The Combined Forces

Headquartered on Mare Island, in northern California, Terra, the Combined Forces is the military and exploratory wing of the Terran/Centaurii Alliance. Its operations are divided among four divisions, each with a seperate--but equally important--mission.

The Navy
is the military division, primarily responsible for the protection of TCA member worlds, colonies, and installations. With vessels ranging from small destroyers to titanic battleships and gunboat carriers, and such weaponry as fusion torpedoes, particle-beams and EM-pulse proximity mines, the Navy is well-prepared to preserve the lives, liberty and economic interests of Alliance citizens. Many Navy vessels also carry large detachments of ground troops, primarily the crack Alliance Marines. Uniform color: dark green.

The Patrol
is responsible for space-based rescue operations, and the interdiction of smuggling. The majority of its vessels ("cutters") are small, rugged, long-range craft, lightly to moderately armed. It is traditional for Navy personnel to taunt those in the Patrol, usually with the derisive name "Bordie." Uniform color: blue

The SurveyESV Zelazny--click for larger view
is the purely scientific division, responsible for the exploration and mapping of newly-opened regions, the in-depth study of spatial phenomena, and the placement and maintenance of hyperzap relay satellites and aids to navigation. Its ships are state-of-the-art, carry large crews and many tons of investigative equipment, and are generally unarmed apart from their huge fusion drives. The Survey is by far the "loosest" of the four divisions: its personnel are to a large extent scientists, technicians and engineers, many of high renown, and notoriously incapable of enduring the strict discipline of the Navy. A wise Survey commander will--to a certain extent--give his people the freedom to pursue their hunches unimpeded.

The Engineering Corps, responsible for the construction of space stations and other installations, is officially part of the Survey. Uniform color: grey.

Operations
As its name implies, the Ops division is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the CF. Its duties involve, but are not limited to, such diverse areas as payroll and personnel, record-keeping, ship movement, and drayage. Their duties are primarily ground-based, but they do directly oversee the ODFs (Orbital Docking Facilities) circling each Alliance member-world. Though frequently dismissed by the other divisions as "pencil-pushers" or "bean-counters," the officers and enlisted of Operations are well aware of their importance--and how quickly the CF would grind to a halt without them. Uniform color: brown.

Ranks and Specialties
In general, the men, women and neuters of the Combined Forces can be divided into two classifications: officers and enlisted.

Enlisted
personnel commonly sign a five-year (Terran Standard) agreement, with an unlimited option to re-enlist. In extraordinary circumstances, including physical or mental disability, or extreme hardship, an enlistment can be terminated prematurely. Needless to say, such a thing is easier to accomplish during peacetime. Following a three-month period of basic training, enlisted personnel are assigned to whichever division requires their services, occasionally--though not frequently--with regard to individual aptitude and preference. There are four classes of enlisted personnel, with 4th being the lowest; the highest is equivalent to the old Terran naval rank of CPO, and is as high as a non-comm can rise within the CF. "Field commissions" are extremely rare, but possible; more likely is an opportunity to attend the Officer's Academy, with one's enlisted service exempting one from certain otherwise-required courses. CF enlisted personnel are well-paid, and receive generous medical, retirement and educational benefits. The minimum age varies by species; for Terran Humans it is 17.

Officers,
by definition, are those who have attended the

Officer's Academy,
In Vallejo, in northern California, Terra. The Academy offers a rigorous, intensive, four-year course with emphasis on both physical and mental training. Its stated objective is to create captains--but in fact very few CF officers will ever command a ship. The Officer's Academy is open to any Alliance citizen, but a letter of recommendation is required, either from one's Alliance Council representative, one's planetary ambassador, or a presently-serving or honorably-retired Combined Forces officer. All reasonable accommodations are made for the differing physical abilities and needs of various species. Based upon his, her or its aptitudes, the cadet will receive specialized training on one of a number of areas. Upon graduation, he, she or it will be posted to whichever division of the CF is in need of that specialty. Changing specialties post-graduation is difficult, but not impossible, as is changing divisions.

The graduating cadet is automatically given the rank of

Ensign,
and is considered a "trainee" within his specialty. After a length of time, and close scrutiny of his job performance, the trainee will be promoted to the rank of

Lieutenant j.g. (junior grade),
which entails a dramatic increase in both authority and responsibility. To become a

Lieutenant
requires consummate knowledge of one's area of specialty: on some vessels, the heads of certain departments will be lieutenants. It is much more likely, however, for a department head to be a

Lieutenant Commander,
a rank which requires not only thorough mastery of one's own specialty, but also a demonstrated level of command ability. On some smaller vessels, the First (or Executive) Officer will be Lieutenant Commander; but on larger ships, that position will fall to a

Commander.
Smaller Navy vessels, some short-range Survey mapping ships, and most Patrol cutters, will be commanded by an officer whose official rank is Commander, though by long-standing tradition he will be called "Captain." Larger ships in all three divisions are commanded by a true

Captain.
This is the rank to which virtually all CF cadets aspire, and few ever attain. To be a captain, most especially in the Navy, requires a unique combination of attributes, not the least of which is the ability to isolate one's self emotionally from one's crew. The majority of CF captains have been highly-accomplished, stable, reliable individuals with many years of distinguished service behind them...but there have been exceptions.

