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Our lieutenant is the up and coming type

Played with soldiers as a boy you just can bet

It is written in the stars

He will get his captain's bars

But he hasn't got enough boxtops yet!
Tom Lehrer, "It Makes a Fellow Proud to be a Soldier"
The most dangerous thing in the world is a second lieutenant with a map and compass.
Murphy's Laws of Combat Operations

Sometimes, the New Meat isn't a grunt. Sometimes, he's put in charge.

Ensign Newbie is a young officer, fresh out of the Academy, who is given command of The Squad. Sometimes, he was top of his class, and as such was put in command of the best unit in the force, for whatever reason, or maybe he was a prankster, or dated The General's Daughter, and got saddled with a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits nobody else wanted. Sometimes, he's both. What the British army calls, with despairing affection, a Rupert.

Much like the New Meat, he has to learn the harsh realities of war the hard way, without losing his head in the process. On top of this, he has to work five times as hard to earn the respect of the squad (Who will probably see him as The Neidermeyer by default until proven otherwise), because he's gotta get them to listen to what he says.

And heaven help him if the unit happens to be All-Female...

Usually they get an old reliable Sergeant Rock to help him learn the ropes, not only of field command in general, but also The Squad and its little "quirks" in particular. If the Sergeant gets killed early on expect thing to get bad quickly for this inexperienced officer. This being fiction, we can all but guarantee that happening.

Truth in Television: In the US Army, new Butterbars (2nd Lieutenants) are occasionally referred to as highly paid privates by Noncoms (Corporals and Sergeants). Every experienced Lieutenant had to have been the raw newbie officer sometime in the past. Likewise in the other services: In the Navy, shrugging one's shoulders in confusion is referred to as "the Ensign Salute."

Compare Rookie Red Ranger, when this trope is invoked is a superhero setting.

Examples of Ensign Newbie include:


Anime and Manga

  • The Trope Namer is Shiro Amada from Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team, who gets called this by Eledore in the English dub.
    • Mashymre Cello from Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ is a villainous example.
    • Natora Einus in the third generation of Gundam AGE is Captain Newbie, and she knows it.
  • Sakura Wars has our new recruit put in charge of the Imperial flower division.
  • Academy graduate Dana Sterling/Jeanne Francaix from Robotech (Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross) finds herself in command of the 15th ATAC hovertank squad when the former commander finds himself busted to private because of problems with The General's Daughter.
  • Agent Jan Suk in Monster is a police-force version. Nobody seems to take the poor guy seriously, though he brings it upon himself sometimes.
    • It probably also doesn't help his case that one of the biggest reasons for joining the force is his love of cop shows.
    • And Officer Chouno from the same author's Twentieth Century Boys, who has the added handicap of being compared to his legendary detective grandfather. Both are even introduced the same way, throwing up upon seeing a grisly murder scene.
  • Justy Ueki Tylor is put in command of the Soyokaze a few days after joining the military. Hilarity Ensues.

Film

 Ripley: How many drops is this for you, Lieutenant?

Gorman: Thirty eight... simulated.

Vasquez: How many combat drops?

Gorman: Uh, two. Including this one.

  • Lt. Wolfe from Platoon. He basically has no clue and always depends on his trusty NCOs (Elias and Barnes). He did begun to grow a pair but sadly died by the end of the movie.
    • Well, this does happen most of the time when an officer shows up, the experienced NC Os show the Lt whats what before taking over command.
  • In Star Trek (2009), James T. Kirk is promoted virtually straight from (disgraced) cadet.
  • In Down Periscope the XO is rather young (for an XO), while the diving officer has, due to reasons, never dived a boat before. The trope is played about half straight.
  • Bromhead in Zulu.
    • In Real Life both he and Lieutenant Chard were fairly experienced officers, however.

Literature

  • GM Fraser's semiautobiographical McAuslan series is largely about this, from the point of view of the newbie officer.

 "Thirty total strangers are ... wondering if he is a soft mark or a complete pig, or worse still, some kind of nut. When he realizes this he feels like telling them that he is, really, all right and on their side, but of course he can't. If he did, they would know for certain he was some kind of nut."

