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Stick close to your desk and never go to sea.

And you all may be Rulers of the Queen's Navee!
"Twinkle twinkle little shield, save me from the battlefield!"
Common US Army joke re: the Adjutant General's Corps (whose branch emblem is a shield)

A character in the military, police, or other action-oriented field who has been promoted to the rank of inaction or whose career path is oriented towards bureaucratic support of the boots on the ground. The character may only rarely be seen by the camera, since his or her job is Boring but Practical: to make operations in the field run smooth, rather than engage in flashy heroics.

The Desk Jockey may be derided by other characters or viewers as an Obstructive Bureaucrat who is too far removed from the action to understand and accommodate the needs of the people he or she is supporting. They may catch a lot of flak for pinching pennies on necessary but expensive equipment while forcing the ground-pounders to kowtow to impractical and unrealistic institutional regulations.

Commonly found piloting desks in the cubicle farms behind the scenes of Action Series, since a serial of any significant length can afford to introduce these characters if a Lower Deck Episode is necessary for budgetary concerns. If they get A Day in the Limelight, expect them to be made victim of the same kind of danger and violence that the rest of the cast face and either become the Badass Unintentional, the Action Survivor, or the Damsel in Distress, depending on the needs of the plot (and not necessarily their Backstory; even if they're a Retired Badass, they may be handed a Distress Ball anyway).

Differs from Kicked Upstairs in that the character may actually have been a competent Action Hero in his/her youth but couldn't avoid getting promoted on considerable merit. Some heroes will do anything it takes to persuade their superiors not to promote them, as examples will show.

Related tropes are Dude, Where's My Respect?, Victory Is Boring, Let's Get Dangerous (the Desk Jockey is a classic candidate for this trope), Four-Star Badass (for direct aversion), and Authority Equals Asskicking or the more specific Badass Bureaucrat (for direct inversion).

Has nothing to do with Driving a Desk.

In Real Life military parlance, a Desk Jockey might be known also as an REMF "rear-echelon motherfucker", a "pogue" (etymology uncertain, though the usual story is that it comes from the Irish for "kiss my ass," but now backronymed to Person Other than Grunt), or a "fobbit" (someone who never leaves their Forward Operating Base).

Examples of Desk Jockey include:


Anime and Manga

  • Hayate and Reinforce are mostly confined to desk jobs in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. It's safer that way, since they both qualify for the Person of Mass Destruction trope.
    • They seem to have returned to the battlefield in Nanoha Force but Hayate's first CMOA in that series went awry and she got stabbed in process.
  • This is how Light Yagami spends most of his time across the arc of Death Note. He spends almost a year dealing with L, and six months dealing with Mello and Near, and in between he sits at a desk pretending to be L and misleading the Kira taskforce for five years. Even when the rest of them go off to blow shit up, Light's still at his desk. Victory Is Boring.

Comics

  • Salaakk of the Green Lantern Corps handles the day-to-day operations while the Guardians of the Universe focuses on the big stuff. However, he has shown he can fight when the situation demands it.

Film

  • Mr. Incredible of The Incredibles was forced into mundane work after excessive lawsuits forced the government to set up a legal protection program for supers. He spent his free time listening to police scanners and indulging in small acts of illicit heroism until someone finally offered him a chance to go legit. His family was relocated several times because he got caught and in the story he's an insurance claims adjuster (in which he also tries being heroic, (not) telling an old lady how to avoid excessive bureaucracy).
  • In the original Die Hard movie, John McClane and Sergeant Al Powell have a conversation that jokingly derides desk jockey cops, up until Powell reveals why he's now a desk jockey instead of patrolling the streets: because he made the horrible mistake of shooting a kid with a fake gun. He still proves he can get the job done when Karl comes back from the dead for one last shot at McClane.
    • The second movie then shows that he's still in the desk job. Of course, it's better paying and safer than a beat cop job.
  • Specialist Grimes in Black Hawk Down asks to participate in a mission. He complains that the only reason he's a desk jockey is because he knows how to type and that he was a veteran of Desert Storm and Panama, but in those operations, all he ever did was make coffee.
    • When he does finally see action, of course, it is when the entire operation goes pear-shaped. He proves quite capable, though he he manages to both be a member of a Badass Army and an Action Survivor. It's the rare Action Survivor that starts the action carrying a grenade launcher.
  • Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October is a heroic desk jockey that becomes a Badass Unintentional.
  • In Flight of the Intruder, the Duty Officers and the Intel Officer.
  • Averted with Corporal Upham in Saving Private Ryan - he was planning on staying safely behind lines doing translation and cartography...

 Cpl Upham: "I haven't held a weapon since basic training, sir"

Capt. Miller: " Did you fire the weapon in training?"

Upham: "Yes, sir"

Miller: "Then get your gear."

  • Allen in The Other Guys chose the most stable and dull job he could think of in the police force, 'forensic accounting', to try to avoid the 'craziness' of his old days as a pimp. It doesn't work.


