(covers information from several alternate timelines)
"I hadn't realized things were going so bad."
"Scary, isn't it? If my classmates at the Academy could only see me now."
Ensign was a commissioned rank, the equivalent of which was used by the service organizations of many civilizations, namely by Starfleet, the Orions, and the Bajoran Militia. The rank or term "ensign" itself, was unfamiliar to the Kraylor. (VOY: "Nightingale")
As a traditional naval grade, ensign was the lowest junior officer rank, below lieutenant junior grade or lieutenant. (VOY: "Nightingale") In Starfleet, it was usually the first rank assigned to new officers upon graduation from Starfleet Academy. (VOY: "Caretaker", et al.)
Naomi Wildman believed that she would be able to rise up the ranks aboard USS Voyager, as it crossed the Delta Quadrant, charting her journey as, "I'll be bridge assistant for a while, then I'll be promoted to Ensign. It'll be Lieutenant after that, and by the time we reach the Alpha Quadrant, Captain Wildman." (VOY: "Infinite Regress")
When Lieutenant Commander Janice Rand noted Ensign Tuvok preparing a Vulcan tea especially for Captain Hikaru Sulu, she chided him, asking "Trying to make Lieutenant in your first month? I wish I'd have thought of that when I was your age. Took me three years just to make Ensign." Tuvok, however, assured her that he had no ulterior motives. (VOY: "Flashback")
According to Lieutenant Commander Data, for one to move up the ranks, and "one proved themselves more capable, typically after three years as an ensign, they would be considered for promotion into the lieutenant tier." (TNG: "Datalore")
Duties and responsibilities
An ensign's primary duty was professional growth, both as a leader and as an occupational specialist. Ensigns were mentored by more senior officers as well as chief petty officers as part of their development as Starfleet leaders. (DS9: "The Ship", "Starship Down") On some of the larger starship classes, such as the Galaxy-class starships, it was not uncommon for veteran and seasoned enlisted personnel to have ensigns working for them as technicians, thus having the ensign "learning the ropes" of the more technical aspects of starship design, such as transporter components. (TNG: "Clues")
Following the graduation of Marta Batanides and Jean-Luc Picard from Starfleet Academy, and prior to their respective first assignments, Batanides suggested that "Maybe these bars are just starting to feel a little heavy, Ensign," after noting Picard's "hidden streak of responsibility," which Picard otherwise shrugged off as being part of "just getting older" (TNG: "Tapestry")
When Benjamin Sisko was an ensign, he met Curzon Dax, who, as he later explained, "took a raw young Ensign under his wing and taught me to appreciate life in ways I'd never thought about before. He taught me about art and science and diplomacy. Whatever sense of honor I might have today, he nurtured." (DS9: "Dax")
Following the promotion of Ezri Dax to lieutenant junior grade in 2375, Julian Bashir told her, "I'm glad they made you a lieutenant. It would have been hard taking advice from an ensign. (DS9: "Afterimage")
Though junior officers, Ensigns, were permitted to fulfill the position of bridge officer, acting captain, and even be a member of the senior staff. (ENT: "Cold Front", "The Xindi"; TNG: "Where No One Has Gone Before", "Hide and Q"; VOY: "Caretaker", "Warhead")
Experience and protocol
During a scenario devised for the M-5 drills in 2268, Captain James T. Kirk chose the ship's chief geologist Rawlins for a member of his landing party. When the M-5 computer made a difference choice, geologist Carstairs instead, Kirk did not see it the same way, explaining that Carstairs was "an ensign, no experience. This is his first tour of duty" aboard the USS Enterprise. M-5, however, disagreed because it knew that "Geologist Carstairs served on Merchant Marine freighters in this area. Once visited planet on geology survey for mining company." (TOS: "The Ultimate Computer")
When Ensign William T. Riker served aboard the USS Pegasus in 2358, seven months after his graduation from the Academy, he noted his inexperience was what allowed him to blindly follow the commands of Captain Erik Pressman during a mutiny. Recalling twelve years later, "I wasn't a hero and neither were you. What you did was wrong and I was wrong to support you, but I was just too young and too stupid to realize it. You were the captain. I was the ensign. I was just following orders." (TNG: "The Pegasus")
