands the point of the military command structure. The third book depicts an army with something like 50 officers and one enlisted man, where the only duty of the officers at any given level is to listen to the orders given to them by the officers in the level above them and repeat them to the officers at the level below, until they finally reach the one man who does any actual fighting.
  • Starship Troopers: When Captain Blackstone, due to heavy attrition among officers, is forced to give 3rd Lieutenant Juan Rico (whose official job is to stay out of the way and try to learn something) a platoon command, he places his fleet sergeant as Rico's platoon sergeant (a position well below his pay grade), hoping that he can compensate for the inexperience of the platoon CO with an experienced XO.
  • Over the course of The Shadow Campaigns (less than two years in-story), Winter Ihernglass has gone from Ranker (common trooper) to Division General (equivalent to an RL Brigadier) through a combination of luck, skill, and having the above be noticed by the greatest general of the age, despite only being in her early twenties. Despite the extremely rapid promotions, she's only lost one battle, which was against the greatest general of the previous generation.
  • In the third Codex Alera book, Tavi, in his persona as Scipio Rufus, ends up commanding the First Aleran Legion in his early twenties despite having no legion experience beyond a few months as a junior quartermaster after an assassination attempt kills or cripples every other officer in the legion. He then proceeds to hold onto that command for several years by virtue of sheer baddassery.
  • Kris Longknife:
    • Kris made full Admiral at thirty-four. After jumping from Lt. Commander clear to Vice Admiral at twenty-nine. The truly absurd number of awards for valor she'd received by then played a major part in this (and most of those were acting ranks that she developed the clout to have made permanent). Also there's a strong political motivation since she's a "princess" and her great-grandfather is the king (it's an Elective Monarchy but he's suggested to be grooming her as his successor). She really is that good, but she sometimes comes in for grief from officers who followed a more conventional career path.
    • In the Spin-Off series, Kris's rival-turned-friend Vicky Peterwald is field-promoted from lieutenant junior grade all the way up to vice admiral, since she's in charge of one of the sides in a Civil War against her in-laws. To her credit, even she thinks this is utterly bonkers, and she defers detailed battlefield command of her forces to lower-ranked admirals because she mostly lacks the experience to go with the rank (a realization aided by the fact that her older brother was given command of a task force for political reasons, failed to understand that he didn't have the experience to actually command it, and promptly got himself killed as a result). In Dominator she actually refuses yet another promotion to five-star (she's a de facto head of state at that point, and heads of state have traditionally taken on the highest rank in their militaries).
  • Aeon 14: Discussed in the fan-written Short Story "Know Thy Enemy". Admiral Sini Laaksonen of the AST Space Force describes her opposite number from the Bollam's World Space Force, the scenery-chomping Admiral Senya, "arrogant, capricious, and well-connected in the system," and believes Senya wouldn't have gotten above lieutenant commander were she serving in the AST instead.
  • The entire command staff of the 15th Legion in A Practical Guide to Evil consists of fresh graduates from the War College. This is because their CO, Catherine, is the Squire, and the hand-picked protege of Black Knight, the most accomplished military leader in the Empire. Cat then picked her XO and staff officers from people whose abilities she knew and trusted from her time at the College. Within a year they've won three major battles, and proven that they deserve their rank.
  • In The Lost Fleet, John Geary is promoted directly from captain to fleet admiral for his success in bringing the titular fleet home from deep within enemy space. His age is uncertain, but he's probably somewhere in his mid-thirties, since he was a commander before winding up in cryosleep for a century and being "posthumously" promoted to captain. Notably, Geary doesn't want the rank for both professional reasons (he doesn't feel that he's accumulated the necessary knowledge and experience) and personal reasons (he's fallen in love with his flag captain and being made a fleet admiral seriously interferes with their already complicated relationship). He ultimately gets the government to agree to make it a temporary promotion, though they immediately kick him back up to admiral in the next book.
  • The titular character of The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a frighteningly competent twelve-year-old girl (whose secretly been Reincarnate in Another World with all her past life's memories as an adult man) holding down a battalion command in a magitech World War One. Ironically, she's desperately trying to get Kicked Upstairs and/or Reassigned to Antarctica so she can stay out of the line of fire, but her competence keeps impressing her superiors.
