While assigned to a naval ship, from the early 1990s till the late in the decade, one of my additional duties was as a watchstander . I was part of the Quarterdeck watch which controls movement of personnel and material on and off ship while in port. The Quarterdeck watch is made up of an Officer of the Deck (OOD), a Petty Officer of the Watch (POOW), and a Messenger of the Watch (MOOW), under the general supervision of a Duty Section Leader and a Command Duty Officer. We all are charged with maintaining the safety and security of the ship – or station (Installations also maintain the same structure) while the vessel is in port.
To be qualified to stand a watch on the Quarterdeck, each person has to complete training requirements including firearms training. This is normally managed by a Petty Officer from the Armory, a Gunners Mate or Master-At-Arms. On this particular day, were at sea, and in calm weather. It was a time to renew my qualifications at a “range” set up on the fantail of the ship. We would shoot at targets in the direction of the open sea.
This was a time for refresher lessons on firearms safety. Handling of pistol, rifle or shotgun, hot weapons, jammed rounds and so forth. Occasionally we received instruction in prayer. Prayer? On one memorable occasion, a young Sailor, we thereafter called “Barney Fife”, was on the line with four of us, and the Range Master standing behind and to the left of our group. At the command to “Commence Firing”, after the first or second trigger pull, there was a “Zing!”, followed by an immediate “CEASE FIRING!!!” and “UNLOAD!” or something to that effect. One of our group had somehow discharged his weapon such that a slug ricocheted off the deck dangerously close to the Range Master.
Billy. This was the same young Sailor that one of the deck seaman with sound-powered phone ( for internal ship communications) had fooled into waiting for a shore-to -ship phone call while they both were on a sea detail. He was a good-hearted but slow-witted guy.
Thereafter, Seaman Jones (not his real name) was permitted to stand the Quarterdeck watch only as Messenger – and was not allowed to touch a weapon. We were assigned to the same duty rotation, and as I was generally the OOD watchstander, I would allow him only to stand downrange of me. While the Gunners Mate may have pronounced a saltier blessing in our young Sailor’s direction, I think we all were generally very thankful to the Almighty that day!