One of the Navy’s original ratings, Gunner’s Mates, have the responsibility of operating and maintaining the Navy’s small arms weapons, large caliber guns, guided missile launching systems, and the ordnance that goes along with them.
This rating was established in 1794 and was originally responsible for maintaining the ships cannons, cannonballs, and gun powder.
Today, these Sailors spend their days working with M2 .50 caliber machine guns, 25 mm autocannons, and Rolling Airframe Missiles.
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They train and supervise the crew in the use of all types of firearms and their associated equipment.
Gunner’s Mates store, protect, order and track explosives and ammunition, as well as operate and maintain the magazine flooding and sprinkler systems that protect them.
They are responsible for the upkeep of mechanical, electrical, and electronic equipment, and they are capable of understanding circuit diagrams, blueprints, technical publications, schematics, and other supporting documentation.
In the days of sails and wooden hulls, Gunner’s Mates were vital to the ship’s combat capabilities.
This is a fact still true today as Gunner’s Mates continue to ensure their ship is at its full warfighting capabilities any time ordnance needs to be shared with the enemy.
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Who Can Be a Gunner’s Mate?
Serving as a Gunner’s Mate can be a fulfilling and enjoyable career for those enjoy shooting and caring for guns.
To be a Gunner’s Mate in the Navy, there are five basic requirements you must meet:
- You must have a combined ASVAB line score of: AR + MK + EI + GS = 204
- You must have normal color perception (meaning no partial or full colorblindness)
- You must have normal hearing in both ears
- You must be able to obtain and maintain a security clearance
- You must be a United States Citizen
- Meet the Navy PRT Test standards
I think it goes without saying here that before you consider applying to be a Gunner’s Mate, it is important to consider your comfort with handling and discharging firearms on a regular basis.
If you are scared of, or uncomfortable with the idea of handling a firearm regularly, this job may not be the best fit for you.
Gunner’s Mate Training and Qualifications
The first step in a Gunner’s Mate’s training cycle is Recruit Training, more commonly referred to as boot camp.
Navy Recruit Training takes place at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes in Great Lakes, Illinois. Here Recruit Division Commanders (RDCs) will teach you the basic military skills and knowledge necessary to begin work in the United States Navy.
While at RTC Great Lakes, you will also learn basic Navy ship handling, small arms usage, firefighting, and Naval heritage. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, this training normally lasts 8 weeks.
Upon completion of your Recruit Training, you will travel “across the street” to Training Support Center Great Lakes.
Your training at TSC Great Lakes will last approximately 27 weeks.
This training will encompass your basic technical training at the Apprentice Technical Training Center, followed by your rating specific training at the Gunner’s Mate Accession Training School, or A School.
It is at Gunner’s Mate A-School that you will learn the basics of maintaining firearms and weapons systems, electrical and electronic circuitry, and mechanical, hydraulic, and pneumatic systems.
Upon completion of Gunner’s Mate A-School, you will officially receive your designation as a Navy Gunner’s Mate, and be assigned orders to a Navy ship.
Life as a Gunner’s Mate
Once you have made it to the fleet, you will begin working on your basic shipboard qualifications.
Before you can do much more than manual labor as a Gunner’s Mate, you have to become a certified Maintenance Man, attain your basic shipboard firefighting qualification, and on many ships, you will have to train as an armed watch stander.
Once you are you have your basic qualifications, you are ready to get started with some Gunner’s Mate work!
As a Gunner’s Mate you will have quite a wide range of duties on a ship.
1. Cleaning / Maintaining Weapons
First, you will be cleaning and maintaining the mounted weapons around the ship.
The M240 and M2 .50 caliber machine guns, and the 25 mm autocannon are mostly what you will be working with when it comes to mounted weapons.
Ensuring these weapons are in tip top shape is vital to the defense of the ship.
2. Working In The Ships Armory
Second, you will work in the Ship’s Armory. This is where all of the small arms weapons and ammunition are held.
In the armory you will be cleaning and servicing the M9 and M17 service pistols, M14 and M16 service riles, and the Mossberg 500 shotguns.
You will also be managing all of the ammunition, grenades, and non-lethal weapons such as Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) spray, retractable batons, and flexi cuffs.
As the Duty Armorer, you will also be responsible for issuing these weapons to watch standers before they assume the watch, receive them after they are relieved, and monitor all temperature and sprinkler system readings in ammunition lockers throughout the ship.
3. Conduct Security Around The Ship
Third, you will conduct security operations for the ship.
Patrolling the ship’s perimeter and ensuring all is safe about the decks. Inspecting watch standers and checking watch bills are also part of your daily duties.
Fourth (as you can see, this list is getting rather long), you will be working on the Anti-terrorism Training Team to conduct training with the ship’s armed watch standers on tactics and procedures to combat potential terrorist threats.
You will assist in the creation of anti-terrorism plans for the ship when it is pulling up pier side in foreign ports and you will conduct drills to test the ships capability to defend itself against an attack.
5. Training Sailors On The Use Of Firearms
Finally, there’s the fun part that makes everybody want to be a Gunner’s Mates. Shooting guns!
As a Gunner’s Mate, you are directly responsible for training Sailors on the proper use of the ship’s firearms.
You will arrange, and lead gun shoots at firing ranges all over the country and out to sea.
You will qualify as a line coach, so that you can teach Sailors and Marines weapon safety while discharging live ammunition, and you will grade Sailors’ performance on the range to determine their weapons proficiency.
Out to sea, you will fire the larger mounted weapons as part of exercises and qualifying events.
You will train Sailors how to load, fire, and make quick adjustments to the mounted weapons as well.
In the Navy, you will swap between deployable “sea” duties, and generally nondeployable “shore” duties.
