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This was due to a recurring costuming error. See here for a full history of his various "ranks".

In the episode Realm of Fear, they wanted to establish O'Brien as a subordinate of Lt. Barclay.

What possibly may have happened was that O'Brien started out as a Lieutenant or Lieutenant junior grade, and then got busted to Chief Petty Officer, similar to the way Tom Paris was demoted to Ensign in Star Trek: Voyager (If we are to assume that the federation works in a similiar manner to the modern Navy, this is unlikely. Officers that are demoted are only ever demoted to an inferior officer grade, never into an enlisted grade. This would prevent junior officers of only a few years of service being "busted down" into an enlisted grade which requires years of experience.) This is certainly supported by the fact of the rank insignia and the established grades corresponding to them as seen on his uniform. I always thought he was called 'Chief' as in 'Transporter Chief' until it was explicitly explained, in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Family", that O'Brien, like Sergey Rozhenko, at least as of the time of that episode, held the enlisted rank of Chief Petty Officer.

O'Brien's "demotion" to enlisted-rank Chief Petty Officer marked the beginning of the "O'Brien must suffer" movement that extended into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is an example of a sentiment against the Irish reminscent of and analogous to antisemitism.


that is complete speculation, the producers merely retconned his rank to establish him as an Enlistedman, a type of character rarely explored in Star Trek. This has nothing to do with the O'brien must suffer movement or racism.

also, officers are almost never bumped down to enlisted ranks, that would be inappropriate, they are two different rank systems. It is very rare for an officer to be bumped down more than one or two ranks anyway usually that is seen as sufficiant punishment for a crime warrenting a demotion, anything more severe would require a different kind of sentence, such as prison time or dishonorable discharge. In the case of "Equinox" when the surviving officers were demoted to crewman it can be scene as an exceptional circumstance because of voyager's being stranded, but otherwise an officer can not be stripped of his commission unless he is completely removed from the service.Cpthunt 05:34, July 16, 2011 (UTC)


That may be the way it is in the U.S. military, but Starfleet is not the military, nor is it even a military. ProfessorTrek 19:51, July 16, 2011 (UTC)


It's just mistake by the writers. Also in DS9 he gives order to Ensigns (who should be his supiriors (ie Nog, after he got promoted to Ensign)

That may have been because he was still considered a department head, thus Nog's superior in position if not grade, he still had to call Nog "Sir," but he had a little leeway. The rest of his staff were also enlisted too, asside from Nog. Besides, as I recall, he rarely ever phrased anything as a direct order to Nog. In general the writers clearly didn't have much understanding of military protocol, they can be excused from the occasional slipup. There are modern Military based shows (such as Stargate SG-1, Primeval: New World and NCIS) that have made even worse mistakes, such as incorrect insignia, improperly worn uniforms, covers worn indoors, working cases outside the Military's jurisdiction, etc.-Cpthunt (talk) 02:05, March 4, 2013 (UTC)

On several occasions during ST:TNG it is clear that O'Brien wears, variously, an Ensign, Lieutenant, junior grade, and Lieutenant's pips before being explicitly and verbally in dialogue in ST:TNG "Family", explained to hold the enlisted rank of Chief Petty Officer. It's difficult to see the misconduct that must have given rise to O'Brien being busted from officer rank. That said, it does become somewhat more plausible as the O'Brien character is developed during ST:DS9; but, that happens almost by default as the characters become more developed, and thus more "human".
The idea that O'Brien was busted from Lieutenant down to Chief Petty Officer is a hallmark of the "O'Brien Must Suffer" movement. Of course, it is also possible that he was always meant to be an enlisted-rank character, as his officer-grade rank is never established in dialog (although it is canon because of the known significance of the pips, and the development of enlisted-rank pips used in ST:DS9).
But contextually, from ST:TNG "The Drumhead" on, it also seems to have been an objective of the writers and producers to show Starfleet as an organization which not only graduates officers from a four-year military-academy-type university known as Starfleet Academy, but also enlisted personnel who can, but need not, have postsecondary education. There is even such an institution mentioned, in ST:DS9.
The distinction, of course, is that graduates of universities tend to receive primarily theoretical instruction in the university setting, and are considered to be adept enough that they can, on their own, pick up the practical, hands-on skillset "on the job", whereas technical school curricula teach the hands-on skillset only as part of the degree-credit curriculum, ignoring an emphasis on the big-picture theoretical subjects altogether. One is not necessarily "better" or "more worthy" than the other; the strength of today's military and its alumni, of course, reside in such diversity.
It's kind of like the present-day distinction between the United States Military Academy at West Point and DeVry or ITT. Of course, subsequent to ST:TNG "Family", O'Brien is probably a rarity among Starfleet enlisted ranks in that he graduated from Starfleet Academy (unless his misconduct was so severe, and in the nature of, that Starfleet Academy revoked his diploma, which seems unlikely).
Also, the skill set that O'Brien develops over the course of ST:TNG and ST:DS9 is such that he is mentioned in ST:DS9 "What You Leave Behind" as being recruited (no pun intended) to teach Engineering subjects at Starfleet Academy. ---ProfessorTrek (talk) 09:13, March 5, 2013 (UTC)