A Combined Forces officer of long standing who has never commanded a ship may eventually be promoted to

Commodore,
a curious and semi-ceremonial rank, which nonetheless confers real, and entirely legal, authority. It is generally considered bad form, however, for a Commodore to misuse his authority--though that does not stop some.

The zenith of a CF officer's career comes when he, she or it is promoted to

Admiral
--though fewer than 1% of all Officer's Academy graduates will ever reach this point. (If, however, one can become a captain, one's odds of eventually making Admiral improve greatly.) Admirals are assigned direct responsibility over space-stations and other CF outposts; the CF operations on Alliance member and colony worlds outside of Terra and Centaurus; and over large segments of the fleet. The most senior admirals of each of the Alliance's member species are assigned to the Board of Admirals, the ultimate decision-making body of the Combined Forces.

Combined Forces officers are well-paid and receive excellent benefits. Those on ground-based assignment may choose to live in official quarters, or may secure outside housing, for which the CF will help pay. Except in times of war or other emergency, a CF officer may choose to resign his commission at any time, and may retire with full access to his pension and other benefits with as little as 10 years' service. Most, however, choose to remain in the service far longer. Because the member species of the Alliance vary widely in longevity, the CF has no set retirement age.

Specialties
Many specialized assignments exist within the Combined Forces, and the exact mix of jobs to be found upon any individual vessel depends upon its division and assigned mission. A few of the more common are:

Techspec
or engineer. Directly responsible for the maintenance, operation and repair of a CF vessel's engines and associated equipment. The Techspec Crew Chief is generally a Lieutenant Commander. Much of his crew will be made up of enlisted.

Navspec
or Helmsman. Responsible for navigating the vessel, point-to-point through flat-space and through hypertunnels. Also responsible, when needed, for piloting landing pods and other short-range auxiliary craft. (In practice, however, almost all CF officers have small-craft pilot's licenses.) The Navspec crew chief can be either a Lieutenant or a Lieutenant Commander, depending on the vessel.

Compcomm
or Computers and Communications. Responsible for the maintenance and operation of a CF vessel's various computer assemblies and networks, both hardware and software. Also responsible for receiving and transmitting messages, for the maintenance and operation of communications equipment, and (if necessary) the deployment of hyperzap relay satellites. The Compcomm crew chief can be either a Lieutenant or a Lieutenant Commander, depending on the vessel.

Scispec
or science specialist. A general title covering a wide range of jobs, from archaeology to botany to astrophysics. Scispecs--who can range in rank from Lieutenant j.g. to Commander--make up a large proportion of the crew of Survey vessels, but are entirely absent from Navy or Patrol ships, except under unusual circumstances.

Other Specialties
In addition to those listed above, CF vessels will carry specialists in a number of other areas. Depending on the ship and its mission, this will include such areas as Medicine, Tactics, and Security.

Uniforms
vary somewhat depending on species. The standard, everyday "duty" uniform for humans consists of a long-sleeved belted jumpsuit--the color of which depends on the division (as indicated above)--over a white T-shirt. The trouser-cuffs are "bloused" over a pair of close-fitting, calf-length black boots. On the right-hand breast is pinned the

Division insignia,Combined Forces Insignia
as well as a nametag. On the right sleeve will be sewn an embroidered patch, indicating the ship, space station or ground facility to which the wearer is assigned. On the left breast are the

Rank Stars.Lieutenant's Stars
The pattern is as follows:

Ensign: one star

Lieutenant j.g.: Two stars, placed horizontally.

Lieutenant: Three stars, in a triangle, two above, one below.

Lieutenant Commander: Four stars, in a diamond.

Commander: Five stars, in a diamond, one in the center.

Captain: Six stars, three rows of two.

Commodore: Seven stars in three rows: two, three, two.

Admiral: a single large star, surrounded by one to three smaller stars, indicating the "degree."

Enlisted: one to four gold ovals, in a horizontal row.

Species-Specific Alterations
Many changes to the duty uniform are made to accommodate the differing physical needs of various Alliance member species. Sah'aarans, for example, are able to wear a more-or-less standard jumpsuit, but are not issued boots; the trouser-cuffs are held in place around the ankles with elastic bands. Sah'aaran personnel are, however, issued uniform collars, the color matching that of the jumpsuit. Centaurii personnel wear high, flexible boots, with separate "pockets" for each of their three toes and their heel-spurs; but they reduce the duty uniform to a simple tabard, belted around the waist. Quadrians wear a modified version of the standard uniform, and four soft slipper-like shoes. In Xerxians the "uniform" is reduced to nothing more than a belt and a pair of bandoleers, crisscrossing over the thorax.

Dress Uniforms,
worn on formal or ceremonial occasions, are very similar to the standard duty version, but are made from a somewhat "richer" fabric, and (for most species) add a short, close-fitting jacket of slightly darker color, onto which an officer's medals are pinned. These can include--but are not limited to--decorations for valor, for extraordinary achievement, and for service above and beyond the call of duty.