  • Lt. Blouse from Monstrous Regiment.
    • Blouse is a straight example at first, but later turns into something of a subversion -- he's spent years in a desk job filing things, but that experience allows him to understand the enemy's codes and on several occasions he turns out to be right, over Jackrum's objections. He can't actually fight, but he certainly has potential as a commander.
      • It's also worth pointing out that while Blouse is complete pants as a field officer, his entire service up until the book has been in logistics and administration, where he excelled, and the only reason he's given a field command at all is that the Borogravian army has no-one else to send.
    • The Ephebian captain during the Tsortean War in Eric:
      • Both are examples of what the British Army calls a "Rupert", and in fact the term is extensively used in Monstrous Regiment.

 The captain was eighteen and fresh from the academy, where he had passed with flying colors in such subjects as Classical Tactics, Valedictory Odes and Military Grammar. The sergeant was fifty-five, and instead of an education he had spent about forty years attacking or being attacked by harpies, humans, cyclopses, furies and horrible things on legs.

  • Lieutenant Hal Slater of the CoDominium Marines, in Jerry Pournelle's SF novel West of Honor.
  • Major Major Major Major in Catch-22.
  • David Hackworth's memoir About Face lists his own speech to all his new lieutenants concerning why they should shut up and learn from their sergeants (Hackworth was a battlefield commission himself, so he'd been a sergeant AND a Lt).

 Hackworth: Now son, when I was a boy, Sweeney here was leading a platoon in Italy. When you were a boy, Sweeney was leading a platoon in Korea. When you are a general.. what do you think you'll be doing Sweeney?

Sweeney: Be leading a platoon somewhere sir, can't think of anything else I'd rather do.

Hackworth: When you are ready to take over the platoon, Sweeney will tell you. Until then, keep your hands off.

