Starfleet Officers are graduates of Starfleet Academy, having completed four years of training and courses. During their time as cadets, officers learned the basics of starship operation while taking such courses as astrogation, warp theory, piloting, fractal calculus, and probability mechanics. Upon graduation, cadets become commissioned officers with the rank of Ensign, and are given their first assignment.
However, not everyone serving on a Starfleet vessel is an officer.
On every starbase and on every ship in the fleet are enlisted crewmembers: non-commissioned officers trained at their position but below Ensigns in rank. They are the transporter chiefs, the maintenance engineers, the security guards, nurses, and general technicians. Noncoms are often the people who keep the ships and stations operating.
Enlisted officers sign up to serve and are receive basic training on a few key tasks. For some positions, completion of a course or two might also be required, typically from the Starfleet Technical Services Academy on Mars. Others simply receive some on-the-job training and familiarisation with protocol.
Enlisting vs Commission
If you ask a commissioned officer what the difference is between themselves and an enlisted officer, they might say that commissioned officers graduated from the academy or comment on the expected leadership roles of commissioned officers. If you ask an enlisted officer the same question, they’ll say “noncoms work for a living.”
Civilians sometimes wonder why skilled and experienced technicians would enlist in Starfleet, where they can be ordered around by an Ensign fresh out of the Academy. Or ask why would someone would opt to become a noncom rather than attending Starfleet Academy.
Many individuals enlist to gain hands-on experience with engineering or the sciences in order to qualify for future careers. Others signed up in order to see the galaxy. Serving on a starship is a way to travel and visit many different worlds, without having to commit to a career as an officer. For older and more experienced technicians, becoming a noncom is a way to challenge themselves: serving on a starship or starbase is hard work and far from an easy life. Enlisting is a way for someone to apply their skills in new ways, or an excuse to learn entirely new skill sets.
However, for some individuals, enlisting as a noncom is the next best thing to becoming an officer. Not everyone wishing to serve the Federation qualifies for admittance to Starfleet Academy: only the best and brightest are accepted. There are competitive entrance exams, with only a few students accepted from any one testing location. Students are also judged not only on their raw intelligence, by also their moral character, their ability to follow orders, and their ability to react while under stress.
Once someone has been accepted into Starfleet Academy, there is still no guarantee they will become an officer. Not everyone admitted can maintain the grades necessary to graduate, or handle both the Academy’s high-stress environment or its relentless schedule. A high percentage of cadets drop out after their first year. There is very little social shame in failing to graduate, because even being accepted is an achievement, and it is well known not everyone is suited to that method of education.
Regardless of one’s grades or motivations for dropping out, anyone who has spent a year or two as a cadet is automatically approved for entry into the Technical Services Academy. Former cadets might even leave the Technical Academy as a 2nd or 1st class petty officer, with their higher rank denoting their greater training.
In the hierarchy of Starfleet, all noncoms rank below even a rookie Ensign. In practice however, many junior officers defer to higher ranking noncoms, trusting their greater experience. Ensigns who push their rank around and bark orders at noncoms soon learned to regret this behaviour, as they continually have to ask a noncom for assistance or see more senior officers deferring respectfully to an experienced noncon. Regardless, most noncoms rebuff attempts from Ensigns and Lieutenants to address them as “sir”.
Noncoms have their own rank structure. From lowest ranking to highest:
- 3rd Class
- 2nd Class
- 1st Class
- Petty officer (includes specialists and yeoman)
- 3rd Class
- 2nd Class
- 1st Class
- Chief petty officer
- Senior chief petty officer
- Master chief petty officer
Unlike an officer’s rank, a noncom’s rank reflects their education and training as much as their time in service to Starfleet. A technician with experience in another fleet, such as the Merchant Marine, typically starts as a petty officer. Promotion also reflects the noncom’s skills and managerial abilities as much as their time in service.
Crewman (sometimes known as “able seaman”) were entry level personnel with limited experience and education. This rank was given to those who did not attend the Technical Service Academy and served as labourers and general staff while being trained in more skilled duties. Given the automation on starships and technical skill required to operate consoles and machinery, this rank was rare in the 23rd Century and beyond.
Enlisted officers with some training or experience were assigned the rank Petty Officer. Petty Officers are the most common rank of enlisted officer in Starfleet.
Some Petty Officers are given the title of “Specialist“. This title is typically used for individuals highly trained in a specific field of study, but is sometimes also given to technicians serving on board a Starship who have not formally enlisted.
In the 22nd and 24rd Centuries, Yeoman served as the Captain’s personal assistant, performing roles similar to a aide-de-camp or valet. By the 24th Century, this position was generally filled by the ship’s computer.
Chief Petty Officers are noncoms who earn a promotion by demonstrating proficiency with multiple systems and subsystems. Many are placed in charge of managing a small team of noncoms within their department during day-to-day operations. A commissioned officer generally served as the department head, handling duty assignments for multiple teams and overseeing multiple tasks. Meanwhile, Chiefs coordinating workers during an assignment, troubleshooting problems as they arise.
