Why Didn’t Chief O’Brien Ever Get Promoted?

Colm Meaney as Chief O’Brien

CBS Colm Meaney as Chief O’Brien

Chief Miles Edward O’Brien was an extraordinary character on “Star Trek.” He was one of a handful of beings who made the successful jump from one Trek series to another as a prime character. Not counting those who have been recast (Pike) or rebooted (Spock), this is a concise list. Actor Colm Meaney joins Worf (Michael Dorn), Seven (Jeri Ryan), and Picard (Patrick Stewart) as the only Trek actor/characters who have made this transition. Not even the great William Shatner can claim this feat.

But as great as O’Brien was, why didn’t he get promoted more? We know that he ended his career as a professor of engineering at Starfleet Academy on Earth. Thanks to a hilarious scene on “Star Trek: Lower Decks,” he was such a great guy that long after he was dead, schoolchildren learned about “The Most Important Person in Starfleet History.” 

Collider asked Meaney about this, and he said that “finally, they got it right!” But did they really?

Colm Meaney on O’Brien

Since the end of “Star Trek: Voyager,” fans have mocked Harry Kim for never getting above the rank of ensign. Fans cite many reasons for that. Among possible reasons why Kim (Garrett Wang) was never promoted was because “…if they promoted Harry, they’d have to promote everyone and then the ship would be full of commanders.”

In a way, Harry Kim was just trying to get back to Earth for seven years, while O’Brien was helping beat the Borg, the Cardassians, the Founders, and the Jem’Hadar. O’Brien went undercover for Section 31 and put his life — and the lives of his family — on the line again and again. 

Miles, the Spy

So why wasn’t O’Brien honored by Starfleet with a promotion? According to Memory Alpha, O’Brien was a Senior Chief Petty Officer. This meant that he never attained the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer or even Command Master Chief Petty Officer. Since Starfleet ranks follow the military tradition of the U.S. Navy, O’Brien certainly could have moved up to these higher positions. 

A note, though, that some fans argue that he actually was a higher rank than chief, and the cite that he may have worn Lieutenant’s pips on “The Next Generation.” This is a minority opinion.

According to the website MilitaryBenefits, a Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO/E-9) “is the most distinguished Petty Officer.” They also write that the Master Chief “is highly credentialed in their expertise and holds the most authority in large departments.” On DS9, there was no one more knowledgeable about how the station worked than O’Brien. 

The next rung up would be the Command Master Chief Petty Officer (CMC/E-9), which is “the leading chief aboard ships or shore-based units, and act as a bridge between enlisted officers and the commanding officer.” 

‘Treachery, Faith and the Great River’

There were many, many episodes of DS9 where fans saw this sort of behavior play out. In fact, O’Brien was so well thought of and knowledgeable that he regularly ordered around officers of superior rank — the DS9 episode “Treachery, Faith and the Great River” is an excellent example of this. O’Brien nearly gets into big trouble because Ensign Nog makes purchases and trades using O’Brien’s authorization codes. The chief authorized an ensign to do this… which is not correct in the chain of command. 

Chief O’Brien could have been promoted to either of those levels, or he could have wound up like Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney). She started her career on the Enterprise as a non-commissioned officer. She was Kirk’s “leggy” yeoman during “The Original Series,” and rose to the rank of commander. Rand served aboard the Excelsior under Captain Sulu (George Takei) on “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”

Yeoman Janice Rand

It could be that, if offered, O’Brien would have turned down a promotion. According to Trek fan Denes House, O’Brien might have been fine where he was. 

“As others have pointed out, it is not uncommon in the military for senior enlisted personnel to have vastly more experience and expertise than junior officers who outrank them,” House wrote on Quora.

“The wise officer listens very carefully to the senior enlisted under his or her command, and makes sure to treat them with the respect due to their experience,” wrote House. “Not doing so can result in a whole lot of grief for the arrogant officer.” 

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