Navy battlefield commissions, re: a DS9 episode: Valiant

Slogging through the series again and I came upon this episode in season 6. A copy of the USS Defiant, called the Valiant, is sent on a secret 9-month long mission with a crew of experienced officers and a bunch of cadets from the Academy’s vaunted “Red Team.” Shortly after launch, all of the experienced officers are killed, and the most senior cadet takes command of the ship, inexplicably choosing to continue their mission rather than do the sensible, logical, and practical thing of returning to a base for repairs and a proper crew.

It should be noted that the senior cadet claims to have been given a battlefield commission by the dying captain, and has used his new commission to, in turn, battlefield-commission everyone else on the ship.

Nog and Jake stumble on the ship and Nog, who’s an ensign at this point and outranks everyone on the ship (battlefield commissions notwithstanding), is made Chief of Engineering and falls in line under the “Captain.” This makes me :dubious: and now I have questions.

In the Navy, I understand that a ship Captain is special thing, and visitors to the ship who might outrank the Captain are still subordinate to him or her for ship-related functions. However, in this case the Captain is simply an acting captain – he wasn’t given command of the ship by Star Fleet in any formal capacity. Would it be proper to turn command of the Valiant over to Nog? Would Nog be able to assert authority? Do battlefield commissions stick after the emergency situation has been resolved? Do they need to be reaffirmed? Does Nog’s “real” commission carry weight over the Captain’s commission, which was granted under duress?

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No Ender, he!

Well, it’s Starfleet, and it’s fictional, so really, anything goes.

IIRC from that episode, Nog didn’t think that the ship’s young “captain” was acting illegally or overreaching, just that he was making bad decisions. The senior cadet/captain could have turned over command to Nog, who was a commissioned (although very low-ranking) Starfleet officer. Nog could then have chosen to continue with the mission or, as you suggest (and this is what I’d do) return to base. I’d guess that battlefield commissions “stick” until reversed by higher authority, not just until a crisis passes. Although the senior cadet was appointed commanding officer by the dying actual captain, a higher-ranking officer such as Nog could, I believe, lawfully relieve him of command.

Two data points:

In ST:TOS “The Doomsday Machine,” Commodore Decker relieves Spock of command of the Enterprise even though Kirk had left the First Officer in charge while Kirk was aboard the Constellation. When Kirk finds out that Decker is suicidally hazarding his ship to fight the planetkiller, he orders Spock to relieve Decker - a superior officer - of command. No one says that Kirk doesn’t have the authority to do that, and Spock stares down Decker and does just as he’s been ordered by the captain.

However, in the very good ST:TOS novel Doctor’s Orders by Diane Duane (not canon, I know), Kirk, fed up with McCoy’s griping about what a cushy job Kirk has, orders McCoy to assume command of the ship while Kirk is down on a planet assisting with a diplomatic mission. Kirk then falls out of contact. McCoy tries to relinquish command to Spock, who refuses, insisting that only Kirk or Starfleet itself could relieve him of command.

Of course it’s possible that Starfleet regs changed on this point between Kirk’s time and Nog’s.

IF StarFleet operates it’s chain of command changes the same way that the blue water navies of today do, than it depends:

Nog cannot “take” command of the Valiant, assuming that the “battlefield commision” is properly recorded in the ships logs, or some such other independantly verifiable manner.

If it is not, than Nog can take command, if he is the only commissioned officer present. I don’t think he has to take the word of the cadet that the previous Commanding Officer, with his dying breath, promoted the cadets.

IMO, of course.

Nog was star struck for most of the episode, entranced by the Captain’s charisma. Nog didn’t actually disagree with any of the decisions he made until it was already too late; so he never considered taking command at any point, and we weren’t treated to the “forcibly relieved of command” battles of will that you describe in those other episodes.

Rather, what struck me is if Ben Sisko had shown up instead of Nog, he would have just said, “Fine work cadets, I’ll take it from here,” and nobody on the ship would have questioned it one bit. It would be like, “Oh thank god, an adult is finally here.” And I know it’s just Nog, but I kinda feel like the entire crew should have made the same assumption about him. “Oh, an actual commissioned officer is here, so he’ll take command of the ship now, right?” But not only did nobody suggest that, it doesn’t appear to have crossed anyone’s mind.

Could anyone? Obviously someone in the Cadets’ chain of command could take command, but see my example above… could Captain Sisko take command? I mean legally, of course; typically relieving a captain from command would be for some kind of misconduct. But could he just say, “You’ve done nothing wrong, but I outrank the shit out of you so step aside?”

IIRC, the Abrams timeline makes evident that even Kirk’s “battlefield” promotion to Captain(*) had to be made official by Starfleet Command.

I’d take Elendil’s Heir’s first statement above to heart, though. Starfleet operates according to the strict needs of the plot.
*Arguably the most important promotion in history, certainly in Starfleet history. :wink:

You quoted the part were I stipulated that the former CO lawfully (and verifiably) “promoted” the cadets into commissioned ranks (even if temporary), so I’ll assume that is still our baseline.

StarFleet invests command authority into the commissioned officers assigned to the ship. A visiting Captain/O6 may not take command even though he holds a higher rank than the current duly designated commanding officer.

Once all of the ship’s officers are dead, than the most senior “visiting” officer present may take command. Indeed, he may even be required to.

