Field Promotion

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A commanding officer—who may be in command now or may hold the correct rank for his position—sorely lacks in senior officers. Perhaps they're Trapped Behind Enemy Lines. Or communications are shot to hell. Or he's piecing together something resembling a unit out of the shattered remains of an army. Any suitable disaster to remove them will do.

He must brevet many juniors. Expect some of them to panic for at least a minute or two. May also inspire moments of grief because their predecessor is dead—hopefully, no matter how beloved he was, not Losing the Team Spirit.

If the brevet rank doesn't stick, it tends to be an advantage for future promotions. And it often does, because mortality weeded out the senior ranks, and because the jump is often not that great. There is often a ripple effect: brevet a captain to major; brevet a lieutenant to captain to replace him; brevet a sergeant to lieutenant to replace him; and finally, brevet a private to sergeant to replace him. Normally, under this trope, their existing ranks are not put out of order; the sergeant doesn't become the major over the head of a lieutenant, etc.

A slightly less chaotic situation may result in actual promotions as needed to fill the gaps.

Closely related to Closest Thing We Got, and in fact many stories that have Field Promotion also have that.

If you have no one left to promote you, You Are in Command Now instead.

Examples of Field Promotion include:


Anime[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In the Original Macross Anime series, Captain Gloval (old tough veteran of the unification wars) laments the inexperience of his crew when the newly rebuilt and untested superdimensional fortress comes under sudden attack from mysterious aliens at the start of the series.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The eponymous Sgt. Rock, of course, started out as a buck private, and while many of his actions were considered worthy of promotion, Easy Company's TO was apparently full. Until a certain battle, whereupon as fatalities accumulated, he was promoted to PFC, Corporal, and finally Sergeant in short order. Not how he would have preferred to earn his stripes, to say the least.
  • In the Judge Dredd series The Pit, the eponymous character promotes a cadet to full judge.
  • In Star Wars: Empire: To the Last Man an Imperial Army column gets surrounded by native warriors and faces destruction. As the casualties mount, General Ziering promotes Lieutenant Janek Sunber to Captain and eventually Commander. When Lt. Sunber manages to get back to headquarters the only other surviving officer refuses to verify his promotion and he gets bumped back down to Lieutenant due to the other officer being jealous of the man's favor with the general and refusing to verify just to spite him.

Fan Fiction[edit | hide]

  • In chapter 9 of Nightmare Symbiosis, M. Bison's personal transportation flies through a massive storm/Pillar of Light generated by Orochi. A pilot by the name of Stanton panics, which leads to Bison killing him. He turns to the next in the chain of command, a pilot named Amy Redding:

Bison: (jovial) Miss Redding, I am delighted to inform you of your promotion~ (cold) Do his job better than he did.

Film[edit | hide]