  • Captain Paran started out this way in the first book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. He got better at his job. Quickly.
  • Prescott "Scotty" Tremaine from the Honor Harrington series starts out as a freshly-minted ensign. With the help of Horace Harkness, his own personal Sergeant Rock, he grows out of it.
    • Like all military tropes, this is everywhere in Harrington. At one point, "training Ensign Newbie" is described, only slightly satirically and in almost as many words, as the primary job of senior noncoms.
    • Shadow of Saganami in particular is about four midshipmen, squeaky-new and fresh from the Academy, who are learning how to be ensigns. In a mild divergence from trope the majority of their instruction comes from experienced mid-ranking officers, such as Lt. Hearns, with the wise old senior NCOs only making cameos.
      • There's also a novella, "Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington," which features the titular character's own larval stage as an officer.
      • The Service of the Sword has Abigale Hearns' middie cruise, with her giving orders to the Marine NCO under her command to prepare for contingencies that he thinks will never happen, and thinking she's a bit of an idiot newbie ... and then it turns out she's right.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain short story "Echoes of the Tomb", the lieutenant in charge of the military is young and insecure. At one point it is observed that he won't take suggestions -- still less ask for them -- from a far more experienced Marine sergeant.
    • Cain observes the monumental stupidity of this; a Space Marine will have at least a century of active service before he is even considered for the rank of sergeant.
      • That's not simply stupid, that's actually suicidal -- one can be very easily busted for the heresy (and insubordination) exhibiting such attitude, as the battle brother (that is, SM private) is commonly held equal to the at least Major General in the Guard. And to add insult to injury, some chapters require a century of service to induct the new members not into the Sergeant rank, but into the battle brothers. Yep, you fight for an entire century as a recruit.
  • Commonly features in Harry Turtledove works; for example, in the TL-191 series, Sergeant Michael Pound (a Tuckerization of fellow author S.M. Stirling) repeatedly has to successively shepherd several inexperienced second lieutenants in command of a tank unit. He's quite bemused when he eventually gets one who's both gung-ho and competent to start with.
  • In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath novel To Ride a Rathorn, Jame is in this situation; as the officer cadet with perhaps the least military knowledge in the whole academy, she's made Master Ten of all 90-odd of her House's cadets because she's the Highlord's sister. She has a lot of learning to do, especially given how much of a loner she is, unused to having to think of others; to her credit, though, she refuses to just delegate the actual work to someone more experienced, but instead takes the responsibility seriously.
    • Can't agree with the last point. A major side-plot in To Ride a Rathorn is her having to deal with a capable second-in-command with a big chip on his shoulder, who successfully shunts her out of the actual command of the barracks. She realises it's a problem, but lacks the experience to handle it and see how bad it becomes.
  • In Team Yankee, the new LT in the tank company is this in spades until the first shots of World War III are fired and he becomes competent under fire. One of his buddies from OCS shows up later and fails to follow his example- the men bet on how long he'll last and he's severely injured when his tank is hit by a "Hind"-launched anti-tank missile.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • In The Warrior's Apprentece Miles Vorkosigan toys with this trope. Yes he is a seventeen year old kid who washed out of his homeworld's military acadamy, but only one person aside from his original traveling companions (his bodyguard and said bodyguard's daughter) even comes close to figuring the matter out when he surmises that he is a "Junior Officer in way over his head." The rest of what became the Dendarii Free Mercenary Company not only takes his line about being a representative of some hotshot Private Military Contractors to heart, but starts calling him Admiral Naismith.
    • In The Vor Game, after having graduated from the Imperial Military Academy and becoming an actual ensign, circumstances require Miles to once again don the mantle of Admiral Naismith. After having saved the Hegan Hub from a Cetagandan invasion, he spots another newly minted ensign supervising a work party installing some new equipment on the Barrayaran's new flag ship, and realizes that if he had just been able to follow orders, and do as he'd been told, that could have been him. He feels a little envious.
  • Junior Commissar Nahum Ludd from Gaunt's Ghosts.
  • Averted by the Federation in Starship Troopers, where all Mobile Infantry officer candidates are picked from soldiers already in the Mobile Infantry.
    • Still worth noting, when Rico makes his first drop in command of a platoon (at which point he's made at least a dozen combat drops). His CO still assigns the company "field first" Sergeant as his platoon Sergeant (to keep an eye on him).
  • Prince Roger starts as The Load. Then he says he should probably be called "Colonel MacClintock" at military councils and the head of his bodyguard realizes he's Ensign Newbie instead.
  • Ferraby and Lockhart in The Cruel Sea.
  • Sharpe is often assigned Ensign Newbies in the hope that his insane levels of Badass will rub off on them. They usually do, with Jack Bullen, Robert Knowles, Harry Price and Peter D'Alembord all taking levels in badass. However, Cornwall is not above subverting this - in Sharpe's Tiger we have Ensign Fitzgerald, already a Badass and a Father to His Men, who is then brutally murdered by Sergeant Hakeswill. Sharpe's Escape gives us the hopeless, alcoholic, braying, idiotic Upperclass Twit Cornelius Slingsby, who Sharpe hates and at one point even tries to murder. Then there's the Prince of Orange in Sharpe's Waterloo, who is a (spectacularly useless) General Newbie.
  • Dale Brown plays with this through Hal Briggs who, although a Major that already has Army and Air Force background, is given command of Marine-comprised commando unit Madcap Magician.
  • Lt. di'Ka Jarret is this at the start of Valor's Choice. Thanks to having an experienced Staff Sergeant (the main character) helping him, he grows out of it by the end of the book.

