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You find a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marines and nowhere else. A gunnery sergeant is a non-commissioned officer, known for short as "gysgt," a "gunny" or an E-7. A master gunnery sergeant rates as an E-9. The duties of a gunnery sergeant may range from directing the company's firepower at a target to serving as a drill instructor for Marine recruits. The rank is unique to the United States Marine Corps.
Gunnery Sergeant History
The gunnery sergeant rank dates back to the 19th century, when Marines served aboard Navy vessels. Part of the Marines' duties was manning the ship's weapons, typically four to five Marines assigned to each gun. The leader of each gun crew was a specialist with the experience to train the others in skills such as firing procedure and ammunition handling. The Marines made this an official position in 1899, when they created the rank of gunnery sergeant.
The enlisted Marine ranks start at E-1, with the private and go up to E-9, which includes master gunnery sergeants and sergeant majors. A gunny outranks privates, corporals, sergeants and staff sergeants.
What a Gunnery Sergeant Does
More than a century after the gunnery sergeant was born, the rank still deals primarily with weapons. A full gunnery sergeant serves as fire and operations chief for a Marine company, a military unit of more than 180 members. The gysgt coordinates weapons and indirect fire, and manages firepower logistics, making sure the company has the weapons, parts and ammunition it needs. A junior gunnery sergeant may serve with a platoon rather than a full company.
Typically the Corps creates a gunnery sergeant by promoting a staff sergeant. To reach E-7 a Marine must have spent a minimum of three years as an E-6 and six years in the Corps. They must complete a certain level of military professional education, display good knowledge of weapons system and show plenty of leadership skill. There are a limited number of gunnery sergeant positions, so winning promotion can be competitive.
The Gunny as DI
Gunnery sergeants do have the flexibility to follow other paths outside of gun logistics. Drill instructor (DI) is one of the classic roles, familiar from countless films even to civilians. In the 19th century, Marine noncommissioned officers began training recruits, but their methods were improvised and varied in quality. In the 20th century, the Marines developed the drill instructor position along with standardizing training. The DI takes civilians and hones them into Marine privates.
A gysgt serving as a drill instructor trains the rookies under them in the basics of combat, the use of hand weapons, and how to assemble and disassemble a weapon. They teach the basics of guard duty, first aid and other necessary skills. Beyond that, they teach what it means to be a Marine: deportment, dress, discipline, attitude, Marine tradition and everything else that makes the USMC what it is.
Marine boot camp is notoriously intense. DIs are part of that intensity, designed to give recruits the inner steel that will enable them to withstand the pressure of a combat zone. The DI creed says the instructor must present themselves as an example of professional skill and high personal conduct.
The Master Gunnery Sergeant
Above E-7, there's more than one kind of NCO at each of the remaining enlisted levels. That reflects that noncommissioned officers can choose more than one career path. If a gunnery sergeant reaches E-9, they can become either a sergeant major or a master gunnery sergeant. A sergeant major manages personnel; a master gunnery sergeant is a technical manager, with expertise in a particular field or military occupational specialty (MOS). In the Marines, occupational specialties include amphibious assault, aviation combat, landing support and combat support.