There are situations where these rotations can change, but as a general rule the Navy will do everything in its power to ensure all Sailors are able to meet their proper sea/shore rotations.
The sea to shore assignment rotation for Gunner’s Mate is as follows:
- First sea tour will be 54 months
- First shore tour will be 36 months
- Second sea tour will be 54 months
- Second shore tour will be 36 months
- Third sea tour will be 48 months
- Third shore tour will be 36 months
- Fourth sea tour will be 42 months
- Fourth shore tour will be 36 months
Pay and Compensation
Your pay is going to be based on a combination of your rank and time in service.
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Gunner’s Mates will generally be somewhere around the paygrade of E-2 or E-3 with right at a year of service once they become rated.
This means your starting base yearly salary could be roughly $23,774 as an E-3 with fewer than two years and max out at $89,698 as an E-9 with 30 years of service.
This of course does not include Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), or Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS).
You can actually calculate your BAH using the calculator below:
Gunner’s Mates will receive Sea Pay while they are attached to a ship.
This amount is based on your rank and amount of time you have at sea.
The amount can range from $50 a month as an E-3 and below with less than a year at sea to $750 a month as an E-9 with eight or more years at sea.
Again, this does not factor in your BAH, or BAS allowances.
BAH alone can range from $7,452 to $62,748 a year depending on your rank, marital status, and where you live.
Although it fluctuates semi-annually, Gunner’s Mates’ advancement opportunity is commonly higher than the Navy average.
This means you have a much higher chance of being advanced sooner in the Gunner’s Mate rating, than you would in other Navy ratings.
Of course, advancing sooner means your base pay is going to increase faster, giving you greater earning potential than you might see in other Navy ratings.
Gunner’s Mates have a few paths they can pursue once they complete their Naval service. Gunner’s Mates receive training as technicians capable of working on complex machines.
This can lead to work in a technical field; while their experience with security will be beneficial for law enforcement.
Below I have broken up some potential post military occupations by their career fields:
- Machine repair
- Industrial maintenance
- Electrical repair
- Hydraulic systems technician
- Gun range owner/operator
- Gun safety instructor
- Shooting coach
- Law enforcement officer
- Government contractor
- Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Department of Homeland Security
- Antiterrorism consultant
- Emergency operations professional
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Through the Navy Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) program, Gunner’s Mates have the ability to earn credentials they can use in the civilian world. For free, they may earn the following certifications:
- Associate Safety Professional (ASP)
- Basic Electricity and Electronics – Direct Current (BEE-DC)
- Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE)
- Certified Safety Professional (CSP)
Additionally, Gunner’s Mates can earn apprenticeship designations from the Department of Labor through the United States Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) as a certified apprentice in the following fields:
- Small Arms Technician
- Hydraulics System Maintainer
On top of all of that, there is Active Duty Tuition Assistance and the GI Bill. Tuition Assistance will pay up to $250 a credit, for 12 credits a year, and a total of 120 credits over a lifetime. The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides 36 months of tuition, an annual book stipend, and Basic Allowance for Housing.
Because of their professional training, Gunner’s Mates are awarded approximately 18 credit hours in the areas of:
- Principles of technology
- Hydraulics and pneumatics
- Industrial safety
- AC/DC circuits
- Solid state electronics
What is it Like to be a Gunner’s Mate?
Gunner’s Mates spend their days around guns of all shapes and sizes.
They can work on handguns, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, cannons, missile launchers, mines and torpedoes.
Gunner’s Mates have a very diverse skill set that affords them the chance to experience many different types of opportunities in the Navy.
Gunner’s Mates will find themselves working in almost every type of Navy assignment.
They can be assigned to ship or shore, in the United States or overseas. Their work has them in both indoor or outdoor situations, doing clean or dirty work, and in any kind of climate or temperature.
They work alone often but will regularly find themselves working in a group as well.
GMs can often find work both mentally and physically challenging, but generally enjoy what they do.
Many Gunner’s Mates volunteer for Individual Augmentee (IA) orders.
IA orders place a Sailor in a hazardous duty zone in support of direct combat operations. As weapons specialists, Gunner’s Mates bring an important skill to a deployed unit.
They will help maintain the Humvee M2 .50 caliber and M240 machine gun mounts, and work with the different small arms on station.
Ensuring Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines all have operating, effective weapons at all times.
Some Gunner’s Mates choose to volunteer for Brig Duty.
These orders will assign them to a brig, where they will guard military prisoners. This type of duty affords Gunner’s Mates the opportunity to become certified prison guards and detainee handling specialists.
Gunner’s Mates have broad responsibilities, and they generally find satisfaction in their career.
Most really enjoy working with guns and get a lot of satisfaction out of the work they do every day.
Many enjoy the opportunity to work with the anti terrorism side of the house, helping to protect Americans from terrorist threats.
If you enjoy handling firearms and teaching others how to do the same, then Gunner’s Mate just might be the Navy rating for you!
References / Resources
What is a Gunners Mate in the Navy?
Gunners Mates are responsible for operating and maintaining small arms weapons, large caliber guns, guided missile launching systems, and ordnance.
What do Gunners Mate's do?
Responsibilities include: Cleaning / maintaining weapons, managing ammunition, grenades, and non-lethal weapons, conduct security around the ship, and train sailors on the use of firearms.
Where is Navy Gunners Mate A school?
The A school for gunners mates is located at Training Support Center Great Lakes, and lasts 27 weeks.
How much are they paid?
Gunners Mate's are paid based on their rank and length of service in the Navy. With 3 years of service and a rank of E-3, the average monthly pay would be $2,233.
What ASVAB score is required?
In order to become a Gunners Mate, you need to have a combined score total of 205.