Field GearA Sah'aaran in Field Gear
is required for all personnel on most planetfall missions, especially those into unknown or semi-known territory. The field-gear uniform is much thicker and closer-fitting than the "duty" model, and is made of a slick, shiny material that is virtually indestrucible, and provides a moderate degree of radiation protection. The elbows and knees are padded, and there are several large pockets. Embedded in the material is a network of tiny capillary tubes, through which flows an antifreeze solution, which is heated or cooled at need by a unit fastened to the back of the belt. Thus the uniform can be kept at a comfortable temperature--as long as the batteries hold out. Field gear is waterproof but "breathable," and with the built-in hood deployed, makes an excellent rain- or snow-suit. Even so, however, many species--especially Sah'aarans and Centaurii--find the uniforms confining and uncomfortable. For humans, field gear is accompanied by a pair of rugged, lug-soled boots, individually molded to the wearer, so as to be comfortable for long-distance walking.

An essential accessory to field gear is a criss-cross elastic harness which holds a variety of life-sign monitors against the torso. These instruments interface with the commpak (see below) to transmit a steady stream of telemetry to an orbiting vessel or other base-station. If an abnormality in heartbeat, respiration, blood pressure or body temperature is detected, assistance can be dispatched immediately.

The basic field gear is used most extensively by the Survey. The personnel of the Navy, and most especially the Marines, wear a modified version, with plates of graphite/ceramic-composite armor covering the torso, arms and legs, and with the commpak and scanpak (see below) built into a snug-fitting helmet.

The use of field gear, or its first cousin, combat armor, is of course restricted to planets with a breathable atmosphere and endurable surface temperature. For work in harsher environments, a range of pressure suits is available.

Equipment
For planetfall or landing-party missions, the CF issues a wide variety of standard equipment for the safety and convenience of its personnel. Only a few of these items need be discussed here.

The Stinger
is the standard defensive weapon of the Combined Forces, and uses a high-voltage electrical discharge to incapacitate--or, conceivably, kill--most known species. There are three basic types of stingers. The standard model is U-shaped, with a thumb-trigger and two discharge points about fifteen centimeters apart. Depending on the condition of the batteries, and the intensity of the discharge desired, the capacitors will recharge in one-fifth to five seconds. The weapon is accurate--and potentially deadly--within a range of about fifty meters. A standard-issue stinger is required equipment for all Survey landing-party missions, and is worn at all times by on-duty Navy and Patrol personnel. The grips are often individually-molded to the user's hand (or other manipulatory organ.)

The second model is the so-called "mini-stinger." Two types have existed. The first type, circa 2330, had a single discharge point and required physical contact with the victim. This was replaced in 2352 by a two-point folding model, which is pocket-sized, but only slightly less powerful than the standard-issue model. All off-duty CF officers are required to carry a mini-stinger at all times, and are exempt from all planetary laws banning concealed weapons.

The third model is the stinger "rifle." It differs from the standard-issue model mainly in size, having a shoulder-stock for greater stability; power, having an effective range of almost two hundred meters, and recharge time, being able to snap off full-power shots at a rate of almost two per second for an extended time. The stinger rifle is the primary weapon of the Marines and the Navy, though it is occasionally supplemented by grenade launchers and particle-beam weapons.

The Commpak
is the CF's basic personal-communications device. It is a small unit, consisting of an earplug and a small boom microphone. Sah'aarans and humans are able to wear commpaks clipped to their ears; other species must often use headbands or other fastening devices. For Centaurii personnel, the commpak is interfaced with the translator. The CF commpak has sufficient power to contact an orbiting vessel in most circumstances, but its signal can occasionally be blocked by extreme RF noise or an unusually active ionosphere. The commpak can be hooked to a scanpak or palm-reader (see below) to transmit or receive data.

The Scanpak
is the single most important piece of equipment carried on a Survey planetfall mission. It consists of two parts: an eyepiece screen, held in place over either eye by an elastic headband, and a gauntlet, worn upon either hand and packed with sensors. Among its many functions, the scanpak can: determine air or water temperature; determine air pressure; analyze the component minerals in a sample of rock; ascertain the presence of dangerous pathogens or poisonous compounds in food or water; and locate and identify life-forms. For the Navy and Marines, the scanpak is most commonly used as a targeting scanner, in conjunction with sensors built into the stock of the stinger-rifle.The scanpak also has computational and data-storage functions, which can be greatly extended by interfacing with a

Palm-Reader.
A small, thin device with a flat screen, the palm-reader functions primarily as a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), for data-storage and retrieval. Data can be entered either with a direct linkage to a computer, commpak or scanpak, or by means of tiny, flat storage cards. In conjunction with a stylus, the screen functions as a "notepad." In civilian use, the palm-reader has largely, though not completely, replaced printed-and-bound books. More commonly used aboard ship, the palm-reader is handy during long planetfall missions.

More to Come!


All information on this page is copyright 2001 by Paul S. Gibbs. All artwork is copyright by its creators, as indicated on the images themselves. Any reproduction, reposting,  retransmission or alteration without express written permission of the copyright owners is strictly prohibited.

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