It’s rare for a noncom on a starship to be promoted above Chief Petty Officer, as the more senior positions of overseers and department heads are typically held by commissioned officers. A Senior Chief might be the noncom in charge of a department of a space station or outpost where more experienced officers might be reassigned to starships upon promotion rather than granted a department. Master Chiefs are particularly rare, typically denoting an individual of exceptional skill and experience in charge of an important facility or a subdivision of Starfleet.
Enlisted Main Characters
Making a Main Character that’s a Petty Officer or Chief Petty Officer isn’t particularly different than creating any other character for the game. This is fully described in the sidebar on page 127 of the Core Rulebook.
Choosing the character’s division requires some thought. There are very few noncoms in the Command division or pure sciences, and most tend to belong to Operations. Noncoms, being repair staff, technicians, or security officers. Medical staff can be noncoms, as attending both medical school and Starfleet Academy would take many years. However, after a few years of service, most doctors would earn a commission.
Additionally, some care must be taken when choosing Focuses. Petty Officers are more specialized by nature, predominantly being trained with hands-on technical skills. Their Focuses should be based around the one or two key they perform on the ship, with the rest reflecting hobbies and outside interests.
Creating a Crewman Main Character is trickier as they are by definition inexperienced and largely untrained. A player creating a Crewman should use the Supporting Character rules for creating their character rather than the lifepath creation. They should also pick or roll their Environment and Upbringing (but they do not gain the associated increase in Attributes or Discipline). A Crewman Main Character also gains Determination like a standard player characters, and during character creation they can pick one of the options on page 134 as if the character was a supporting character being reintroduced.
In addition to the regular effects of Milestones, each time a Crewman character participates in a mission they gain the same benefits a supporting character gains for making a new appearance. This reflects their growing skill and training. Additionally, Crewman player characters can also pick the options to increase an Attribute and a Discipline twice rather than once.
The reputation system in the Star Trek Adventures Core Rulebook assumes the players are officers.
The following table can be used by noncom characters when gaining reputation:
|Chief Petty Officer||1||20|
|Senior Chief Petty Officer||2||19-20|
|Master Chief Petty Officer||2||19-20|
The starting reputation is unchanged, as are increases and decreases in reputation.
For rookie Crewmen, just maintaining a Reputation of 10 or more for a number of months is often enough to warrant promotion to 2nd or 1st Class. After that, they need to reach an appropriate level of technical skill to be promoted further.
Once a noncom has gained the rank of Petty Officer 3rd Class, they are expected to work as hard as a commissioned officer to earn promotion.
Earning a Commission
Starfleet recognises that not everyone will excel at the fast paced and stressful environment of Starfleet Academy. Just like every Academy Graduate does not become an exceptional officer, not every Academy dropout is a failure. Many individuals find greater success in a less regimented environment, learning through doing and gaining knowledge in the field.
Starfleet will sometimes grant a “direct commision” to individuals with skills and training deemed essential to the operations of a starship, space station, or outpost. These individuals become full Ensigns, as if they had graduated from the Academy. This is typically offered to individuals with medical, legal, intelligence, or engineering skills willing to serve Starfleet for an extended duration.
Experienced noncoms who have proven their skill, leadership, and loyalty to Starfleet can also be offered direct commissions. This typically happens after several years of service, with two or three years of service on a Starship being considered equivalent to a year at the Academy. However, not all noncoms accept a commision when it is offered, eschewing a managerial role that might keep them away from the work they enjoy (much the same way some Captains repeatedly decline the promotion to Admiral).
Similarly, Captains also have the authority to grant field commissions to skilled individuals—such as a noncom—allowing them to serve in place of an officer that has been killed or otherwise relieved of duty. This typically happened during long deployments when replacement officers are not available. In these instances, it’s considered important to give the noncom an official rank in order to maintain the chain of command. The individual would be granted an acting rank appropriate to their expected duty, typically a Lieutenant or Lieutenant Commander. For example, a noncom that is made head of a department, such as engineering or security, would be given a provisional commission so their orders would be obeyed by Ensigns under their command without question or hesitation.
Field commissions were not always permanent. Acting officers were still expected to attend the Academy if possible, unless their training in the field was deemed enough for their rank to be formalised with a direct commission.
This was spectacular!!!
Not to split hairs, but nurses in the military are commissioned officers, like doctors. Medics, corpsman, technicians (ones who actually maintain and operate equipment) and orderlies are enlisted.
I opted to leave the door open for enlisted medical personnel for a few reasons.
Firstly, so someone could play one if they wanted a doctor that felt different from the other doctors in the show. (Okay… probably similar to a certain “simple country doctor” of TOS.) And secondly, for the option of a M*A*S*H style conscripted doctor. The reluctant soldier.
Starfleet Academy also feels very specialised. Going there *and* to medical school means a doctor character would be in their 30s.
Also, there is the example of Crewman Simon Tarses (“The Drumhead” [TNG]). So there are enlisted medical personnel, although their role might be more akin to a corpsman or orderly than a nurse or doctor.
…that said, this is a very thorough article and I hope they used it to expand upon how enlisted works in the game.
Great Article and it is just what i was looking for in a article comparing O’s to NCO’s. Great job!
Great article. Question. What’ the symbol for crewman third class? I know the only on screen example we have is Senior Chief, but I’m wondering if a third strip would fit?
Technically, 3rd Class would be the lowest and would have one stripe.
1st Class is the highest crewman, which would be three stripes.