  • Black Tide Rising:
    • A side effect of most of the US military ending up either dead, infected, or cut off from any chain of command by the Zombie Apocalypse is that many soldiers/sailors/Marines end up in positions of authority far beyond what their rank nominally has. For example, the highest-ranked known surviving Coast Guard officer is a Lieutenant, and the de facto Joint Chiefs of Staff (a body normally composed only of 4-star officers) are a bunch of Colonel-equivalents chaired by a Brigadier General.
    • And then there's the matter of Sophia and Faith Smith, who as part of the formalization of Wolf Squadron's alliance with what's left of the actual military are inducted as a Navy Ensign and Marine Lieutenant respectfully. To be fair, they are both highly skilled at their duties (especially combat, in Faith's case), but that doesn't change the fact that they're only 15 and 13 years old, and normally wouldn't even be able to enlist, much less be officers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • F Troop: In one episode, the Hekawi Indian chief is disguised as a trooper so that he can be taken to the fort and treated by the Army dentist. A visiting general takes a liking to "Private Howe" and quickly promotes him through the ranks all the way to Captain!
    • One could argue that everyone at Fort Courage is too incompetent for their given rank. Including the privates.
  • Frank Burns of M*A*S*H is type III and V, a Major (later promoted to Lt Colonel) despite being terrible at his job and hated by virtually everyone. The only reason why Hawkeye, Trapper and Hunnicut don't qualify as a type II is because Army regs have Captain be the starting rank of all fully trained doctors (so they have the authority to make the enlisted and junior officers who make up the lion's share of their patients listen to them on health-related matters), and thus they are actually at the lowest possible rank they can legally hold. Were they anything other than surgeons in a hospital unit, they'd have never made O-3.
  • The Phil Silvers Show: Sergeant Ernie Bilko is a Master Sergeant, which is plausible according to his age and responsibilities, but the fact he keeps this rank without being demoted because of his antics borders on divine intervention.
  • Private Benjamin (1981) had an episode where Judy was mistakenly promoted to Major, then to Brigadier General, just in time for a war games exercise.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Enterprise: Tucker is chief engineer of the Enterprise, not just the flagship but the most advanced human starship of the period. Canonically, he cannot do basic algebra as revealed in the episode "Shuttlepod One".
    • In Star Trek, Picard beats Kirk and becomes captain at 28 after Captain Ruhalter of the Stargazer is killed in battle. Although, in the Star Trek: Stargazer novels, it's clear his promotion is opposed by Admiral McAteer, who clearly sees Picard as too young to be in command but can't override another admiral's promotion without cause. That said, the unusual circumstances of his promotion, as well as the eventual fate of the Stargazer, may well have put his career into something of a holding pattern, as he's canonically 60 when he takes command of the Enterprise, still a Captain (though on the flip side, the Enterprise is still the flagship and he's basically a half-step below Admiral at that point). The funny thing is that McAteer's most defining character trait is his ambition. He is even disgusted with the message of Macbeth that ambition is evil for that same purpose. Yet he somehow feels that this doesn't matter in Picard's case.
    • Wesley Crusher is made an acting officer and frequently manned stations both on the bridge and in main engineering at the age of 15. By the third season, Picard actually gives him a field commission. One can only imagine how much this pissed off the career Starfleet officers and enlisted personnel serving aboard Enterprise who didn't happen to be main characters.
    • Inverted on Star Trek: Voyager, which has an example of an underranked soldier, specifically Ensign Harry Kim. If nothing else, he should have gotten an automatic promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade at about the midpoint of season two. He hangs a lampshade on this in one of the later seasons, telling Janeway that if not for Voyager's special circumstances he'd be at least a Lieutenant, and possibly a Lieutenant Commander. In fact, two other characters did get promotions during the series. The meta reason is that showrunners Berman and Braga were determined to maintain Kim as an Ensign Newbie character regardless of whether it made sense or not.