  • One of Darth Vader's trademarks in The Empire Strikes Back. In one scene, he chokes the idiotic Admiral Ozzel, and immediately addresses Captain Piett as Admiral Piett, putting him in command right then and there. And with the previous Admiral still choking in the background, there's a very tacit reminder of the consequences of messing up.
    • Meanwhile, the trap at Cloud City fails, but Vader's reaction is different—more disappointment and sadness than anger—so Piett goes on to be one of three Imperial characters to appear in more than one movie in the original trilogy.
  • Joss Whedon seems to have changed his mind on the subject a time or two, but there are hints in Serenity and its novelization that main character Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds got a brevet promotion up to Captain during the Battle of Serenity Valley. Certainly he was commanding as many men as a captain would by the end.
    • The series also did a very dark take on the more usual sort of Field Promotion. When Mal is trying to get some air support for himself and his men, he is told that the cover won't come without a Lieutenant's orders. Mal promptly walks over to the body of Lieutenant Baker, tears off the patch of his uniform with his authorization code, and hands it back to the person he was talking to, saying "Here, you're Lieutenant Baker. Congratulations on your promotion, now get us some air support!"
  • In the Canadian Passchendaele, about the bloody World War I battle of the same name, the senior commander of the Allied forces is forced to do this repeatedly as his immediate subordinate officers are being killed left and right by enemy fire.
  • Variation in Kingdom of Heaven: Balian actually knights every single soldier in Jerusalem right before the final battle. Which they lose, so it probably didn't help...
    • Truth in Television: The real Balian knighted sixty bourgeoisie (middle class) men because there were a grand total of two knights in the city. The film portrays him as being extremely generous knighting freemen and serf alike, mostly for the psychological boost. He wasn't trying to win the battle, he was hoping to hold out long enough for Saladin to negotiate instead of just trying to kill everybody.
  • The rebooted Star Trek film of 2009 gets most of the senior officers of the USS Enterprise—including two captains—into their billets in this way.
  • In the film version of Starship Troopers the protagonist's unit is all but destroyed during the initial invasion. Reforming afterward under a new commander, the protagonist is promoted not once but twice in one day, going straight from grunt to lieutenant and commander of the unit. All of this with only basic training. He then proceeds to hand out yet more field promotions, despite the fact that his most senior members have only have two actual experiences in the field. For info about how things happen in the book, see the Literature tab below.
  • In the movie When Trumpets Fade, set in the battle of the Hurtgen Forest in 1944, the main character starts the movie at the rank of PVT (E-2). Due to the extreme attrition (33,000 Americans were lost in the battle), he is involuntarily promoted to Sergeant (E-5) and made a squad leader on the promise that should he survive he will be evacuated for battle fatigue and given a Section-8 discharge. The evacuation and discharge never happens, and then due again to attrition and the mental breakdown of his platoon leader, he is involuntarily promoted to 2Lt (O-1). This is an example of Truth in Television, as the Battle for the Hurtgen Forest in reality lasted 5 months (the longest battle in US military history) and was enormously bloody with greater than 25% casualties suffered by American forces and many smaller units entirely annihilated. Men who entered the Forest in September 1944 as privates were almost guaranteed to leave at significantly higher rank if they survived until the battles conclusion in February 1945. Two entire US divisions, the 4th and 9th Infantry could not even use battle field promotions to replace all of the lost NCO's and officers, and were forced to withdraw from combat to rebuild.
  • In Patton, Patton does this during the Sicilian campaign when a local commander is directing his troops too slowly for his liking, promoting an executive officer to commanding officer. If he doesn't make it through in one hour, he's fired too.
  • In The Longest Day, BGen. Norman Cota (Robert Mitchum) finds that the highest ranking Army engineer on Omaha Beach is Sgt. John H. Fuller. He promotes him to Lieutenant and puts him in charge of demolishing a concrete barrier.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novels have several instances of this:
    • The series begins with the Valhallan 597th being pieced together from two regiments torn up in combat with Tyranids, with the rush of promotions that situation implies. Some regiments are worse off than others, though - mention is made of a Lieutenant promoted directly to colonel, presumably by default.
    • In Death Or Glory, he promotes a lieutenant and a sergeant to manage his ramshackle army, and two artisans are assigned to help their only engineer.
      • The book also notes that these promotions would have to be finalized by the actual army since Cain as a Commissar is not inside the chain of command. However, denying promotions handed out by a Commissar would likely bring the attention of the Commissariat which no one really wants...
    • In Cain's Last Stand, he brevets the commissars in training as commissars. At the end, he ensures that all the survivors actually hold that rank.
  • Starship Troopers Including one bit where Juan's captain explains why you never promote on the way back to base (higher headquarters will grab them), when he asks for multiple promotions in his (temporary) platoon.
      • Also subverted, since Rico is breveted from lance-corporal/Assistant Squad leader to sergeant/Assistant Section Leader (skipping corporal/squad leader). The officer in charge feels that it makes more sense to leave as many squads as possible with their squad leaders, since the MI mostly operates by squad, and things have been rough lately.
