While watching episodes of Star Trek Next Generation, it struck me how they mashed up rates and ranks. In the original series Gene Roddenberry indicated there were no enlisted personnel in Starfleet. That meant every crewman you saw was (unless noted otherwise)an ensign probably rotating through various departments deciding on their career path (science, command, communications, engineering, security etc). Sounds interesting in theory but the division of labor is necessitated by the fact that large organizations need different people to do different tasks. And they all cannot be officers if that is to be the case. Some have to lead, others have to be told what needs to be done. If they are all officers, that would pose a problem. And in most militaries of the world, it is the sergeants and petty officers who really are the oil of the machinery that makes it all work.
Next Generation acknowledged there are enlisted and non-commissioned officers but could not decide on how to present them. So like the original series, they walked around wearing standard uniforms but had no insignia that identified what rate they were. Officers all had pips on their collars. Even Chief O’Brien had nothing for a while until they gave him a empty yellow pip on his collar. Even then, it did not look right. By the time O’Brien transferred over to Deep Space Nine, they finally decided to distinguish enlisted personnel with insignia that was based on naval rate insignia. Chief O’Brien finally had insignia that clearly showed he was a master chief petty officer. They also gave those on Deep Space Nine a different type of uniform. I suppose the rationale was that the military do have different types of uniforms for different tasks. That is certainly true with specialized units but most officers and enlisted wear the same uniform though they may vary by season (dark in winter, lighter in summer). Other than making a style change, there was really no need to have a different uniform for Deep Space Nine.
Another important thing is a clear separation of staff from field/line commands. Most services have large support departments (medical, supply, personnel, accounting, legal). Doctors,lawyers, and supply officers do not lead field units nor command ships. This clear delineation ought to require no explanation. You put officers in charge of field/line units who are trained to do that, not someone trained in preparing legal briefs. Yet in Next Generation, Counselor Troi is somehow the senior officer on the bridge in Disaster because Miles O’Brien says she has rank of commander. Yet that is not how it works at all. She is not a field/line officer but in medical. The officer of the deck (OOD) had been killed so the Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) would be next in line. That would be the ensign manning the operations station. Now granted the conditions were extraordinary but it would not fall to Troi to be in command of the bridge. O’Brien in fact would the acting engineering officer assisting the JOOD in getting things running again if this were being run more closer to actual military protocols. Troi could advise but not issue orders.
I think they kind of realized the mistake later. On Deep Space Nine, Ensign Nog asks the chief why Commander Dax was called captain while commanding Defiant. O’Brien explains that it is tradition that whoever is in actual command of a ship, no matter what their actual rank, is called captain. Nog says something about him becoming captain. O’Brien jokes back things would have to really go bad if he as ensign becomes Defiant’s captain. If it came down to Nog being the senior officer left, things are definitely in a bad way.