  • In Stargate Universe, Marine Master Sergeant Ronald Greer is 20 — if he signed up on his eighteenth birthday, he's still fourteen years too young, as the Marines require a Master Sergeant to have at least 16 years' service.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Late in the show, Cameron Mitchell is technically old enough for his, but at his age, he would need to have joined at 18 and then been promoted as soon as he was eligible every time, and even then, some of them would have to be field promotions, making it really unlikely. He is selected to command the pre-eminent SG team, so the implication is he's just that good. Got lampshaded once with a throwaway joke about Mitchell being O'Neill's son via Time Travel, with explicit nepotism being responsible for his advancement. The people telling him this were (probably) just messing with him.
    • On the DVD there is mention of an episode featuring the actual Air Force chief of staff at the time of the show's filming. Richard Dean Anderson asked him if he had colonels as disruptive and irreverent as his character, Jack O'Neill. The man's reply? "Nah, I have worse". So much for disruptiveness being an obstacle to promotion.
    • Enforced aversion with General Hammond. He was initially going to be a bit of a tyrant, but the show's Pentagon advisers pointed out to the writers that he would never have made general if he hadn't earned his underlings' respect. Hence, he briefly comes off as a "my way or the highway" Jerkass prepared to nuke an inhabited planet... before cooling down enough to have second thoughts and coming to Jack to ask for another option.
  • General Melchett from Blackadder Goes Forth is grossly incompetent, being a deliberate example of the "lions led by donkeys" opinion of the British forces in World War I. The others are probably at their correct ranks: Captain Darling is a competent soldier, Baldrick is a private and therefore cannot be any lower ranked, and Upper-Class Twit George probably joined as a lieutenant and was never promoted. Blackadder, having been an officer for over 15 years by 1917, should have been a major and not captain by seniority alone, though he could still have commanded a company in the trenches. In the last episode, we learn that Sergeant Blackadder, the Hero of Mboto Gorge (where we killed all the peace-loving pygmies and stole all their fruit), wasn't promoted to officer until the war. There is some Truth in Television with this, as many of the high-ranking officers of World War I were educated in 19th century tactics, and still believed that bayonet charges would win battles, often sending soldiers charging to their deaths from machine gun fire by the thousands.
  • Battlestar Galactica (1978): Lieutenant Zac is gee-whiz young and inexperienced, and golly, he's going on his first Viper patrol, ever, with Big Brother Captain Apollo! He comes off as about 19, although Rick Springfield was actually about 29 at the time. If he's that young and inexperienced, even in war, at his first patrol he should have been one or two ranks lower in grade... At least if the Colonial space forces actually have a lower rank for commissioned officers with flight status; in some real-life militaries the rank of Lieutenant j/g or Ensign is only given to non-pilot aircrew or ground support personnel, at least in peacetime. The "if they have a lower rank" caveat is important, as Galactica has never had a rank system which aligns with any Real Life western military (for instance, at least in the US military, a Colonel would almost never work for a Commander, as Colonel is an O-6 rank, and Commander is an O-5 rank in a totally different service branch). That said, in all US armed services except the Navy and Coast Guard, Lieutenant (more specifically: Second Lieutenant) is literally the lowest rank a commissioned officer can hold, being equivalent to an Ensign.
  • The A-Team: Real Vietnam-era 12-man A-teams were commanded by captains, not full Colonels like Hannibal Smith.
  • Defiance has the genocidal General Ripper, Rahm Tak, who despite his rank only commands a platoon (at best) of Votanis Collective Doom Troops with a couple armored cars for support. However, his pogroms and obvious degrading sanity have led the VC to declare him rogue.
  • Red Dwarf inverted this with Rimmer, who, after 15 years of service, has managed to move from the absolutely lowest rank on the ship to the second-lowest. However, from his mother's perspective, the trope would appear to be played straight, since she addresses him in a letter as "Rear Admiral Lieutenant General Rimmer". Apparently every time he took an exam, he told her he passed. He admits to Lister that it's getting embarrassing, since he should be "Commander in Chief of the whole universe" by now.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Captain Stently spent nine years in police academy (which is supposed to be a six month program) and essentially bumbled his way through the ranks all the way to captain, which he earned by going to a drug bust instead of a dermatology appointment and surprising the kingpin so bad that he shot himself. He's aware of his own incompetence and inexperience, and is content to let the Nine Nine do whatever they feel is most important.