      • A second subversion happens when Rico is at OCS, as we find out one of his fellow officer candidates was actually breveted to 1st Lieutenant. The reason he's attending OCS, however, is to become an officer "properly" - as a brevet Lieutenant (with no higher education), his ability to rise in the ranks would be very limited. (In case anyone didn't realize it, graduates of OCS start out with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, so Rico's classmate would actually be demoted after graduating. His prospects for future promotion would be much improved, however.)
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's The Warrior's Apprenctice, Miles Vorkosigan accidentally finds himself Admiral of a fleet, during which he puts all his original companions in high positions whether they can handle it or not. In The Vor Game, he assigns his personal bodyguard to the emperor; when the man says he hasn't been trained for it, Miles can only say that it's a common problem in the situation.
  • In David Feintuch's 1994 science fiction novel novel Midshipman's Hope, as the last surviving ship's officer dies of melanoma, the eponymous midshipman is promoted to command.
  • Old Man's War by John Scalzi, where the main character is promoted three times. First, he moves from private to corporal after his boss is killed. He jumps all the way to Lieutenant for reasons that are essentially hand-waved (ostensibly to do a liason mission). Finally, after performing heroically in this mission, he gets another promotion to Captain. Lampshaded when the character notes that if anyone noticed that he'd gone from corporal to captain in a month, no one said anything. Unlike his prototype, Heinlein, Scalzi's world doesn't include specialized officer training or other qualifications.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Ghostmaker, Gaunt has just gotten a large portion of a regiment off Tanith before its destruction. When his men tell him that the officers were all on planet and dead, he appoints the man who told him (and did most of the talking in the meeting) as Colonel, and the man who came with him as Major, and told them to appoint appropriate junior officers.
    • He does this partly because those two men were chosen by the other soldiers to approach him, and so clearly command some sort of respect among their peers. He's also well aware that at least one of them hates his guts and wants to "keep his enemies closer."
    • Also, in the series' backstory, the current Warmaster Macaroth was promoted to his position by Warmaster Slaydo during the liberation of Balhaut. Slaydo, who was mortally wounded, specifically named Macaroth, who was a relative unknown, as his successor. Though nobody is exactly sure why he chose Macaroth, many scholars believe that Slaydo did so in order to prevent the other senior officers from fighting over his position.
  • In William King's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Ragnar's Claw, after Ragnar gives orders to Space Marines who, he later realizes, included his commander, and his sergeant was brought down, he is put in the sergeant's place.
    • In Lee Lightner's Wolf's Honour, when Sven reports to Mikal that their pack's leader is down, Mikal asks who should be in charge; Sven says, by rights, it should be Freyr, but Mikal overrules on the grounds that Freyr is not there, reporting to him, and puts Sven, who is, in charge.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Encarmine, the grief-stricken Rafen, seeing Sergeant Koris, his mentor, brought down by the Black Rage, is ordered to take Koris's place in command of the squad.
    • In Deus Sanguinius, at the end, he is offered a field promotion to a captaincy as a reward. He declines it as he has not earned it.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Sisters of Battle novel Hammer & Anvil Sister Imogen dies during her squad's infiltration of the Necron crypt, her last words to Miriya were to complete the mission, essentially making her a squad leader (again). This is despite the former's distrust and dislike for the latter due to the events of the previous book. Similarly, Verity is told by the convent's canonness that she is now a Sister Militant, no longer a Hospitaller, as the convent is assaulted by a massive Necron force, and is given a master-crafted bolt pistol to start her off.
  • Sharpe has lived this trope, fighting his way up. By the end of Waterloo he's passing out promotions like candy (there are a LOT of vacancies).
    • In Sharpe's Rifles, he field promotes Harper to Sergeant.
  • Numerous characters in John Ringo's March Prince Roger series. In the fourth book, only twelve survivors remain from the entire Empress' Own Regiment, and the senior (a company sergeant major) is promoted all the way to full Colonel in one jump to fill the obvious gap. Prince Roger himself, in the first book, is a callow youth in severe need of discipline and training. So his bodyguard CO, a captain, field commissions demotes him to second lieutenant (As a member of the royal family, he is technically a Colonel of The Empress' Own) and hands him a platoon. The captain does this partly because he needs someone to command the platoon, but mostly so he can gleefully watch the platoon sergeant's stunned reaction.
    • It also has the added advantage of keeping Rodger safer by giving him a fixed position. Yes, putting him directly on the firing line is safer than letting him decide what to do on his own.
  • The third book of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera has this. Tavi's jump from Third Subtribune Logistica (junior supply officer) to Captain of a Legion is more of of a You Are in Command Now but he starts handing out field promotions left, right and centre to fill holes in the legion's absolutely shattered command structure. The fourth book reveals that most of them stick too.
  • In Polgara The Sorceress, Sergeant Torgun has to go a little beyond his orders to head off trouble at one point. When he reports:

