Star Trek fandom comes in many different varieties. Me, I’ve never learned Klingon or dressed up as Kirk or played three-dimensional chess, but I’ve done a lot of digging into various semi-canonical sources just to try to get a better understanding of how life works in the 24th century, particularly ife in Starfleet. Some out-of-print RPG stuff has been a big help, along with fan sites like http://startrek.acalltoduty.com/. As readers of our earlier Trek articles know, I have a particular interest in the “Lower Decks” guys on a starship --- Ben the Space Waiter, Ensign Rusty the Chief Services Officer, the seldom-seen Second Officer / Beta Shift Officer of the Watch, etc. Today I want to talk about one of those stations at the back of the bridge that seem to explode a lot: Mission Operations.
The Mission Operations Officer’s main job is to provide support for the Operations Manager. Operations Manager is a job that covers a lot of different responsibilities (which is why Harry Kim always seemed so wound up). The TNG Technical Manual emphasizes the “resource allocation” aspect of the job — there’s only so much power and computing capacity to go around, only so many sensor arrays, etc., and Ops makes sure that the ship doesn't blow a fuse by trying to run all the holodecks at once while traveling Warp 9. Beyond this, the Ops position seems to extend to communications, sensors, accessing the library computer, real-time data analysis, and acting as the bridge’s de facto Engineering and Science officer when those stations are not otherwise occupied.
In other words, especially on a massive Galaxy or Sovereign class starship, Operations Manager the sort of job where it helps to be an android. Therefore, having a “Deputy Ops Manager” over at the Mission Ops makes a lot of sense — on a big ship, or during particularly busy periods, you don’t have to multitask quite as hard if you have another guy who knows it’s his job to monitor communications, or watch the structural integrity field and shields during battle.
As the Technical Manual points out, the Mission Operations Officer also acts as a backup Operations Manager. When Mr. Data steps out for an Away Mission or a wacky holodeck adventure, and some guy hustles over and takes his comfy chair, that’s probably our Mission Ops Officer. My personal take on it, by the way, is that your Ops Manager is the last guy who should be running off on Away Missions. The Helm / Flight Control Officer is probably a red-shirted Command officer waiting to move up to First Officer, so it makes sense to get him some field experience, but the Ops Manager has a skill set that is needed on the bridge.
Several bridge configurations seem to have multiple Mission Ops stations (like that big Enterprise-E bridge --- seriously, who are all of these people?), and this makes sense --- there will be situations where things get so busy that you need to break down that Operations job and have one person watching an Away Team, one person keeping an eye on the ship as a whole, one person handling communications, one person on sensor duties, etc.
This “Deputy Ops Manager” role for the Mission Operations Officer also suggests a career path for young officers. Operations Officers probably start out on Beta or Gamma Shift, when there’s generally less going on and they only have to pay attention to ten things at once instead of twenty things at once. Moving from Operations Manager (Beta Shift) to Mission Operations Officer (Alpha Shift) is major career advancement, because Alpha Shift is where the action is. Unlike the Chief Engineer and the Chief Tactical Officer, the Operations Manager doesn't seem to have a big staff under him, so I like the idea that he at least has these apprentice Ops guys, who sleep in their uniforms and run to the bridge every time a Red Alert alarm starts flashing.
However, Mission Ops doesn’t have to be a stepping stone to Operation Manager. Will Riker did some time in Operations (as evidenced by Tom Riker’s gold uniform), and I’m guessing that a stint as a junior Ops officer (i.e., Mission Ops) is what many career-minded Command division officers do to shore up their technical skills on their way to their first command. On the flip side, the universe needs more Chief O’Briens, and it’s easy to imagine Mission Operations as a career path for non-commissioned officers.
The Technical Manual explains that the “Mission” part of Mission Ops refers to their specific role of monitoring “secondary missions.” In particular, they act as a liason between Away Teams and the bridge, monitoring communications and comm badge life signs and tricorder data, and keeping that transporter lock ready. That’s a great idea — the Away Team knows that no matter what kind of craziness is happening, someone on the bridge is watching and listening and providing additional support as needed, whether it’s data or equipment or additional personnel.
The TNG Technical Manual assigns the Operations Manager a bunch of associated duties like notifying Away Team personnel of the assignment and providing mission briefings, notifying secondary personnel who fill in for the Away Team, and even issuing of tricorders, phasers, environmental gear, and other mission-specific equipment. Come on, people. Learn to delegate. On any ship where they have the manpower for a full-time Mission Operations Officer, all of these Away Team responsibilities should be left to Mission Ops.
An Away Team is typically an ad hoc, multi-department task force that the First Officer pulls together on short notice. Riker tended to pick the first three or four officers he saw (clearing out the bridge in the process). Maybe a couple of anonymous Security guys fill out the Away Team, until their grisly deaths. Dammit, Will, when you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. There are one thousand people on this ship — tell Mission Ops what you need, and let him propose a team and get them assembled in the dedicated Away Team Ready Room (right next to a transporter room and a bathroom). Mission Ops issues phasers, Horta sticks, and corpse-handling gloves, assists with mission briefing (running the 3-D Powerpoint presentation while Number One talks), and maybe makes sure that everyone has snacks. As soon as the Mission Ops Officer is back on the bridge, everyone beams down. Now that’s how you do an Away Mission.