Live Action TV

  • Wesley Crusher was put in charge of a team in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
    • One early episode features the difficulty faced by those of low rank assuming command of the ship, when LaForge, then merely a junior-grade Lieutenant and the helmsman (before his upgrade to badass engineer), has to take command of the Enterprise. Cue all sorts of people thinking that they're better than he is, and how awful his decisions are, personified in the Jerkass Chief Engineer Logan.
  • Lt. Jones from Band of Brothers. Fresh from West Point and assigned to command 2nd platoon, Sgt Malarkey is his Sergeant Rock. Due to his inexperience, he joins the patrol as an observer with Sgt. Martin as the leader and another Rock.
    • Not to mention Lt. Dyke who was putting in time just to get combat experience on his way up the ladder. Absolutely ineffectual commander. And of course, First Sergeant Lipton is his reluctant Sergeant Rock.
    • Lt. Winters averted this because on D Day the entire company was still New Meat with no combat experience. Some of the soldiers disrespect him at the beginning because he lost his rifle during the drop. They quickly change their tune when he leads the attack on the artillery position and proves himself to be a Badass.
  • Captain Parmeter from F Troop.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Nightingale" had Ensign Harry Kim placed in charge of an alien spaceship. He acts like a micro-managing moron, despite the fact that he'd spent SEVEN YEARS in the Delta Quadrant and should have been an experienced veteran.
    • The episode "Twisted" features a lieutenant asking Ensign Kim what they are going to do. Sci Fi Debris had a great time poking fun at that one.
  • In an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Red Squad was on a training mission using a Defiant-class vessel when all the senior staff were killed. The ranking cadet takes command, as is expected of him. Out of what is more selfishness than inexperience, he decides he's better off just keeping the ship and its crew and continuing the mission on behalf of his dead captain who he never reports as dead (he gives a half-assed justification, but it's clear he's just enjoying the ride). He does fairly well for a Newbie at the start, but near the end it shows off just how bad this trope can go. His entire crew dies. The worst part is only two people actually get the hint that he was incompetent, and only one from the start.
  • Crashdown from Battlestar Galactica. When unexpectedly left in command of a ground team he tries to lead a disastrous, by-the-book attack on a Cylon installation. His death "Leading the charge" allows the much more competent Chief Tyrol to take over.
  • Captain America in Generation Kill is inexperienced and completely clueless, much to the dismay of the men he commands. The miniseries actually tones him down from both Evan Wright's original account and Nate Fick's book, for fear that an accurate portrayal would destroy viewers' Willing Suspension of Disbelief. His Sergeant Rock is Eric Kocher, but in a subversion, Kocher simply promises physical violence if he doesn't start using common sense.
  • In McHales Navy, Ensign Charles Parker joins the crew of the PT-73, a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits regarded by the base commander as a "bunch of pirates." He ends up as The Woobie.
  • The relationship between newly-appointed Cabinet minister Jim Hacker and senior civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby in early seasons of Yes Minister bears some strong parallels to this trope, even if it differs in many significant details.

Meta

  • This trope is an important part of the relationship between newly appointed rulers and their chancellors/viziers both historically and in fiction. How it plays out and is often central to whether the adviser is Good or Evil by the time the plot kicks off.

Video Games

  • The Galaxy Angel gameverse subverts this twice in reference to the above. In the first three games, Tact Meyers is put in charge of the Moon Angel Troupe, however he has been in service for a short while beforehand. GAII pulls the old bait and switch by having the New Meat actually placed in the Rune Angel Troupe... However, he only leads the squad (and even then under Tact's direction) until Lady of War Lily arrives on scene.
  • Welkin Gunther of Valkyria Chronicles, who earned his squad's respect by making good on a Badass Boast.
  • Wing Commander Prophecy has Lance R. Casey, the player character. Fresh out of the Academy, he received the highest marks in his class (and the most demerits), guaranteeing him a spot as leader of Alpha Wing throughout the game. His friend "Maestro" takes up the Consulate General's Daughter part.
    • To a lesser extent, Christopher Blair qualifies for this trope, at the start of the series.
  • Similar to the 08th MS Team example above, the tactical shooter Zeonic Front has an ensign fresh from the academy not only join one of the most elite mobile suit units Zeon has, but also is immediately given command over one of its three mobile suit teams. At least two other members of the unit don't like this at all.
  • Star Trek Online combines this with a hefty dose of Rookie Red Ranger. The player character is given command of a starship at the rank of Ensign.
    • Acting command about 1/3rd through the tutorial. Official command comes at the end of said tutorial with a promotion to Lieutenant.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, Bastila is technically the leader of your party during the time between when she joins you and when you get to Dantooine. Her inexperience with command shows. Significantly. And is pointed out. Whenever she tries to give an order. Ad nauseum.
  • Due to rather significant casualties before the arrival of the Ultramarines in Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2nd Lieutenant Mira ends up in command of the Cadian 203rd regiment.
  • Final Fantasy VIII: Squall leading his team of rookies (with some more experienced members not joining until later)? Okay. Squall becoming leader of Balamb Garden when he still hasn't technically even completed his first mission? Um...
    • Bonus points for Squall explicitly stating that he didn't want to be leader, everyone just ignores him on that (then again, in FFVIII wielding a gunblade gives you instant badass status).
  • Thanks to daddy's influence, Snowe Vingerhut gets a squad of his own right after graduating the Gaien Marine Knights Academy in Suikoden IV. At first this is just made up of Lazlo and his fellow graduates, but he's soon put in charge of an entire ship of much more experienced knights during an Escort Mission. It doesn't end well.
  • The main character of Dragon Age was a member of the Grey Wardens for a grand total of one day before they became the de-facto leader of the order in the country. Mostly because all but two members were brutally slaughtered immediately after the PC joined and the other guy, six months senior, doesn't like the idea of holding the responsibility of leadership. A DLC takes place in an Alternate Universe where the other guy becomes leader. It ends badly.
  • In Vindictus, Ellis is a cadet leader straight out of the Royal Academy who reports directly to Gwynn. He's young and idealistic and has an unspoiled admiration for any heroic deed accomplished in the battle against the Fomors, and soon grows quite fond of your player character. The poor kid is brutally murdered by Information Chief Kalis in the fourth mission of the third boat.

