MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
In 2019, Marine Corps Systems Command introduced a billet for a weapons expert to serve as a conduit between the command and Fleet Marine Force.
The infantry weapons officer, or gunner, is the resident infantry subject matter expert for MCSC’s Ground Combat Element Systems portfolio. This person provides technical direction and support to program managers, project officers and their teams in developing weapons, optics and other gear.
More than 100 gunners exist in the Marine Corps today.
“Gunners are strategically placed within key billets across the GCE as well as the supporting establishment,” said CWO4 David Tomlinson, MCSC’s gunner. “By design, the gunner community is small, which allows for efficient and streamlined communication from Headquarters Marine Corps to each infantry battalion.”
Gunners are chief warrant officers knowledgeable in the tactical employment of all infantry weapons in the Marine Corps arsenal. Their technical skills, complemented by infantry field experience, enable them to be advisers to commanders within the FMF.
Infantry weapon officers were the first warrant officers in the Marine Corps when Henry Lewis Hulbert in March 1917 became the first Marine to pin on the Bursting Bombs—a uniform emblem distinguishing gunners from other CWOs.
Since then, gunners have played a key role in supporting Marines across the globe.
MCSC’s first gunner
Col. Michael Manning, MCSC’s chief of staff, saw the need for an infantry weapons officer when he served as a major during his first tour at MCSC from 2002 to 2006. When he returned to the command as a lieutenant colonel six years later, he pushed for MCSC to add the billet.
“A disconnect existed between the infantry community, the advocates at [the Marine Corps’ Plans, Policies and Operations], MCSC and [CD&I] to accurately capture requirements and ensure the infantry community was being heard,” said Manning. “PP&O, MCSC and CDI had a very good relationship, but at times there was not the proper representation from the gunner community providing input to all of us.”
Manning made it his mission to ensure MCSC closed the gap in communication. He said he felt the gunner position would enhance infantry units.
“Getting the gunner to the command was imperative,” said Manning. “They are weapons employment experts for infantry weapons and explain how weapons should be employed for the infantry. This position is a necessity—a force driver for all weapons and other ancillary gear being fielded to the Infantry Marine and also for all other Marines.”
In 2015, MCSC submitted a Tables of Organization and Equipment Change Request to add an infantry weapons officer to the command. In January 2019, Tomlinson became the command’s first gunner.
“PP&O was vital in that they worked with us to get the TOECR formed, submitted and approved,” said Manning.
Tomlinson’s service in the fleet has included time as a rifleman and a scout sniper for the 3d Marine Regiment aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, a combat instructor at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, and the weapons company commander with 2d Battalion, 8th Marines aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, among others. Tomlinson is a Purple Heart recipient and was commissioned in February 2011.
As MCSC’s gunner, Tomlinson strives to understand the needs of the fleet. He consistently maintains contact with the FMF to facilitate Marine representation for testing activities for both Marine Corps and U.S. Army programs.
“I’m an information conduit who connects the communication lines within SYSCOM out to the FMF,” said Tomlinson. “Anytime SYSCOM needs information, I can almost instantaneously reach out to the FMF and [operating forces] and get feedback to a question on any topic.”
In working with the FMF, Tomlinson learns relevant or current fleet recommendations and passes this information to the program offices for consideration. For example, he might receive a text message from an FMF gunner about a weapon issue. Tomlinson can then alert the project officer to start fixing the problem.
“I serve as the voice of the infantry within SYSCOM,” said Tomlinson. “If a Marine wants to talk about a new helmet, rifle or pouch, I can provide that input [to MCSC] on behalf of the FMF just to make sure the fleet are getting what they want.”
As Tomlinson explained, MCSC program offices do a good job providing to Fleet Marines. However, a project officer might not always be cognizant of the specific needs of a lance corporal. That is where the gunner steps in.
“For example, a holster is a holster, but we have different missions throughout the Marine Corps such as military police, reconnaissance Marines and infantry Marines who each might require different types of holsters,” said Tomlinson. “As gunner, I can provide that insight to the project officers or team leads.”
Lt. Col. Tim Hough, the program manager for Infantry Weapons, said the infantry weapons officer position enables Tomlinson to connect with every infantry unit that includes a gunner, which increases communication between those who procure equipment and the users.
“What the gunner billet brings to the command is the connective tissue necessary to tie SYSCOM together with every unit in the Marine Corps,” said Hough.
Working with CD&I, PP&O and other organizations
More than half of Tomlinson’s business as gunner is conducted outside of MCSC.
He regularly communicates with the PP&O as well as Combat Development and Integration to ensure programs and requirements are being clearly communicated, supported and prioritized in support of the FMF.
CWO5 Thomas Maguire serves as the gunner for CD&I. Maguire and Tomlinson interact daily, discussing capabilities being fielded and tested, as well as capability gaps that require their attention.
“Gunner Tomlinson frequently works with Capability Integration Officers throughout the Marine Corps Combat Development Command to understand, inform and advocate for the capabilities the FMF is requesting, as well as being the FMF’s tie to the National Capital Region for fielding and testing,” said Maguire.
Tomlinson also stays in tune with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s work to ensure MCWL and MCSC do not duplicate each other’s efforts.
“It is good to know what MCWL is working on, as SYSCOM leans forward in future procurements to help us guide industry so they can push their technologies simultaneously to our efforts and requirements,” said Tomlinson.
Any new weapon or optic system MCSC procures needs to integrate into formal learning centers, such as the School of Infantry. Tomlinson works with Marine Corps Training and Education Command so they are tracking future capabilities to get into Programs of Instruction.
“It helps to build the TECOM instructor knowledge foundation early so they can start to incorporate future integration and employment concepts,” said Tomlinson.
‘Epitome of a true professional’
MCSC senior leaders and portfolio staff have raved about Tomlinson’s work as gunner. Manning believes Tomlinson has showcased positive characteristics in his career and during his tenure as the command’s infantry weapons officer.
“Gunner Dave Tomlinson is the epitome of a true professional,” said Manning. “He is articulate, has maturity above his rank and years, and can intelligently speak to any audience while providing sound advice.”
Hough said Tomlinson has built a solid foundation of integration development within GCES while noting how Tomlinson has helped the command better support the fleet.
“Gunner Tomlinson’s work and the opinions he provides are backed up by years of experience, a high level of intellect, and a deep professionalism and commitment to our young Marines,” said Hough. “We could not marshal the Marines necessary in often-constrained timelines without him.”
The fleet has also expressed appreciation for Tomlinson’s efforts. CWO5 Keith Marine, gunner for 1st Marine Division, said Tomlinson’s work ties into how the Marine Corps supports global force management requirements and remains postured to respond to any crisis worldwide.
“Dave keeps me informed and provides a link to the supporting establishment, specifically with the functions that MARCORSYSCOM handles,” said Marine. “Helping align new equipment training teams to when it works for our schedule, tracking down issues and reasons for weapons failures, and providing us timelines for fielding of weapons and equipment are day-to-day tasks he provides.”
Tomlinson has enjoyed his experience as MCSC’s gunner. For many years, he was on the receiving end of weapon systems. Now, he has an opportunity to positively affect current and future technologies.
“My favorite part of being gunner is influencing systems and making recommendations that increase the FMF’s effectiveness,” said Tomlinson. “I’m a voice to see if we can improve equipment and get Marines the best gear we can provide.”