Explain fire watch to me

Surfed past “Full Metal Jacket” last night, the part when the recruits already graduated (the last night on the island). Joker says “I draw fire watch”.

So, what exactly is/was fire watch? Did the private have to stay up the entire night, or did they switch off? How were they expected to perform in drills the next day if they were up all night?

From my Navy days.
Fire watch, or, just plain watch, consisted of 4 shifts of 4 hours. 1600 to 2000, 2000 to 2400, 2400 to 0400 (the mid watch), and 0400 to 0800. The mid watch pretty well meant that you wouldn’t be getting much, if any sleep.
If ‘Joker’ was volunteering for the first shift, he’d be sleeping all night after the watch. Good move.

Eons ago when I was a young recruit/Navy newbie, we’d have fire and security watches in the barracks or in other buildings as necessary. I remember having duty in a school building for the mid-watch.

If I remember correctly, watches were 4-hours long. We were required to make rounds periodically to make sure there were no problems - no fires, no plumbing leaks, no break-ins, and in the case of barracks watches, no unauthorized personnel in the building (no guys in the women’s barracks), no drunks on the stairs or in the bathrooms, that sort of thing.

Aboard ship, you might have to check equipment and record readings. We’d have to make logbook entries when we did our rounds. We were never armed, except maybe with a flashlight, and sometimes we’d have to check in with the duty officer by phone.

I have to say it was usually hell for me - I’m not a night person, and walking a beat at 2AM was a real chore. I was so glad to achieve some seniority and get out of that stuff.

When I was in boot (CG), the fire/security watch was only an hour long quarterdeck watch which included roving security/fire/flooding* rounds of the building. Recruits rotated through the watches, which ran from 1600 to 0600 (24 hours on the weekends). I think I drew an early morning watch only once or twice in the eight weeks I was there. If you had one of those watches, you just simply lost that sleep time, which was only 1-2 hours.
*Yes, it was a building that wasn’t in much danger of sinking, but they were preparing you for sea duty. Heaven help the poor bastard that didn’t check every single nook and cranny for flooding while on watch. If the Company Commander spotted a watch stander miss a space, the CC would run into the squad bay screaming “ABANDON SHIP!!! ABANDON SHIP!!! WE’RE FLOODING AND GOING DOWN BECAUSE YOUR LAZY ASS WATCH STANDER DIDN’T MAKE PROPER ROUNDS… ** ABANDON SHIP!!!”
Then we all got cranked outside in the cold mud at 0-stupid-thirty in the morning, in our bare feet, while getting a lecture in making proper rounds. This seemed to happen all the time.

Ah yes… The dreaded “Balls to four” watch… I only stood it a couple of times, fortunately.

I hated the mid-watch except when I was on the night shift.
Fire watch also had the specific meaning on the boat of standing on the other side of the bulkhead that the HT’s were welding on. Obviously not what Joker was talking about.

Jim {I just noticed your location, Most famous address in Sports and I just noticed it, did you change it recently?}

Now, per the movie scene, what would Joker do after his 4 hours were up (had Gomer not did what he done)? Wake the next guy up himself?

And what happens if you fall asleep? I imagine the outcome is severe. Am I right?

There is a book with the list of who has watch when. The guy standing 0000-0400 would wake up the next fellow at 0345.

About falling asleep on watch…

There were a series of escalating punishments that were given out for minor bootcamp offenses in the Navy. Most minor offenses were treated with on-the-spot “MASH”, Make A Sailor Hurt. This was pushups and the like at the CC’s command.

Individual offenses were often treated with the military equivalent of detention: “EMI”, a.k.a. Extra Military Instruction. This involved cleaning heads with toothbrushes and the like (I did this one a few times).

More severe offenses received IT (Intensive Training) which meant you would go to some secret place in the evening, with all of the other unfortunates, to do painful calisthenics. There was another level that started with an “M” (“military motivational unit”, perhaps?) They said that this was far worse than the IT previously mentioned. They would do lots of exercises with their rifles and such.

Next steps involved ASMO, which stood for Administrative something or other, you would be held back several weeks in your bootcamp training. Since it sucked so bad, no one wanted this. After that, if you continued to be a problem, you would be separated from the military.

Joker had the responsibility to wakeup his relief, so that would have been the next step.

If you fall asleep in peacetime the punishment is usually reduction in rank (demotion one pay grade) a fine and being restricted. Restricted meant not being allowed to leave the base or ship and usually included extra duty. As boot campers are stuck on base anyway, it probably would mean a lot of extra duty. BTW: Extra duty is usually crappy duty but not always.

In times of war the punishment can be time Leavenworth and supposedly even Death, though I doubt this would be tried today and I do not believe it was tried anytime in the 20th century.


Always used that.
I do a lot of wandering during the off season. :smiley:

I need to start a thread on today’s probable trade then. :slight_smile:

He would wake up the next guy about 10 minutes before the the shift change. This would give the person a little time to wake up and get in uniform. Then the relief would take over and Joker would go back to sleep.
The punishment for sleeping on watch varies greatly and depends on what exactly you were watching. But at Basic or Boot Camp it would probably just be an ass chewing and a little smoke session. It combat, it could be a Field Grade Article 15, or maybe it just meant that the enemy snuck into your AO and slit everyone’s throat.
Or like in Korea, where sleeping on watch means that some people in the unit will wake up with equipment stolen.

The biggest problem with one person falling asleep on watch is that even if he had only a 30 minute shift, if he falls asleep, then he wont be able to wake up the next person. Who then will not be able to wake up the next person… so the entire night goes without a Fire Guard.

Also, the term Fire Guard or Fire Watch–I’ve been told–came about because of those old style barracks. The long semicircle ones. If they caught fire, they would burn so quickly they noone would have enough time to escape. So they needed someone to wake the unit incase of a fire. So they literally were watching for fire. But now (at least in the Army) any kind of night time rotation nonspecific guard duty is called Fire Guard.

In the Army we called it “fire guard.” Not sure what it had to do with fire. There just has to always be someone awake, keeping an eye on things.

In bootcamp, it’s usually just a couple/few hours, so you could catch a couple hours’ sleep before or after your duty shift, and you’d still be expected to perform your regular training during the day.

After you graduate training, it’s called “CQ” which IIRC means Charge of Quarters. It’s an all-night shift, but you usually get the next day off to sleep. Usually.

minor7flat5… Great Mistakes in the 80s?

I actually flinched remembering those terms.

January 1985 in Great Mistakes for me. Between Boot and A school I was there until September. Training was BEE & EM School.


Winter of 85/86… B-double-E… EM school. Then PE Basics and GSE school. I was there a while.

Just missed. :wink:
GSE* sounds like a fun rate, what boats did you end up on? I was only on CV61 USS Ranger.


  • Gas Turbine Systems Technician - Electrical GSE

DD-972, USS Oldendorf.

Yes, it’s a very funny name. I read that she was decommed a couple of years ago.

July '85, barely six weeks out of high school. MM school on Main Side during the winter. Then on to Nuke School in Orlando, Prototype in upstate NY, and then the Nimitz.
Fine memories!

Damn, we were probably in the same 4 building housing for a few weeks. I was Nuke Waste, I joined to be an ET, I got talked into Nuke and then got asigned EM. I refused to sign the extension to go to Nuke school and went to fleet as an EM E3.