Torgun: ...Is it all right that I did that, my Lord?
Kamion: Perfectly all right, Captain.
Torgun: Ah -- I'm only a sergeant, my Lord!
Kamion: Not anymore, you aren't.

  • In Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment, Maladict gets a field promotion to corporal. Men At Arms features a number of field promotions in the A-M City Watch, some of which are actually official.
    • And in Going Postal, Devious Collabone finds himself field promoted from university researcher, to doctor, and then again to professor, in the span of a few minutes. Mainly because a civilian tried to gainsay him in the presence of Unseen University's Archchancellor, Mustrum Ridcully, a firm believer in Retaliation By Promotion.
  • In Anthony Reynolds's Warhammer 40,000 novel Dark Apostle, Captain Loren is promoted to acting colonel. The adjective is emphasised to lend weight to the reason: there is no one else.
  • In Tamora Pierce's Squire, from the Protector of the Small series, the main character is serving as squire to a knight who is also commander of the King's Own, a military force. She herself is given a field promotion of sorts—put in charge of a squad despite not technically being a member of the Own, because the higher-ups know its actual leader can't handle the job. What they end up fighting is a giant robot insect thing Powered by a Forsaken Child, and it turns out that the best way to kill it is to trap its head and open a hole in it, so the child's spirit can leave. She gives a field promotion to the soldier who figures this out, even though earlier he'd almost started a mutiny over her being put in command at all.
  • In Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, Mandella starts as a private, and ends the war as a major commanding his own ground force. Not because he's particularly suited for command, but because he's adaptable, and it looks odd for someone who's been in the military for 500 years not to be an officer.
  • 1812: The Rivers of War by Eric Flint has a number of these. In one case 21 year old Captain Sam Houston (bumped up from Ensign by General Andrew Jackson for his heroism in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend) and 32 year old Lieutenant Patrick Driscol (more-or-less browbeaten into accepting a commission after losing his arm during the Battle of the Chippawa) both end up in Washington D.C. in time to rally several hundred leaderless troops (more or less against orders) and defend the Capitol from invading British troops. Not long afterwards Colonel Houston and his XO Major Driscol were dispatched at the head of the First Capitol Volunteers to reenforce New Orleans.
    • The funny thing is that the person who recommended them for that field promotion was the commander of the British forces - being defeated by a Colonel is far less embarrassing for a Major General than being defeated by a brevet Captain who was only there by chance.
  • In Andre Norton's Storm Over Warlock, at the end, Shan Lantee finds he's been given a cadet uniform at the end, although he's a casual laborer—and then finds that he's been appointed cadet.
  • Shortly after the French landings in Britain at the befinning of Victory of Eagles, the high command got word of local militia west of London defeating several french foraging units (by some accounts even making use of unharnessed dragons that had wandered from breeding grounds in that direction) and sent a messenger with a battlefield commission of Colonel for whoever was in charge. Temeraire accepts with alacrity, to the suprise of all humans involved.
  • Happens to both the Americans and the Soviets in Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising: amongst the viewpoint characters, Sergeant Terry Mackall gets promoted twice, after his lieutenant and then his unit XO were killed in action, while Four-Star Badass Pavel Alekseyev—the main Soviet POV character—receives a series of promotions from senior aide of CINC-Southwest to essentially commander of Soviet forces in Europe (as the situation grew more and more desperate, the Politburo began taking a progressively Vaderesque approach to its commanders).
    • Also Deconstructed somewhat, when discussing the state of the Soviet Army. Since NATO doctrine was to go for the unit commanders first, by mid-war many of the leading Soviet formations were led by junior officers who were field-promoted out of necessity—thus, captains leading battalions, majors leading regiments, and colonels leading entire divisions were not uncommon. The attrition rate on the officer corps had a very serious effect on the Soviet war effort, since the junior officers were almost always inexperienced men.
  • In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet, Geary mostly just puts the officers in charge of ships, but some get promoted as well.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Bill: In a law enforcement capacity, Sergeant Dale Smith has been Acting Inspector on a number of occasions, while other characters have been Acting Sergeants at times.