Web Comics

  • Captain Rasho in The Water Phoenix King fits this trope: he is extremely young (despite Gilgam's sneer, he is old enough to shave -- barely, which may be why he sports Perma Stubble!) and it's implied that his parents purchased him a commission in the Bison Guards, not one of the better sorts of military units in his country. And while brave enough personally, he's inexperienced and completely inept at giving orders that will be obeyed, a situation not helped by the lackluster group of losers under him who all joined up for the money, or because they failed at school or business, or because they want an excuse to beat people up and found this the best-paying, most-legal way to do so. He's trying hard, but in way over his head.

Web Original

Real Life

  • In Russia, many regular, civilian universities have military schools ("voennye kafedry/fakultety"). It is not mandatory for male students to study in these schools, but many people do, because, you know, there is conscription in Russia, and being a conscripted lieutenant is better than being a conscripted private. Of course, lieutenants from these military schools are the least competent sort of officers, derogatorily nicknamed "pidzhaki" ("jackets") by career servicemen. They are Ensigns Newbies par excellence.
    • A more general Russian nickname for the rank and position is "Ванька-взводный" (lit. "Johnny Platoon")
  • A variation of this trope shows up in medicine, but replace "ensign" with "new resident" and the "NCO and the squad" with "nurses".
    • Pick a medical practice. Any medical practice, veterinary or human. Rule number one for any freshly-graduated doc: The Nurses Know More Than You. If a nurse "suggests" you do X, what she is really saying is, "I know this patient better than you, and I have been working in (veterinary) medicine since you were in middle school, and if you don't do X, you are going to look like an idiot." The nurse is almost always right.
  • The Royal Marines officially designate the first Troop Commander post as Phase Two of training. And they come as close to saying 'during Phase Two you will do what your Troop Sergeant tells you to do' as you can get within the confines of military etiquette.
  • Subverted in the US Navy with Mustang officers (former enlisted men who are commissioned as officers). This often leads to "salty" sailors mistakenly thinking they can pull one over on the new ensign, particularly through e-mail and phone conversations, not so much in person as the newbie ensign's ribbons and warfare devices often reveal his past experience.
  • Roald Dahl was one of these in the then British colony of Tanganyika at the beginning of World War II, as he narrates in the autobiographical Going Solo.
  • Non-military possibility: After four years of university, three years of Law School and completing the Bar Exam, a newly minted lawyer could tell you the finer points of the Rule Against Perpetuities and the Interstate Commerce Clause but when it comes to how to argue a routine discovery motion or how to set up a pretrial conference (y'know, the things new attorneys actually do.), they won't have a clue. Thank the Gods for paralegals.
  • In some corners of the British Army, Ensign Newbie knows that he has gained his mens' respect when they start calling him "Boss" instead of "Sir".
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