Ranks, Promotion, and Training in the Union Space Navy

[An earlier version of this document was an appendix to the self-published version of To Honor You Call Us but not included in the 47North Edition.  Because I thought it was still of general interest to readers, I have included it here.  It is an “in universe” document–that is, it is written as though it is going to be read by a citizen of the Union in the year 2315.]

            Because of the extreme manpower demands imposed on the Navy by decades of war, the difficulties of transporting trainees and cadets to central training locations, and the observation by naval planners that men seem to learn the rigors of starship service best while serving on starships, the former system of training Spacers at “Boot Camps” and of training officers at “Academies” was abandoned in 2290.  Currently, all spacers receive the bulk of their training on board warships in actual service.

            Most crew and officers begin their naval careers as Midshipmen, going to space between the ages of 8 and 10 standard years.  Accordingly, a warship will typically carry a compliment of Midshipmen equal to roughly 15% of the total compliment of officers and enlisted.  Becoming a Midshipman requires the permission of the child’s parents or guardians, that he score in at least the 85th percentile on a test of general intelligence, and that he be in good physical and mental health.  Midshipmen perform various duties on board ship but spend most of their waking hours in school or being trained in how to operate, maintain, and fight their ship.  After six years as a Midshipman or on his 17th Birthday, whichever comes first, a Midshipman is eligible to be examined for promotion to Recruit Spacer (“Greenie”).

            A young man is also eligible to be examined to become a Greenie if he has served on board a Freighter or in the Merchant Marine as a Ship’s Boy for at least eight years and is at least sixteen or has served for four years and is at least nineteen (but no older than twenty-one).  Young men who have neither served as a Midshipman or as a Ship’s Boy may still enlist in the Navy at up to twenty-five years of age, provided that they can meet the same intelligence and physical criteria required for Midshipmen.  They are placed on board ship as a “Boot” with the status and duties similar to Midshipman, save that their classroom studies are limited to subjects in which they did not receive instruction as civilians (primarily naval and military studies, as well as–for most Boots–additional Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy).  Boots are housed separately from Midshipman and are assigned to larger vessels that have separate facilities for them.  A man is eligible to take the Greenie Examination after two years as a Boot.  Once accepted as a Greenie, there is no distinction between a recruits who started as Boots, and those who started as Midshipmen or Ship’s Boys.

            A score of 80% is required to pass the Greenie Examination.  Midshipmen who score at least 65% are eligible to remain as Midshipmen (or Boots) and retake the test in six months.  Young men who qualified to take the exam from Freighter or Merchant Marine service and who score between 65 and 80% on the exam may transfer to a warship to serve as a Midshipman and retake the test in six months.  Midshipmen who score below 65% are returned to their families.  Most join freighter crews.  Others who score below 65% go back to their former ships.  Any young man who fails the Greenie test four times is not allowed to take it again—he is either returned to his family or to his former ship, as appropriate.  This outcome is quite rare as Midshipmen and Boots who are unsuitable for promotion generally drop out of the process on their own.

            Once he has passed the Greenie Examination, the Recruit Spacer makes his way up through the three Recruit Spacer ranks (Recruit Spacer 3rd Class, Recruit Spacer 2nd Class, Recruit Spacer 1st Class, a process that generally takes about five years but that can be completed by a particularly able spacer in as little as 22 months (it took Max Robichaux 24 months and 17 days—not a record but certainly a brisk passage).  Under this process, every member of a warship’s compliment, including all the officers, has served at the lowest levels of the enlisted ranks.  “Future officers” are not identified and separated at this stage, so every leader acquires experience being a follower and learns what it is like to be “just one of the men” in the lowest ranks of the Navy.

            Once a man has served in the Rank of Recruit Spacer First Class for one full year (after serving as RS 3rd and RS 2nd), he is eligible for promotion.  At that time, he and his service record are examined by a panel of three Commissioned Officers of the rank of Lieutenant Commander or higher and three Chief Petty Officers 1st Class (this panel is officially known as the Recruit Screening Board and unofficially as the “Greenie Screeners”) to determine whether he will be promoted to Ensign, Promoted to Ordinary Spacer 3rd Class, or be deemed “Unsuitable for Permanent Service” and “put on the beach” at the earliest opportunity.  This is where Officers are separated from Enlisted Men, not before.

            The suitability of a man to serve as officer is not merely a function of intelligence or even leadership.  Rather, the “job descriptions” of officer and enlisted man are simply different, and require a different set of skills, personality traits, attributes, and abilities.  Some men are better suited to be officers, others better suited to be in the enlisted ranks.  Intelligence, leadership ability, courage, ingenuity, creativity, and other admirable traits are found at all levels of the naval service.  Perhaps what distinguishes officers from enlisted is the ability to make larger decisions, to see the bigger picture at the strategic level, to think for the ship as a whole or even a higher level.  When the Greenie Screeners look at a recruit, they ask themselves whether, in a dozen years or so, this individual is more likely to be suitable to serve as a ship’s CO or as a Chief Petty Officer.

            Once a man is promoted to Ensign or to Able Spacer, he is more or less irrevocably set on a course as an Officer or Enlisted man for the rest of his career.  There are examples of Officers being “busted” to the enlisted ranks for misconduct or incompetence, or of enlisted being “boosted” to officer rank because of some act of conspicuous courage, brilliance, or leadership, but such instances are extraordinarily rare, with the former being far, far more common than the latter.

            Ensigns, while serving as commissioned officers, also continue their education.  It is as an Ensign that the young men learn those things traditionally associated with a “college education” as well as completing the courses that were formerly completed at the old Naval Academies on Earth, Bravo, and Penzance.  So, in many ways, an Ensign is a probationary officer or an officer in training, still, notwithstanding his possession of a Commission.  Only about 75% of Ensigns become Lieutenant JGs, the rest being reduced to Enlisted Men, remaining Ensigns for their entire careers, or leaving the Navy at the end of their first term as an Officer.

            Upon promotion to Lieutenant JG, at the earliest opportunity, the officer is removed from his ship and sent for further training in a specialty such as Command, Engineering, and Logistics.  This training typically takes place planetside and takes from one to two years, after which the officer is returned to active duty.  There are other planetside training opportunities available to highly able officers as they rise through the ranks, including attendance at the Naval War College, the Advanced Engineering Academy, the Advanced Logistics Institute, and Fleet Intelligence College.

One comment on “Ranks, Promotion, and Training in the Union Space Navy

  1. Excellent web site and most enjoyable series of books. It makes believe that C. S. Forrester has been reincarnated from an alternate future. I am a retired U. S. Naval officer who served both as a line officer and an Ordnance Engineer. Please carry on!

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