    • Sam Nixon spent much of her earlier time as Acting Detective Inspector, but now has the rank permanently.
  • Star Trek: Voyager.
    • B'Elanna Torres is made Starfleet lieutenant on Captain Janeway's authority (despite being a member of a rebel group known as the Maquis) as her skills in engineering mean she needs to be made chief engineer.
    • Chakotay, another Maquis and a former Starfleet officer, is given his Lieutenant Commander rank back (and later promoted to Commander) and her first officer. Combined with his being a Maquis captain, he ends up as something of a double subversion.
    • Tom Paris, a legitimate but disgraced Starfleet lieutenant, was reinstated. Later in the series, he got demoted for disobeying orders, and promoted later on.
    • And poor Harry Kim gets to be the aversion, despite seven years of harrowing and dangerous missions in the Delta Quadrant and endless night watches, remaining an Ensign all the way to end of the series (then again, it's not as if anybody else got promoted past their initial commission either). It's continually suggested that he gets fast-tracked up the ranks once he's back home and made captain in less than ten years.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Picard gives Wesley Crusher a field promotion from an untrained civilian to acting ensign, but not for a lack of officers. Picard wants to reward him for passing up his transport to Starfleet Academy in order to help rescue Riker and the Trois.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured this in the backstory for General Martok. He was originally barred from being an officer because his family was not from a noble line. This left him unable to even enlist as a soldier, but he eventually earned a battlefield promotion aboard a civilian ship and rose through the military ranks.
  • On Community the first appearance of Officer Cackowski, he's a mere Greendale security guard. A couple episodes later (and in all subsequent appearances), he's a local police officer.
    • Chang gets a field promotion to chief of campus security after the current chief has enough of the insanity and quits. The Dean gives Chang the position because he is the only security guard left. The college is broke and all the other guards quit when they are told that in lieu of pay they can attend classes for free.
  • This happens to Rimmer in Red Dwarf inheriting the title of "Commander Arnold 'Ace' Rimmer" from an alternate version of himself, once that version dies.
  • A darkly comedic version happens in the first episode of Firefly. A soldier named Baker is trying to call in air support, but requires a lieutenant's code. Mal rips the rank insignia off a dead lieutenant and gives it to Baker, congratulating him on his promotion. This probably wasn't legitimate since Mal was only a sergeant but the point is moot since the war would basically end a few minutes later.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • After the leader of his team defects to the enemy, Kyosuke Nanbu of Super Robot Wars Original Generation is temporarily made into acting leader. When his next superior, Ingram Prisken reveals himself as The Mole, he is given a Field Promotion to Lieutenant and official battle commander by The Captains of the Cool Ships, the Hagane and the Hiryu Custom.
  • After the events of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the player character gets promoted all the way from SAS Sergeant to Captain in five years.
    • That's not too unusual. A rank soldier in the British Army can recive a commission as a "Late Entry" officer (as opposed to a "Direct Entry" officer who went through Sandhurst). From there it is fairly realistic to go from 2nd Lieutenant to Captain in five years.
      • He's also not SAS any longer; he's a member of the newly-minted Task Force 141, which has its own rank structure.
  • Gears of War has this happen to protagonist Marcus Fenix via radio after Kim gets run through by RAAM.
  • The Force Commander in Dawn of War II is a rather young Space Marine who has never met the Chapter Master, yet he has his rank because the Blood Ravens had their manpower seriously depleted because of the Kaurava Campaign (which Cyrus doesn't want to speak of). Thaddeus is also on the young side for a Sergeant and it shows, he's naive about many things and his fellow sergeants point it all out for him.
  • During Neverwinter Nights 2 the player is promoted from squire to knight in quick succession. When one of the other knight objects he is reminded that he was knighted in the mud surrounded by an army of orcs.
    • The reason this may not make much sense is because the objection was to lack of a suitable ceremony, not the rapid promotion.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