  • The Orville: Xelayans are a Heavyworlder species who possess Super-Strength, but because they are also a Proud Scholar Race they seldom join the Union Fleet. As such, on those rare occasions when a Xelayan does enlist they tend to end up being quickly overpromoted, as their physical capabilities make them so effective as soldiers regardless of competence in other areas. The Orville's first security chief Lt. Alara is in her early twenties and has been in the Fleet for only a few years, but has a rank and job more appropriate for someone with at least ten more years experience, something she is keenly aware of and insecure about. Her replacement Lt. Talla is noticeably older, more experienced and more sure of herself.

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

    Video Games 
  • Air Force Delta Strike features Lilia, the 14 year old Major. It is handwaved by a few throw-away lines early in the game.
  • BlazBlue has several ranking soldiers within the NOL among its cast, but four of the named officers have no business being in their given posts were it not for the villainous conspiracy that put them there.
    • Noel Vermillion is somewhat neurotic for her rank in the NOL, although it's stated to be a result of a combination of Asskicking Leads to Leadership and that as a member of the Absurdly Powerful Student Council she was practically guaranteed a reasonable rank. There's also the fact that Noel is Mu-12, and due to her importance got a higher rank than she really deserved (since Hazama would need a reason to get her where he needs her).
    • Also as it turns out, even Jin Kisaragi is also one. He didn't do much during the Ikaruga War(it really only took him two days to "end" the war), as he even notes that there were probably several people who could have ended the war as well due to how easy it was. The ending of the war itself was more of a setup that the NOL used as a way to get rid of the old regime and established their new one. Since Jin was the person they used for the purpose to end the war, he was then hailed as a hero and got tons of rank ups. This gave the NOL a figurehead hero to parade with their new order and allowed for Hazama to manipulate him easier. Personally, Jin felt completely empty and disliked the notion very much.
    • Chronophantasma suggests that Major Tsubaki Yayoi is going to be following in Jin's footsteps. A mere First Lieutenant back in Continuum Shift, not only is Tsubaki younger and less accustomed to high rank than Jin, she also has a small number of neuroses regarding ex-Major Jin that Terumi helped instill and/or exploited for his own machinations. There's also the fact that she's a Brainwashed and Crazy loyalist, and yet she was "promoted" due to her "exploits" with Ragna the Bloodedge (read: Terumi needs a new figurehead hero, Makoto's gone rogue, and Noel and Jin defected with her).
    • Lastly, we have Hazama himself, hard as that is to believe. His utter disrespect for his supposed "superiors" is because he (or rather, Yuuki Terumi) is the one who founded the NOL in the first place, and yet this does not excuse either the batshit insanity or the many Intelligence faux pas he commits throughout the story, whether it's leaking vital details, gross mismanagement of his subordinates, not conducting parallel investigations during an important mission, or tunnel-visioning towards a target completely unrelated to said mission. It shows how badly he fails to adapt to reality when he has to be reminded how dangerous his own subordinate can be to his plans by that same subordinate.
  • Bloons TD 6 has Captain Churchill, who despite his title lacks any kind of command over other soldiers and fights by himself with a tank. This is in jarring contrast to Admiral Brickell from the same game, who in fact does have command over other ships.
  • Final Fantasy VI: Celes Chere is a General in the Imperial Army, despite being only eighteen years old. Then again, the Empire also made Kefka a General...
  • Halo:.
    • Miranda Keyes is a borderline case with her rank of Lieutenant-Commander, then later Commander. She is competent, she does her job to the letter, the soldiers under her trust her explicitly, and she always keeps a level head on her shoulders. At the time of her death, she was twenty-seven years old. It should be noted that she is a Commander during a war where the UNSC has been repeatedly getting slaughtered in fleet engagements; she has her rank because not only is she competent, but most of the officers with more experience than her are dead.