Literature

  • When Captain Vimes of the Night Watch was promoted to Commander, he proceeded to spend much time and effort resisting this trope.
  • In one of the Foundation books one of the Emperor's gardeners gets promoted against his will to head gardener; he feels the promotion will take him away from his beloved gardening and make a desk jockey out of him (he's right). He assassinates the Emperor over it.
  • In the X Wing Series, Wedge Antilles resists being promoted to General because he wants to stay a pilot rather than get stuck behind a desk. He finally relents when he finds out that his underlings have started refusing their promotions for the same reasons, and he doesn't want to impede their careers (or bring about the total collapse of the New Republic's rank system).
    • Also, he has a job coming on that requires him to pull rank. Thus, he needs rank to pull!
    • Sure enough, said promotion eventually results in him being pulled out of the cockpit. They give him a Super Star Destroyer to command instead.
  • This trope is pointed out in David Drake's RCN series. As the captain of a frigate Daniel Leary has seen more combat than most fleet admirals.
  • Double Subversion in Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers: One motto of the Mobile Infantry is "everybody drops, everybody fights" -- everybody has combat duty, and any support job that can be done by civilians is. In practice, this means that the officers are forced to juggle multiple desk jobs in between drops.
    • It is mentioned that some desk jobs are filled by people who want to serve, but are physically limited in their capabilities. For example, when Johnny goes to sign up for military service, the officer running the desk is missing an arm, a leg, and an eye. Having him in this position serves the double purpose of giving him somewhere to serve, and reminding potential recruits the dangers they're signing up for.
  • Honor Harrington: Honor Harrington is currently commanding Home Fleet, which stays home and doesn't go anywhere. If it wasnt for the ensuing Mesan surprise attack, that would take her out of the real action, which is why Henke and the Saganami group have been brought into the limelight; to take over from Honor as the "out there wuppin ass" group from Manticore.
  • Starting with Rainbow Six, John Clark bemoans his status as a desk jockey, despite acknowledging that he can't physically keep up with the special force troopers under his command. To be fair, he's already in his senior years, about to be a grandfather, and up against very elite special forces troops that are in their primes.
  • Holly Short of Artemis Fowl was initially going to turn down her promotion to Major because she didn't want to be taken out of the field. Just before she is about to officially turn down the position to Commander Root, he preemptively tells her about when he was on the verge of being promoted to Major and tried to turn it down, to which his Commander responded "this promotion isn't for you, it's for the People". Having convinced her to accept the job, he consoles her with the fact that Majors can occasionally assign minor missions to themselves.
    • Root himself, of course. He does occasionally go out on missions of particular importance (such as locating a field officer captured by humans) or unofficial ones (Root was unwilling to command any of his officers to take part in a mission as repayment for Artemis), and insists on personally examining prospective recruits.
  • Flight of the Intruder, The Intel officer, obviously, as his job doesn't involve flying, and it is pointed out that at least a few of the Duty Officers are aviators who were removed from flying status for one reason or another, temporarily or permanently as the case may be.
  • In Area 7, Colonel Hagerty (call sign "Hotrod", but better known as "Ramrod") is an obstructionist bureaucrat, and also the commanding officer during the book. Luckily, the President was around to make him shut up and listen to the people who actually know what they're doing in a battle.
  • In Rivers of London fresh out of training PC Peter Grant is dismayed to find that he is being given a desk job in the police force, however an encounter with a ghost (and ghost-hunting DCI Nightingale) gets him transferred to the police's supernatural crimes department.
    • Played with in that his colleague WPC Lesley May, also fresh out of training, is posted to the glamorous homicide department, and ends up doing their data entry.