- See: Starfleet ensigns
The 22nd century Starfleet denoted ensigns with a single rank pin. During the 2250s and 2260s, Federation Starfleet uniforms showed no insignia for ensigns. (ENT: "Broken Bow"; TOS: "The Cage", "Court Martial")
By the 2270s, ensigns were granted the former insignia of lieutenant junior grade, the lieutenant jg rank itself having been discontinued. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) By at least 2278, ensigns wore a single pin shaped like a stylized "v" letter. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; VOY: "Flashback"; LD: "I, Excretus")
The late 23rd century pin insignia was used until at least the 2320s. (TNG: "Tapestry") By the end of the 24th century, Starfleet ensigns were once again indicated by one single rank pin. (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint")
|Enlisted personnel||Commissioned officers||Flag officers|
|ENS||LT JG||LT||LT CMDR||CMDR||CAPT||FCAPT||CDORE||RADM||VADM||ADM||FADM|
|2nd LT||1st LT||CAPT||MAJ||LT COL||COL||BRIG||MAJ GEN||LT GEN||GEN||MARSHAL|
|Services:||Andorian • Bajoran • Cardassian • Ferengi • Human (CSA • Third Reich • UE MACO • USA) • Jem'Hadar • Klingon • Romulan • United Earth/Federation Starfleet • Vulcan|
Mirror universe: Terran Empire Starfleet • Terran Empire MACO
Star Trek has often portrayed ensigns as background characters who stand watches at bridge stations, serve as nameless security guards, or who get killed or eaten by the alien creature of the week (see "redshirt"). The characters of Wesley Crusher and Pavel Chekov were the first ensigns to be seriously explored with their duties and responsibilities mainly confined to learning and professional growth as officers. The episode TNG: "Lower Decks" also dealt with ensigns and what their daily duties consisted of.
Starfleet ensigns were rarely seen in command of others, one exception being when Ensign Chekov leads a security detail in TOS: "And the Children Shall Lead" or when Wesley Crusher was assigned to lead a science team in TNG: "Pen Pals".
In one peculiar instance, blurring the rank structure aboard Enterprise NX-01, Major J. Hayes demanded that Ensign Sato contact the Captain, stating, "I gave you a direct order, Ensign." (ENT: "Hatchery")
Occasionally, older characters have been seen as ensigns, an example of which is Jana Haines, who appears as an ensign but seems to be in her late 30s or early 40s, as well as ensigns Davies and Alans who hold the rank of ensign while serving as science officers with obvious graduate level education. Several other medical and science ensigns from Star Trek: The Next Generation (and later series) have also appeared whose age and experience indicates that they are obviously not recent Starfleet Academy graduates. This gives rise to the possibility that Starfleet, much like the United States Navy, has commissioning programs for prior enlisted personnel or for civilian doctors and scientists who wish to join Starfleet.
In the alternate reality, Leonard McCoy came out of Starfleet Academy as a lieutenant commander. This is also a common practice by the current armed forces, i.e. to give this elevated rank to highly specialized professions (doctors, lawyers, etc.).
In the background/special features section of the Star Trek: The Next Generation DVD set, actor Wil Wheaton stated that he had received Roddenberry's "gold ensign bars" from World War II; however, since Roddenberry's service was in the Army Air Corps, and not the Navy, Roddenberry's insignia were actually second lieutenant bars.
After his character's promotion on the show, Gene Roddenberry gave Wil Wheaton the second lieutenant bars he earned in the Army Air Corps (second lieutenant being equivalent to an ensign in the US Navy). Present at the ceremony was General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who later became Secretary of State. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 128); Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 159)
Mentioned in several non-canon novels and other publications is a junior rank known as "Ensign junior grade". The character of Miles O'Brien was suggested to have held this rank, specifically in the novelization of Emissary. In the historic United States Navy, a rank known as "Passed Midshipman" existed in the early 20th century intended for recent Naval Academy graduates who had yet to qualify for a position at sea.