    • Halo: Reach: Several of NOBLE Team's members, like Carter and Kat, hold high ranks and are even younger (Kat being an Lt. Commander at 22, Carter being a Commander at 32), but it's justified because they've been soldiers since they were children. It's also mentioned via Word of God that this is primarily to give them command over any necessary conventional forces in the event of a crisis (and to prevent any "Oscar Sierra light-switch" from interfering with their missions). This policy is not dissimilar to some Real Life special forces units.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Ocelot is a Major. At 19 years old. If one charitably assumes that he rose in rank in the least amount of time required to hold said rank, he would have enlisted at around 4 years old. Several characters do express surprise at this rank, so it's not a simple mistake. Plus, he has been a soldier/spy since he was a child. And being the son of The Boss probably helped.
    • Also, as far as the Soviet government knows he's a defected American agent. His unlikely rank might be part of his cover-up from the Russian side.
  • The Sims: It is possible for Sims on the "military" track to become a General after one day's work if one effectively manages motives and develops the requisite statistics. Then again, all the other career paths work this way. It's also possible to go from "Boot Camp" to "Elite trooper" as literally the second step in the career path.
  • League of Legends:
    • Swain became a ranked officer at a very early age (even though by all logic he should not have been accepted in the military at all due to being crippled). How he did it is a mystery, and contributes to his overall enigmatic status.
    • His archnemesis, Jarvan IV, is the single highest-ranked military officer in Demacia, despite being fairly young. One would think it's because he's the crown prince, but no, J4 earned his rank.
  • In Sol Survivor, you go from Lieutenant Second Grade all the way to Fleet Admiral over the course of the game which is only a few months in game. It's justified in that the War isn't going that well, there are always vacancies caused by death of the previous guy, and despite it all you have never lost a battle.
  • Star Trek Online: Exaggerated. Your rise from ensign to fleet admiral (or their factional equivalents, see below) canonically takes a total of eighteen months.
    • In the Starfleet tutorial you go from a junior ensign (a fresh Academy graduate in the revamped version) to captain of your own ship in one battle. Justified in that the entire senior crew is dead so you have seniority. You retain your command seeing as you managed to pull off a victory that more experienced officers couldn't have. You do not, however, get promoted to captain, just lieutenant (you get your own command, but it is a small, really old ship, so there's a certain logic in it). Captain is a mid-game rank, so there is a bit of work ahead before you actually become one. Downplayed with the other two factions: the Klingon Defense Force PC is introduced as second officer of a bird-of-prey (with a significantly more open-ended backstory) and takes command via Klingon Promotion (the Klingons have a much more Asskicking Leads to Leadership-based promotion system), and the Romulan PC is part of a rebel faction with a less formal command structure (and supplies their own ship).
    • Player Character rank is tied to Character Level and caps out at an OF-10 grade (fleet admiral) for Starfleet and the Romulan Republic at level 60 and an OF-9 grade (general) at level 55 with an honorary and very prestigious title (Dahar Master) at level 60 for the KDF. But apart from getting the ability to call in one other ship to help you out if your hull drops below 50%, there's no real difference from when you hit captain at level 30. You're still flying just one ship instead of commanding an organization, you regularly get ordered around by NPCs you outrank, and there isn't a single mission available that makes more sense for a flag officer to handle than a captain (for that matter a lot of the grinding side missions make more sense for enlisted personnel). Eventually an Admiralty system was added where you send out ships represented by tokens on missions almost purely so that there would be something recurring that does make more sense for admirals/generals than captains/commanders.
    • Inverted by Subcommander Kaol in the end-game: he is placed in charge of a joint alliance of the Federation, the Romulan Republic and the Klingon Empire on a critical mission to investigate the technologies of an ancient artefact (that also links to the Delta Quadrant) and neutralize a major and highly classified threat (Omega particles) created by the artefact, and co-ordinates the alliance forces in a major conflict with the Voth. But subcommander is an OF-5 grade (equivalent to a Starfleet commander), meaning a mere captain outranks him (and thus so does every single player character he interacts with, since the Dyson Sphere is restricted to level 50 and thus OF-8 characters and above).
    • Inverted again by Kagran, who leads the entire Alliance war-effort against the Iconians (in other words, he commands the combined military forces of the Federation, the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Republic as well as support from several other Alpha and Delta governments, in a life-and-death struggle for the survival of their peoples). He is a captain. Also played straight, as he turns out to be such a General Failure he's probably overpromoted for the rank he does hold.
