Firing George Washington's Life Lines

Story Number: NNS141010-01Release Date: 10/10/2014 7:34:00 AM
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By By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Bryan Mai
USS George Washington Public Affairs

PHILIPPINE SEA (NNS) -- A gunner's mate (GM) sees another ship pull alongside for a replenishment-at-sea (RAS). He requests permission to fire his rifle and is given the green light. He looks through the rifle's sights and finds his target. After eyeballing the distance between his rifle and the other vessel ship, he gets a feel for wind speed, takes aim and squeezes the trigger.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) has a group of trained Sailors who handle and fire the M-14 rifle for a variety of evolutions.

"Before firing the shot line, we must first qualify on the rifle range to carry the weapon and then receive more training to shoot on station," said Gunner's Mate 1st Class John Barkmeyer, from Palm Springs, Calif. "It takes practice to be able to eyeball distance, but the max range is 90 yards with the weapon pointed at 45-degrees. So we usually rely on the [navigation] bridge to give us the 'ok' to fire with the information they receive from utilizing laser range finders."

The G-2 division of George Washington's Weapons department handles all shot line related activities. GMs inspect weapons and attachments prior to use and tie the shot line spool to a rubber projectile.

"The shot line is a 550-foot spool of international orange-colored line," said Barkmeyer. "It is specially wound so that when [the projectile] is shot, the line unravels from the inside of the spool to prevent it from becoming tangled."

The shot line is designed to float for 24 hours, to withstand tension up to 125 pounds, and is used for evolutions such as a RAS towing, or connecting a line or rope to another ship when heaving line is not practical.

"The shot line has many applications aside from uses in a RAS," said Barkmeyer. "It can also be used to stop a small-boat attack by firing the line in front of the small boat. When the small boat becomes fouled from the line, [the attackers] are stuck, allowing George Washington to safely leave the hostile area without the use of deadly force or deadly fire."

Shot lines are also used when an aircraft carrier arrives at a pier to moor. Sailors on smaller ships, like cruisers and destroyers, can throw line to the pier with a "monkey's fist", a handmade heaving line. Due to the carrier's size, George Washington must use shot lines for mooring pier side.

To maintain their skill, GMs are rotated to fire the M-14 for shipboard evolutions as much as possible to raise their level of experience. The only exception is when weather becomes a major factor firing the shot line is dealt to the veteran GMs.

"It's the most perishable skill to maintain," said Barkmeyer. "Everything goes into firing a weapon; how you breathe, hold the weapon, stand, squeeze the trigger, look through the sights, see the target and how a GM adjusts for outside factors that we can't control, such as weather. With all those to keep in consideration, it can be challenging to hit the mark."

With complete focus, the Sailor fires a reverberating shot. The wind carries the projectile to hit the target, allowing the two ships to connect as they sail alongside and continue the mission.

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