Live Action TV

  • Starfleet admirals are almost never seen in action. When James Kirk gets promoted to admiral, he hates being confined to a desk and does his level best to get either demoted back into action or kicked out.
    • Picard explicitly states that he will always refuse to be an Admiral, even though he's far more qualified than most Admirals, because he wants to avoid this.
    • Admiral Ross from Deep Space 9 is just about the only exception to this trope, but only because he's in command of a Federation fleet during a full-blown war. Admiral Hanson is another exception, but that didn't turn out too well.
    • In the finale episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation, Admiral Riker is sailing around in the fleet's flagship, but that probably winds up never happening in the actual continuity.
    • In "The Deadly Years", Commodore Stocker is one of these. In fact, it's specifically mentioned he's never held a field command in his life. This causes trouble when he takes the conn and accidentally crosses the Romulan Neutral Zone.
    • Crewman Mortimer Harren on Star Trek Voyager is an example of this on the other end of the rank scale - he only joined Starfleet because he needed a year's experience in practical cosmological study to attend a specific scientific institute. Once he got stranded in the Delta Quadrant, he does everything he can to be given the least amount of work possible and refuses any sort of away mission.
  • Stargate's SGC Generals spend much of their screen time at paper-laden desks. Colonel O'Neill achieved promotion to General so his actor Richard Dean Anderson could spend less time on camera and more with his family.
    • On the other hand, in Teal'c's flashbacks as First Prime to Apophis, he averts this (although these aversions may be the exception and not the rule).
      • The pattern seems to be that First Primes (like Teal'c) lead from the front, and desk work posts are filled by minor Goa'uld.
  • British cop show The Bill used to delight in these. In one notable example, Chief Inspector Derek Conway's whole purpose in the series was to never leave the police station (he seldom even got involved in actual cases), but he was still seen in the series because it wanted to accurately represent the rank structure of a genuine police station, and Chief Inspectors are part of that. 14 years after his introduction to the series, a new production team came along and decided he fulfilled no dramatic function in television terms (his role was too desk bound, apparently). So they put him in a parked car and blew it up. They never did replace him...
    • DCI/Superintendent Jack Meadows still qualifies as this. Most of the ground work is done by his Detective Inspector, who then heads back to the office and reports it to him.
  • In Mash, Father Mulcahy has a famous episode where a patient refuses to talk with him because he has no field experience since he was the camp chaplain. Mulcahy asks Col. Potter if he could spend some time on the front to fix that, but Potter refuses saying that no commander nowadays will tolerate having a soldier in the field who is forbidden by regulations to fight. Regardless, Mulcahy sneaks away anyway on an errand with Radar to the front and has a memorable experience having to perform an emergency tracheotomy under enemy fire with Hawkeye guiding him on the radio. As a result, the patient is impressed that the Padre had now just enough battle experience for any front line soldier to respect him.
    • Another episode has Colonel Potter becoming afraid of being shipped back home to be a desk jockey.
  • Band of Brothers notes this a few times:
    • Pvt. Vest is seen delivering mail throughout the series. In episode 8 he requests the opportunity to join a dangerous patrol, which gives him the chance to learn truly that War Is Hell.
    • Capt. Winters is eventually promoted to the point where he has a desk in episode 5. Several times he is tempted to get back into the action.
      • At one point, Winters must be given a direct order NOT to join the action by Colonel Sink.
    • Capt. Nixon, despite his three combat jumps, reveals in episode 9 that he had never fired his weapon in combat. For much of the series he is the intelligence officer.
    • Second Lieutenant Jones joins Easy Company near the end of the war and desperately wants to get some combat experience. He eventually gets to participate in a night raid just before Easy Company is pulled from the line.
    • Captain Sobel also qualifies. Although he was in charge of Easy Company and trained them for two years, he never saw combat. When Easy Company went to combat, he was given a training role, then became a supply officer.
    • Actually, Sobel was awarded a Combat Infantryman's Badge (given to soldiers who face enemy fire) and was wounded by an enemy machine gun in Normandy.
  • Stark from Eureka is the administrator of Global Dynamics. When Henry tells him his brilliance is being wasted as a desk jockey, Stark points out that he's much more valuable where he is, being the person that makes their cutting edge research happen with as little interference as possible.
    • Notably, when Stark is no longer in control of GD, there is a lot more interference from outside sources such as the Pentagon.
  • General Melchett (a superior officer who is geniunely clueless about what's going on at the Front) and Captain Darling (a Desk Jockey of the same rank as the main character, who does know what it's like at the Front and is glad to be away from it) in Blackadder Goes Forth.

Newspaper Comics

  • In Terry and the Pirates, Terry gets a speech from his commanding officer just after he gets his flight status which includes him stressing him treating the US Army's bureaucracy with respect.

Theater

  • "When I was a lad" from Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore is all about this. How do you get to be the ruler of the Queen's navy? Kick ass at pushing paper and doing not much else!

Video Games

  • In Metroid Prime 2, one character complains about having to stare at a computer screen by a checkpoint, saying that it would never happen to Samus.
  • In Mass Effect, ex-Spectre candidate Captain David Anderson is confined to a desk job at the beginning of the game, though you can make him the Human representative in the galaxy in the end. Which he laments in the second game.
    • Shepard him- or herself subverts this trope pretty well: although executive officers on ships are usually relegated to, well, executive duties (i.e. paperwork), Shepard's background as a special ops soldier means that when shit needs to hit a fan, Shepard's the one for the job.
      • This can sometimes be true in Real Life as well: effective special ops soldiers aren't denied promotions for excelling, so that the high ranking officers in a special ops group are the ones to watch out for.
  • Most of the color commentators in the Backyard Sports series, with the exception of Vinnie the Gooch and Jack Fouler, were once players but are now confined to watching. Chuck Downfield is basically retired (as he has a charlie horse), but the others, with the exception of Earl Grey, are unlockable players.
  • There are a few desk jokey in the New California Republic Army: Major Knight is likely the first you will encounter, as he oversees the inexistent traffic through the Mojave outpost, the first NCR base you are likely to visit.

Western Animation

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