    • Sidestepped by Jem'Hadar (whose captains start at level 60, Honored First), where the actual promotions stop at First (roughly equivalent to captain, and placed as such so your subordinates top out at Second) as per the Dominion giving higher command authority to Vorta who are outside the Jem'Hadar rank system. Every subsequent "rank" is simply an adjective appended to First to indicate respect for competence and experience. On the flip side they get hit with an unavoidable inversion — in normal circumstances Jem'Hadar Firsts do not actually get to command starships, instead passing on orders from a Vorta commander to the rest of the crew, but the Jem'Hadar PC gets to command a starship autonomously.
  • Inverted in Sword of the Stars. One trailer specifically shows a SolForce destroyer commanded by a Lieutenant. This is justified in the background material due to humanity still recovering from various wars and nuclear devastation, so the SolForce ranks are a bit thin to afford a Commander for each ship, especially since destroyers are fairly tiny by starship standards (30 meters in length — smaller than a Space Shuttle) and command a crew of a few dozen at most. Destroyers also drop like flies. The battlegroup in that trailer got wiped out in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, a destroyer still has enough firepower for Orbital Bombardment, killing millions if it's not stopped. So they put a WMD in the hands of a Lieutenant.
  • By the time the third game in the Mass Effect trilogy rolls around, pretty much everyone who's worked directly with Shepard has gained rank if they're in any chain of command, some quite significantly. Even Jack is a military instructor, despite being a confirmed terrorist. Completely justified though, because only the human military had even a handful of people believing Shepard and his/her crew right up until the Reapers starting wrecking everyone's shit, at which point the galaxy realized who they needed to be listening to. Plus, they all definitely have the merits to qualify for their various promotions.
    • By Mass Effect 3, depending on who survived Virmire, Staff Lieutenant Kaiden Alenko becomes a Major (equivalent to a Navy Captain in this universe) and Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams gains an officer's commission and is promoted to Lieutenant Commander. In the Alliance's military structure, this means Ashley is now the same rank as Shepard (who is never promoted in the series) and Kaidan now outranks Shepard, by two ranks, yet still takes Shepard's orders.
    • Garrus Vakarian holds an unspecified rank in the Turian Hierarchy but is saluted by Generals and advises the Primarch due to being one of a handful of people in the galaxy with actual experience vs Reapers. The meritocracy of the Turian Heirarchy was previously noted to allow for very rapid promotion and its implied that Garrus is very close to being the next Primarch.
    • By the third game, Tali'Zorah becomes one of five Admirals of the Quarian Migrant Fleet. She had been groomed toward the position previously held by her father well in advance.
  • If they survive the Fifth Blight, the protagonist of Dragon Age: Origins is promoted to the rank of Warden-Commander of Ferelden, the second highest rank in the Grey Wardens Order despite having joined the Order a mere year prior and being hinted as rather young in most origins. Justified by the act that the protagonist is one of the only two surviving Fereldan Grey Wardens, and the other one either doesn't want or cannot accept the job.
  • In the first Wing Commander game, the player character starts as a newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, and can potentially get promoted all the way to Lt Colonel over the course of the game and the two expansion packs (Maybe a year in-universe), along with getting an enormous number of medals, including the equivalent of two Medals of Honor. Despite this, the player never once gets authority over anyone other than his wingman (regardless of which pilot is higher ranked). The sequel has the character demoted to Captain for allowing his carrier to get destroyed, get stuck at that rank for ten years because of the stigma associated with the failure, and then jump three grades to full Colonel in one go after finally being exonerated, catching the traitor who stole the exonerating evidence, and then single-handedly winning a major victory over the course of three levels. This does not result in any change in the character's actual authority over the course of two more expansion packs and two sequels.
  • In Mercs of Boom, your mercenaries advance in rank with each level. The problem is, by the time they reach rank 12 (somewhere in the middle), they're generals. So you have a squad of 4-5 generals personally attacking enemy soldiers, mercs, mutants, and aliens, even though a general typically commands thousands of soldiers in Real Life. On the other hand, you're running a PMC company, so the ranks could be a mere formality and don't correspond to any military, especially since there are only two political entities left in the Crapsack World.