I think, if anything, his retcon to enlisted rank brought about the "O'Brien must suffer" not the other way around, being an enlistedman made it easier for the viewers to relate to him then to the educated officer characters, so therefore it was easier for them to write the stories they did for him. He wasn't even really a major character until he arrived on DS9. As for his attending the academy, it's not unlikely that Starfleet maintains an enlisted recruiting depot on the grounds of the academy, even if that's not the case with modern military academies, it makes sense from a logistical standpoint, for an organization the size of the Federation, to centralize a planet's training facilities. They may even take some basic technical courses at the academy.-Cpthunt (talk) 18:50, March 5, 2013 (UTC)


Above, ProfessorTrek says: "Of course, it is also possible that he was always meant to be an enlisted-rank character, as his officer-grade rank is never established in dialog"

But actually, Commander Riker, in Season 2, Episode 2: "Where Silence Has Lease," refers to him as "Lieutenant". So this seems to go beyond a costuming error into a a writing error, or a change of mind about the character."

Damn straight. It's pretty much irrefutable, from a longitudinal consideration of the story content of all of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, that the earlier episodes conclusively depict O'Brien as an officer--and then, certainly by ST:TNG "Family", O'Brien had been busted down to Chief Petty Officer, an enlisted rank. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine the Great Rank-Insignia Anomaly (wherein O'Brien is unequivocally referred to as "Chief"--as in "Chief Petty Officer"--but nevertheless continues to sport Lieutenant's pips) is corrected, and O'Brien is shown wearing enlisted pips. And, the fact that he is nonetheless a graduate of Starfleet Academy is recognized in the dialogue that explains in the final, closing episodes of ST:DS9 that O'Brien has been invited to lecture as a Professor at the Academy. --ProfessorTrek (talk) 08:32, September 6, 2014 (UTC)

I'd just take it as it is, a retcon. It's extremely unlikely that a Lieutenant would be busted all the way down to NCO rank, especially if he's still serving on the flagship afterwards. I can only think of one other case in all of Trek where officers are reduced to crewmen, and that was very extreme circumstances (in VOY: Equinox), and those officers were stripped completely down to Crewman for their actions. CPO is a rather high rate for an enlistedman, I don't think an officer punished like that would be placed in any position of authority (let alone Chief Transporter Operator on the flagship). Also, such a punishment would probably derail his career, I don't think O'Brien would have been chosen for the post on DS9 if he was busted down like that (let alone get his later posting at the academy at the end of the series). It's never said he "graduated" from the academy, only that he took classes there, which isn't implausible given the technical nature of his specialty.-Cpthunt (talk) 06:32, September 7, 2014 (UTC)

My way of retconning it is that Picard (or Riker) prefer to keep the command structure simplified on the ship, and allow NCOs in important positions to take on acting-rank commissions (if he'd do it for a civilian like Wesley, why not do it for an experienced NCO like O'Brien). A CPO in his field could reasonably be the equivalent of a full lieutenant. In contrast to how it's run by Jellico or Kurn, the Enterprise-D does seem to be quite laid-back (officers are frequently seen in out-of-date Starfleet uniforms and such; wardrobe department reusing the old jumpsuits, I know). 19:43, June 2, 2016 (UTC)

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