Fire Watch At USMC Boot Camp – What It Is, How Often You Do It, And How It Impacts Your Training

Published by Goooooose on

If you’re like most Marine Corps hopefuls, you’ll do plenty of research on boot camp before you even make the decision to contact a recruiter. After all, the Marines are infamous for having one of the hardest basic training pipelines to get through. When researching your future suffering, you’ll inevitably hear about something called “fire watch,” and probably have no idea what it is. Continue reading to get a detailed explanation.

So, What Is Fire Watch?

You ship out from MEPS, and you’re told that you’ll be standing fire watch on the first night. Fire watch is a duty that all recruits will eventually stand while in recruit training. It’s broken down into two hour shifts, which total four shifts throughout the night. Each shift will consist of three recruits, each with their own assigned tasks. I’ve broken down the duties below.

  • 1 – Scribe, notates important events in the duty log book.
  • 2 – In charge of cleaning the head and keeping a log of who uses it.
  • 3 – Does laundry and passes it back out when finished.

Duties also depend on which shift you’re assigned throughout the night. For instance, if you’re the #2 post on the first shift, you’ll also have to get accountability for all the gear – rifles, footlockers, recruits, etc – and report it to the #1 post so they can put it in the log book.

For the most part, the duty drill instructor will be sleeping, but they’ll come out for every shift change over, and on occasion will come out at random times during the shift to get updates. Whenever you see them, you’ll give the standard report that you’ll learn once you get to your recruit depot.

What Do You Wear?

You’ll wear cammies when on fire watch. Since you’re officially on duty, you’ll also wear your cover. There’s a few things that you’re required to have on you as well: a glow belt, your issued flash light, AKA “moon beam,” your “kill belt,” (you’ll learn about that when you get there) and two canteens full of water. With COVID still going on, you’ll probably be wearing a mask, too.

How Often Will You Stand Fire Watch?

You won’t be on fire watch every night. However, the frequency in which you’ll be assigned a post is determined by the size of your platoon. Female platoons are generally much smaller than that of the males, so you’ll have it more often. Here’s a real-world example:

A typical platoon will consist of 50 recruits. With four shifts throughout the night, and three people on each shift, 12 people will stand it per night. Following that math, you would have had duty once every four or so nights. Usually it won’t work out that way, since different factors can affect the schedule. Sometimes, the drill instructor will put a recruit on fire watch again as punishment, other times, a recruit might not be able to stand fire watch due to SIQ (sick in quarters) status. The schedule is always changing.

If you’re in a particularly large platoon, they might decrease the shift times to only one hour, so that everyone can stand it more often. Lucky you.

Do You Still Get Sleep On Nights You Have Fire Watch?

The short answer is yes, just not as much as you should probably be getting. Officially, you’re supposed to be getting eight hours of sleep on a regular night that you’re not on duty. When you have fire watch, though, you’ll get close to five and a half if you’re lucky. You have to be up early before your shift to get dressed and ready for the change over. Then when your shift is done, you’ll do another change over and get undressed again.

You’ll be exhausted and it’ll mess up your sleep schedule, but you’ll eventually get used to it. Everyone has to do it, so the quicker you can adapt, the better off you’ll be. Having fire watch will inevitably make you tired throughout the day, but recruit training is tiring anyway. You’ll be so busy that you’ll barely notice.

The good thing about having fire watch is that you get a bit of time away from the drill instructors. Just being able to exist in peace for a little while will be very good for your mental health.

What’s more, once you finish your duties, you can use that extra time to square away your gear, or do other things you don’t have time to do throughout the day. For example, when I had either the second or third shift – the least active shifts, for my platoon at least – I would get together with one of my friends and we’d help each other do our hair. If you were ballsy enough to cut your hair short before you left, you could use the down time to write letters. Just make sure you can hide them easily if the drill instructor randomly comes out to get updates.

I mention this because deferring these tasks to your duty shift will actually save you from having to do them after lights are called. There’s just not enough time in the day to get everything done, so why not do your tasks during a time in the night when you already have to be up?

How Will You Be Released?

As I mentioned previously, the drill instructor will come out once every two hours for a duty change-over. The departing shift will line up facing the oncoming shift, and the drill instructor will dismiss the departing shift, before relegating duties to the oncoming shift. There’s a certain way you conduct this process that they’ll teach you once you get to your recruit depot.

If you’re on one of the first three shifts, you’re free to get undressed and go back to sleep once you’re officially dismissed. By this time, you’ll be so tired that falling asleep again will happen in a matter of minutes. If you’re on on the last shift of the night however, there’s no going back to sleep once you’re done. You just get back on line and start the day with everyone else. Some people prefer the last shift, but it was my least favorite. You’ll develop your own preferences as you get into the duty schedule.

Of course, this is Marine Corps boot camp, so games will be played throughout your fire watch shift, but I’ll leave those for you to discover for yourself. After all, you can’t get the authentic boot camp experience if you walk into it already knowing every detail. 😉

Any further questions? Maybe you have an anecdote you’d like to share from your time on fire watch. Make sure to post in the forum!

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Categories: Training


Hi! I’m the developer of this online community. I’m a Marine currently stationed in Japan, and I decided to finally actualize my dream of creating a space just for female service-members (including those that are looking to join).
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