While other, more ground combat-oriented service branches have armorers repairing their rifles, pistols, and machine guns, the Navy (with its gigantic guns and torpedoes) likes to hide a lot more work behind the deceptively simple name "Gunner's Mate."
Although GMs are expected to teach and repair small arms weaponry (pistols, rifles, and the like) they're also responsible for the big guns aboard ship, including guided missile launch systems. As if that's not a broad enough stroke, the Navy decided in 2007 to eliminate another job class, the Torpedoman's Mate, and give all of those responsibilities to the GM rating as well.
Duties and Responsibilities
So, let's get this straight. Here's a sample of the various kinds of weapons systems a gunner's mate has to understand, use, and repair, as quoted from the Navy Personnel Command website:
- Small Arms
- Night vision equipment
- Large caliber guns
- Missile systems
- Sprinkler systems (Say what?)
Well, that's not much, is it?
Lest you think this is just a rear-lines repair shop type of job, keep in mind that the Navy Credentialing Opportunities On Line (COOL) rating information card tells us that "GMs serve on combat surface craft aviation activities and in weapons installations, ordnance depots or other shore stations in the United States or overseas," and further, that GM's duties "can be both mental and physical" and take place in "indoor or outdoor situations, clean or dirty work, deck or shop, and any kind of climate or temperature." In other words, all the technical know-how makes this job plenty nerdy, while the nature of the work keeps these mentally sharp sailors sufficiently immersed in the grime and grit to remind them they're alive.
US citizens who graduated (or will graduate) high school begin exploring careers as gunner's mates by taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to see if they can score 204 or higher through a combination of scores in arithmetic reasoning, mathematics knowledge, electronics information, and general science.
Before shipping off to boot camp, would-be sailors must also pass a physical indicating normal color vision (sorry, there are a lot of wires involved) and hearing (I assume they'd like you to start off with the best shot possible at leaving the Navy with your hearing intact after working near things that can go "boom.") Background checks must also prove each sailor trustworthy enough to receive a secret security clearance.
Technical ("A") school for gunner's mates conveniently takes place right nearby boot camp aboard Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois. According to the Navy COOL rating information card, GM school itself is just shy of seven months long (27 weeks.) Combined with basic training, new sailors entering the rating can expect to be in training for the better part of a year before hitting the fleet for duty.
"A" school has a lot of ground to cover. GMs are responsible for a wide variety of weapons, from the simple hand-held gas-powered weapons most soldiers, sailors, and Marines are familiar with to the frighteningly complex technological powerhouses that make it possible for Sean Connery to order a torpedo launch from the Red October. (How one makes a Russian sub commander speak English with a Scottish brogue is, sadly, not covered in the course materials.)
Though group lecture is involved, it seems in today's Navy there's also a premium placed on "self-paced" (computer software) instruction, though that's probably a good thing if you're learning "electrical fundamentals, including . . . electron theory, magnetism, AC and DC theory, and circuitry" (American Council on Education Military Guide). Take this basic foundation in electronics troubleshooting and heap specific topics like repair of small arms, hydraulics, and torpedo launch systems on top, and you've got a gunner's mate. Simple, right?
The college-minded, by the way, may later convince schools to give equivalent credit for topics such as hydraulics, pneumatics, industrial safety, and electronics theory, according to the American Council on Education.
Navy COOL doesn't list the names of any certifications for GMs that sound particularly exciting or directly related to weapons handling. However, those certificate programs that are available through Navy and GI Bill funding may be more valuable in that they seem to generalize gunners' technical skills better for civilian consumption:
- Homeland Security
- Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence
- Certified Quality Technician
- Certified Safety Professional
- Quality Inspector
Through the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) sailors may also qualify for civilian certification as a journeyman apprentice in fields like electronics mechanic, electronics tester, ordnance artificer, or armory technician.