[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]
“I don’t ask my people to do anything I wouldn’t do,” Chief Greg Colvin says. There is a pronounced twinkle in his eye, but on the evidence I have to say he means it.
Greg is Munro’s GMC (Gunners Mate Chief) and he was preparing to run a live-fire exercise on one of our .50-caliber guns. The original plan was to shoot at targets, but as they frequently do underway things happened (the plan of the day isn’t really a plan, it’s more like a suggestion, an idea, a concept) and we shot at the water instead. First we had our pre-fire brief, where everyone involved in the exercise gathered in the Wardroom and ran down a script, after which we ran a GAR assessment, which came out well in the green.
Off the gunners trooped to the .50-caliber gun mounted on the starboard side focsle. There are Greg, GM1 Josh Hendl, GM3 Tim Schlehofer, and eight gunners, SN Dominic Cortese, SN Alex Trimble, BM3 Dario Garza, SN Jonathan Hannans, SN Stephanie Deck, SN Frederick Lamar, SN Nathan Cramer, and SN Dennis Gordon. They suit up in personal protective equipment (PPE) including helmets and flak jackets.
They shoot in pairs, coached by Greg, trading off loading and shooting. “Bursts of three to five, dah-dah-dah-dah-dah,” he says, “with a brief pause in between.” Shorter bursts and the gun jams, so three to five bursts at first to sight in on the target, then five to ten bursts thereafter. Shooting longer bursts, the gun overheats and “A hot gun will cook off rounds.” The mount captain reports to the GLO (Gunnery Liaison Officer LTJG Adrian Harris) on the bridge.
At first the gunners and loaders are startled by the noise and a little hesitant to hold down the trigger. The bursts are stuttery and stop suddenly. The gun jams, especially since we are using 25-round belts of ammunition, which aren’t heavy enough to keep the ammunition hanging so that it feeds properly into the gun. Greg clears it and then shoots fifty rounds in smooth bursts, making it look easy. The gunners and loaders gain confidence. The gun stops jamming and we start running through 25—round clips fast. The deck is littered with spent rounds.
There is an occasional misfire but they’ve got it down now. “Misfire, misfire, misfire!” the gunner shouts. “One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand!” This in case the unspent round is hanging fire. The loader, wearing protective gloves, holds his hands under the breech while the gunner racks back the charging handle. If the round falls out, he inspects it to find out if it’s a problem with the round or a problem with the gun. All of this is being relayed to the GLO by the mount captain.
At the debrief, Greg and GM1 Ramiro Surita are displeased. Greg is especially unhappy that they didn’t check the head spacing and timing properly. This could cause the round to explode instead of fire, which would mean shrapnel and someone could get hurt. There was also some confusion in communications due to break-ins on both ends of the sound-powered phones.
It doesn’t seem to dim anyone’s enthusiasm. Down on the mess deck, eating a late lunch (those wonderful people in the galley kept plates warm for us, thank you, Lee and Tracy, for the flat bread, pasta, and teriyaki chicken), the much put-upon Jonathan is defending himself with spirit and vigor. Mistakes were made during the live fire exercise but, as he is quick to point out, they were not all his. “Thank you,” Dennis said. “I’m going to be so healthy thanks to you.” “You should be grateful!” Frederick says, who had been ragging on Jonathan a second before. They look and sound happy and excited, and proud.
When you’re a Munro gunner, there is swift and immediate punishment for error. The gunners accrue push-ups when they make mistakes, and they don’t accrue them individually, they accrue them collectively. While half of them are inside cleaning the gun after the exercise, the other half are on the focsle, pumping their own iron. After which, they will trade places. The smart ones are wearing gloves so they don’t burn their hands on the deck. Yes, Greg is down there with them, both times with both teams. “It’s motivational,” he says. “Just question and answer is boring. No one person has all the answers. You have to rely on each other. When one person gets it right, we all get it right.” He grins. “And when one gets it wrong, we all get it wrong.”
Today, they earned 325 pushups. One of the gunners stood on the right side of the gun instead of on the left like he should have, everyone does twenty-five. One of them forgot to check the strike plate of a misfire before he tossed it overboard, everyone does twenty-five. One of them almost loaded the ammunition backwards, everyone does fifty.
They do them in sets of twenty-five. There are groans. There is swearing. The sweat is raining down on the deck. And they’re laughing.
Greg is merciful. He asks them questions. If they have the right answers, he’ll knock off 25 pushups. What is the maximum effective range? Seventy-four hundred yards. Where is the timing gauge? Between the trunion block and the barrel extension. What are the rates of fire? Between 450 to 550 rounds a minute.
“The more they shoot, the better they get,” Greg says, “and the better they get, the more they love the gun.”
GLO LTJG Adrian Harris came down from the bridge and sweated out the second set of pushups right alongside them.
It’s a gunny thing.
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