Common Military Ranks in Stories

There are a few things about military science fiction that normally follow a standard. Most people can make up any rank that they want, but normally (if we are talking about humans that is,) there are a few ranks that are used to identify characters in a story. I am going to list some of the more common ranks that I have seen.

Captain – The captain is normally the had of a starship of some sort. The rank falls below Admiral, yet holds a special kind of respect. The captain controls the day to day operations aboard a ship and is in charge of making the decisions on battle strategy for that ship.

Admiral – This rank can cross a broad spectrum of jobs. Normally found on a former Captain in a star fleet, the Admiral can handle anything from a desk job to having control of an entire fleet of ships. Normally an Admiral would command on a flagship and be in command of the strategy for the entire fleet of ships. The Admiral is personally in charge of the safety of the entire fleet.

Ensign – An ensign is normally the entry level officer position on a ship. They are the newest officers and control the least amount of tasks. An ensign can have many duties.

Commander – A commander is normally found in charge of a Squadron of fighters. However, I have seen in some stories a Commander that is in charge of a ship in the Captain’s spot. The two seem to be interchangeable at times. The commander is in charge of the squadron and assigning flights to each pilot. He/She deals directly with the captain when working on strategy and work assignments.

Lieutenant – The Lieutenant is a lower officer rank in the fleet. They can have a plethora of jobs from navigating the ship to flying a fighter to handling communications. Almost every spot on a ship can have a spot for a Lieutenant.

Sergeant – The sergeant is normally the 2nd in command of a squad in a ground force. They help keep up the morale of the troops and control most of the day to day operations that they Lieutenant doesn’t want to handle. The sergeant is the glue that holds the squad together.

Private – The lowest grunt there is. The private makes up the majority of the force. They are the ones that do all the work and are on the front lines.

I know these ranks don’t always follow the actual ranks used in the military, but I feel that these descriptions offer a general guide when trying to decide what rank to make a character. There are definitely more options to choose from, these are just the more common ranks I have come across in my reading.

What ranks do you think are missing? What descriptions would you offer up that are different? What ranks have you come across a lot in your reading that don’t show up above?

I’d love to hear from you!

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7 thoughts on “Common Military Ranks in Stories

  1. commadore. this is in between admiral and captain. there is a least on episode of star trek in which there is a commadore. in U.S. navy, the title is only given out only in time of war. such as world war II. Other navies it is regular rank. i can’t remember the exact episode of star trek, but the commadore was of higher rank than kirk.

    1. Ahh yeah, I did leave out Commodore. Good Catch. I’m not 100% sure which episode it is in either, but I’m thinking that a Commodore in older navies was someone who commanded more then one ship, but wasn’t high enough to earn the rank of Admiral. Good catch though!

  2. Great list. I did a lot of research on military ranks (historical and current) for my fantasy trilogy. I didn’t look much into the naval ranks–very interesting. Maybe my characters need an ocean adventure.

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