Gil: All I want is your commander.
Mook: You hit him with lightning.
Gil: Ah. Second in Command?
Mook: Him, too.
Gil: ...Third?
Mook: He was in the second machine.
Gil: (sigh) Fourth?
Mook: THAT WOULD BE ME, MADBOY! (tries to attack him)
THOK
Dimo: Hoy! So, who else vants to be promoted?

  • Karcharoth of Cry Havoc is promoted from Sergeant to Assault Sergeant Major in a month after his lieutenant is KIA and a replacement is not found.
  • In Schlock Mercenary Captain Tagon's father complains that "when I was your age, I was already a colonel." Tagon retorts that there was a war going on back then, and half of high command got nuked from orbit. Later we find out that it was even worse - the war started with an assassination attempt at many other high-ups, including senior Tagon (but he survived, obviously).
    • Breya Andreyasn for a while became the Interim Secretary General of the United Nations of Sol when a lot of the other high officials were killed or under suspicion (she along with another have survived an assassination attempt via pure luck). Though she didn't particularly care about winning the ensuing election.
  • In American Beauty, Two Tanks Omen promotes a junior to number two, and orders him to kill his predecessor.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • One of the commanders of a Philippine resistance group against the Japanese during World War II started out as a US Army lieutenant. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to major (via radio messages) but was effectively in charge of far more men than a major would normally command, spread throughout the islands. To facilitate this, he field/brevet-promoted men to be in charge of various cells, areas and islands. Since some of these were commanding hundreds or even thousands of irregular troops, he gave out acting promotions higher even than his own substantive rank of major. Luckily, General MacArthur was understanding.
  • Averted in militaries that don't have the rigid correspondence between rank and position, such as Russian Army in all its instances. There, the officer in command simply stays in his rank and continues to command his unit until the wheels of military bureaucracy turns and he gets actual promotion. During WWII there were Red Army majors that commanded divisions. Yeah, right, majors, not major-generals. If a division was commanded by a colonel, they didn't even bother to promote him.
  • George Armstrong Custer was breveted from Lieutenant to Brigadier General during the Civil War, though would end his career as a Colonel.
    • This happened a lot in the Civil War, because the Union Army was vastly larger than the Regular US Army before and after the war. Many career officers who lived through the war held high brevet rank that disappeared in 1865. (Similar to the AUS example below.)
  • Audie Murphy started as an underaged private, and was field promoted to Sergeant and later Lieutenant in a combination of his heroic actions and You Are in Command Now.
  • In World War II, Dick Winters started as a 2nd lieutenant. By the end of the war, he was Major Dick Winters. At least one of his promotions was a Field Promotion (1st Lieutenant to Captain).
  • A variation on this trope is the Army of the United States, the conscript (read: draft) force of the United States. When activated (thus far, it has only happened in World War II, The Korean War, and The Vietnam War), many of the officers are initially drawn from the regular Army and the Reserves, where they receive promotions to deal with the increased number of men they will be leading. Once the war ends, and the AUS is stood down, the officers go back to their previous jobs... and their previous ranks, since the Army of the United States is a separate organization from the Regular Army and the Army Reserves.[1]
  • Though this is not technically a field promotion, Nathaniel Green was promoted from private directly to the rank of general (GENERAL) during the Revolutionary War. It makes sense then that he had several failures in this new position before he actually started to achieve victories.
  • Peter Radcliffe, Regimental Sergeant-Major of the SAS during Operation Desert Storm, was promoted from RSM all the way to Major in one go in recognition of his actions in commanding a large SAS taskforce operating behind Iraqi lines. Slightly unusual in that the formal promotion didn't actually happen until some time after he ended up in charge of said taskforce. It was the first time in British military history that an officer was formally relieved of duty by an enlisted man, which tells you everything you need to know about said officer's competence.
  1. Of course, depending on how long they were serving in the AUS, they may have received promotions in the Regular Army anyways, though not necessarily to the level where they served in the AUS).