Nitpick: It’s “Starfleet.”

I still like mine better.

At least it’s not UESPA. :wink:

There was an instance in IIRC WW1 where some poor schlub ended up as acting Commander of the Fleet during battle, I believe he jumped from Ensign up as a result of the main bridge taking heavy fire. Obviously he didn’t remain with the rank - typically you only get jumped one rank as you normally fill in for the next rank up and typically it would be a ground pounder. My dad jumped from staff sergeant to acting lieutenant in the push up the Ruhr Pocket and it stuck - however he had to take a bunch of schools after the hostilities ended to work into the rank.

Dagnabbit, Baen’s message board is down - I seem to remember a reference in Elizabeth Moon’s board about it because she has an ensign that ends up taking command in battle and it was discussed, and Weber’s Honor Harrington also does the same in a fleet action in one of the short stories and it was discussed then as well.

A thread discussing a War of 1812 incident aboard the USS Chesapeake, and Heinlein’s later reference to it, that might be of interest: Why did Heinlein report incorrectly about Cox in Starship Troopers? - Cafe Society - Straight Dope Message Board

In Naval and also military units there is a chain of command which goes pretty well down to the last officer in the chain. Anyone not in the chain or not having authority to alter the chain cannot take over or tell someone to assume command. If their is a Missile Boat with a Lt in command and they happen to have an Admiral on board, it would be the S/Lt not the Admiral who took command.

The chain of command is set by regulation and or statute and cannot be changed at the whim of someone senior.

However IRL it should be noted

  1. Typically if a CO is killed, the second in command is incharge only until someone else is sent as relief. When Simon Bolivar Bucker was killed in Okinawa bis deputy was in command of TAUS until Joe Stillwell arrived.

  2. There is a certain maximum amount of attrition a unit or formation can take before it loses effectiveness and is removed from battle; having most of the command staff killed certainly fits this bill. Such a ship would probably be ordered home.

**Elendil’s Heir **insisted I come in and toss my 2¢ into the ring, since I am playing in a ST RPG that he runs.

I have absolutely no military experience. Growing up, I lived 2 miles from the Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy, but that’s as close as I ever got, save for being a huge fan of NCIS (the TV show, not the actual agency).

I’ll stick to the “if it advances the plot, do it” school of thought. Had the cadets returned to base, the episode would have been over very quickly. Given that this all takes place in a future none of us are likely to live long enough to see, couldn’t we just accept that as a military evolves, so does its rules?

No one may have said it, but that was my impression when watching the episode. I took it as yet another example of Kirk “not playing by the rules.” And I took Spock’s stare down as him trying to decide whether he was going to stick with the regulations or with his friend and captain.

My main reason for thinking that is that Decker didn’t mention any qualifications when he talked about his prerogative to take over the ship. It didn’t seem like it was only because there were no counter orders from the captain. So it seemed like, if he were relieved, he could just appoint himself in command again. He only didn’t because he lost the battle of wills, as Kirk valued his ship more than following the letters of the regulations.

As for cadets with Nog, the entire episode was about how they thought they were hot stuff. They weren’t in any hurry to lose command. I don’t think they would have done so unless forced, and Nog, even if he had the authority, did not want to do that. I do not think they would have been relieved to have someone else take over.

As for whether Nog could have taken command, I’ll have to take some time to think about it. But my guess is no, as I think he was not in the command track yet (Wasn’t he still an ensign?) But he could obviously have told someone else and had them do it, had he not been so impressed with them. I’m sure Starfleet would not have wanted a ship full of battle commissioned officers only. (And they did intentionally hide the casualties from Starfleet.)

While I’m a huge Star Trek fan, I needed a one ton grain of salt to view the latest movies.

As a Naval Officer, it stuck up my butt big time that the writers wanted us to accept that a second year student at Star Fleet academy is on the flagship of the fleet and is commissioned as a Captain (presumably) with the position of Captain of the ship.

Just no way on this earth that a college student (a midshipman in the Naval Academy) would become Commanding Officer of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier in the Navy. COs of aircraft carriers are Captains with 24 to 28 years in the Navy who are one step away from being an Admiral. There are probably 300 Officers on that ship that are qualified for command. No way there are promoting someone who isn’t even commissioned.

I know it’s fiction, but that was a bridge too far for me. So when it comes to this type of stuff, I don’t even try and sort it out. They are going to do what they want and how it jives with reality isn’t a consideration.

I just realized I didn’t explain the “command track” comment. My thinking is this: Nog can only relieve them if he’s capable of doing their job. And the entire ship was made of battlefield commissions. Some of the upper echelons need an officer who is in the command track. I’m pretty sure you have to be a Lieutenant Commander or higher in order to command a ship, for example. I don’t mean being in command when the captain is away, as he can put anyone he wants there.

Plus there is an episode of TNG where Geordi is the one put in command of the Enterprise, even though there’s another officer who outranks him. And he flat out says that no one but the captain or first officer can relieve him of command once assigned. I could allow some wiggle room for another commander, captain, or admiral to do it, but not just a Lieutenant or Ensign, whichever Nog was.

I always took it that Starfleet had changed regulations between “The Doomsday Machine” and Doctor’s Orders specifically to prevent situations like that in DM from recurring.