  • In XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2, XCOM operatives will start as rookie, advanced to squaddie, corporal, etc, and steadily progress until they're colonels, leading to having a squad of 6 colonels (who were rookies two months ago) engaged in close-range combat against the alien threat. They also show no leadership skills, as they follow the Commander's orders to a tee. In the expansion packs for both games, you can send out colonels for covert actions. In the first game at least, the "rookies" you get are (supposedly) the cream-of-the-crop from the most elite of the world's armies, explaining some of the rank absurdity.
  • In MechWarrior 2, your character goes from being a mechwarrior (the lowest warrior rank in Clan society) to potentially reach the rank of Galaxy Commander (the second highest, after Khan) over the course of the Refusal War, which happened in the span of about one year. Even though Asskicking Leads to Leadership in Clan society, your character's rank should have been capped at Star Captain due to lacking a Bloodname and never having the chance to compete for one during the game. And it usually takes several years of leading a Binary or Trinary as a Star Captain before one is judged worthy of competing for promotion to Star Colonel, and an even longer time before being promoted to Galaxy Commander. This is, however, justified due to the sheer devastation suffered by both Clans that participated in the Refusal War to their touman: several canon characters received similarly quick promotions in rank during the war.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama: Captain Zapp Brannigan is as incompetent and cowardly as they come, yet the general consensus among the populace is that he's a great hero. Like everything in Futurama this is of course Played for Laughs. He was suspended once and only once, and was only reinstated because the only witness able to testify against him wanted him out of her hair.
  • The Simpsons has had various examples over the years:
    • It's not explicitly stated, but in "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadassss Song", Skinner's commanding officer appears to be much too young to be a full colonel. Also, his proudest military action was securing a Kuwaiti department store.
    • While Homer is around the appropriate age to command an attack submarine, he has only been out of basic training for a week at most when he's asked to take the conn of the USS Jebediah in "Simpson Tide". Also, Moe, Apu, and Barny, despite having been in the Navy for the same length of time as Homer, are all wearing rate badges indicating that they are petty officers.note 
    • Lampshaded with "Admiral Baby". note 
  • General Iroh of The Legend of Korra is 36 years old and is the youngest general in United Forces history. Possibly justified due to 1) being Zuko's grandson 2) the United Forces have only existed for less than 70 years and 3) is extremely badass.
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: In one episode, Lifeline, Dial-tone and Shipwreck suddenly find themselves promoted to the rank of Colonel, outranking everyone except General Hawk. Predictably, the Joes are thrown into chaos with Lifeline turning them into more of a CASEVAC force than a fighting force, Shipwreck turning into The Neidermeyer and Dial-tone plagued by indecision. General Hawk returns, demotes all three back to their original rank and reveals that the whole thing was Cobra hacking into personnel records and sewing chaos.

    Real Life 
  • There are certain jobs in the US military that will grant someone initially joining advanced rank.
    • Among enlisted servicemembers, some can start at E-4. Such a person will usually be in a highly technical field (such as advanced medical or nuclear power). Typically, the person will attend basic training ("boot camp") with the rank of E-1 (recruit) along with all the others within the training platoon. This is so everyone going through boot camp is the same rank. However, upon graduation from basic, the person will be allowed to place the advanced rank on their uniform for graduation, and will receive a "catch-up" payment, which is equal to the amount the person would have received from day one, thereby the person does not lose any money.
    • Officers who obtained advanced degrees prior to joining the service, usually medical degrees or law degrees, will join as O-3s with the caveat that their authority is limited to their professional fields. In situations where their skills are desperately needed, such officers can often get away with anything short of rape and murder and not worry about punishment — which is why the denizens of the Swamp in M*A*S*H stayed out of trouble despite Burns and Houlihan's repeated attempts to get them court martialed.
    • The United States Marine Band and Air Force Band immediately promote new members to E-6 upon joining. This is in recognition that they are already experienced professionals who almost always hold a college degree in music (often from elite conservatories) before even being granted an audition. This is a rank that typically takes at least a decade to reach if you begin at E-1.note