Are field commissions a thing?

The Star Trek universe contains many instances of what I’ll call “field commissions”: that is, when the commander of a vessel provisionally appoints someone from outside the service to the role of a commissioned officer. Notable examples include Captain Picard field-commissioning Wesley Crusher as an ensign in The Next Generation, and Captain Janeway field-commissioning many of the Maquis crew to various positions (Chakotay to commander, B’Elanna Torres to lieutanant, etc.). The crew members receiving such field commissions are usually addressed or attired in such a way that their provisional officership is made clear. So for example, Welsey Crusher was usually addressed as “Acting Ensign Crusher” (until he later received a proper commission), and the Maquis crew members got distinct rank pips on their uniforms.

Is there any precedent for this practice in the US military (upon which the Starfleet rank system is loosely based)? To be clear, I am referring specifically to the case where an officer in the field, exercising delegated authority, exceptionally grants a provisional commission to a civilian. I am not referring to any of the following similar scenarios, all of which I know happen or have happened historically in the US armed forces:

  • Someone who already holds a commission receives a field promotion to a higher rank.
  • An enlisted person receives a field commission.
  • A civilian receives a commission through the usual centralized channels (e.g., after attending a service academy or officer candidate school, or via a direct commission officer program).
  • A civilian is pressed into service against their will as the rough equivalent of an enlisted soldier or sailor.

If there are no bona fide examples of field commissions in the US military, has such a practice ever occurred in other countries’ militaries?

It was absolutely a thing in US History and not all that rare in war.

Check Battlefield Promotion.

  • World War I — From 1917 to 1918 approximately 6,000 non-commissioned officers were awarded battlefield commissions.
  • World War II — From 1941-1945 approximately 25,500 men were awarded battlefield commissions worldwide. The United States Marine Corps also awarded battlefield commissions during the same period but no records were kept of the total. At the conclusion of World War II a board of officers reporting to the Commanding General of the European Theater stated “The one sure method of determining whether any individual has qualities which make him a successful leader in combat is to observe that man in combat.”[8] Battlefield commissions were approved by the War Department.
  • Korean War — From 1950-1953 a system parallel to that of World War II was adopted. The Department of Defense cannot provide figures on the number promoted. The Marine Corps did not award battlefield commissions during the Korean War.
  • Vietnam War — From 1963-1973 the Marine Corps Commandant appointed a permanent Board with the mission of selecting those enlisted men of the Marine Corps whose performance under fire while serving in Vietnam merited a commission. A list of 62 enlisted men who were commissioned includes one man who was killed before he could accept his commission.

Read only the title before replying, huh?

I get the read all your examples are specifically excluded by @psychonaut second dot point.

I can’t answer precisely, but I certainly could imagine it being more likely in the non combatant roles, such as medical or scientific/research branches of the military. Pressing a high ranking civil scientist into a militarily equivalent role would seem very probable in war time

Yeah, this is sort of what I had in mind, though I’m not sure if this has ever happened. Has a civilian doctor, scientist, technician, etc. ever been granted a temporary/provisional commission by an officer in the field?

Why, though? If someone is already working on the Manhattan Project, why would they need to be “pressed” into the military?


This is a second/third-hand anecdote, but I have heard that, yes, it has happened. The story I vaguely remember hearing is that such-and-such (a civilian) determined that soldiers were getting sick because some of them were not washing their hands after going to the toilet. He subsequently received a one-day commission as a general officer, so that he could issue a formal military order in that theatre mandating hand-washing…

If all that was required was for the order to be given, why field-commission someone to do it? Why didn’t whoever field-commissioned him give the order himself?

I would have to ask the guy who told me the story (about his relative) in the first place. [Maybe it made a difference in people’s minds who gave the order, not merely that there was an order?] But, if there is a kernel of truth to this anecdote, that means such a temporary commission is at least possible, and we should be able to find other examples of it.

No, but I did miss the

Sorry about that.

I’ve never been in the military, so I can’t speak definitively on this. But it seems to me that the OP is redefining a real-world term in a way that has never been used in the real world.

I’ve never been in the military either and so don’t know the correct terminology. If there is an actual term that precisely describes the situation I’ve described, please let me know and we can all use that instead.

The closest example might be Indian scouts and interpreters initially hired as Army employees being officially enlisted so they would not only be eligible for Army pensions but also be subject to Army discipline. In 1892 a mere 1st Lieutenant (Hugh L. Scott) apparently had the authority to recruit and enlist an entire troop (Troop L of the 7th Cavalry) of scouts. I know enlistment isn’t the same as a commission, but this is an example of locals being given a rank and makeshift uniform without any formal training based entirely on a skill set learned outside of the military.

Today’s featured article on Wikipedia (perhaps only the English version) is about “temporary gentlemen,” who were lower-class men temporarily given commissions as officers in the British Army, particularly during the First World War. Not exactly the same thing as a field commission, but related. This was at a time when the officer class was all landed gentry and others of the upper classes.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some civilian pilots were pressed into service as military officers during WW2.

I would. We really didn’t need to do that. However, the Flying Tigers would qualify as a non-US example. Technically, they were all civilians when they flew for China.

The term the OP is looking for is a direct commission, and there is a procedure for it.

Unfortunately, many more unbelievable stories wind up not being true than genuine, and even hearing things first or secondhand doesn’t lend much credibility to the account. I’m not saying that it’s impossible, but the military and wars tend to bring out the BS in people.

However ISTM even that would not be quite what the OP describes:

Alessan’s example would have more likely involved a levy ordered by the central command authorities, rather than an individual line or field commander directly appointing a civilian to an officer billet. And to TokyoBayer’s post, the OP explicitly mentions the official direct commission program as something they exclude, too.

One thing that could be imagined would be an order from Theater Command to the frontline that any civilians pressed into auxiliary duty in the emergency be given a uniform and nominal rank so that if captured they’d be entitled to proper POW rights. Would be interesting to see if that happened.

And silenus’s example of the AVG falls short of the OP criterion too in that the Tigers were an organized volunteer unit, that flew under contract to the ROC Air Force. So Chenault could warlord it up and asign commissions under his ROC contract, not as a part of the USAAF. Not the kind of case OP is looking into.

I think the problem is that there is no delegated authority, even for commissioning current enlisted or promoting existing officers. In the US such promotion requires presidential authorisation. So, there has never been any battlefield promotion occurring as the result of an officer granting a commission provisional or not. Only the monarch or the President (as appropriate) has the power to grant a commission. That is essentially what a commission is.

I missed that. Thanks.

The Army itself seems to suggest otherwise, in its publication Temporary Promotions of U.S. Army Officers: A Brief Overview:

So it seems presidents can indeed delegate their authority to promote officers, and have actually done so, at least in the past. Given that non-commissioned servicemen have been commissioned on the battlefield, presumably the above refers not only to promoting existing commissioned officers but also to granting commissions in the first place, though I’d be happy to be corrected.