Most of the time MAP 8 (“Crazy 8”) split up firewatch, four hours on four hours off so each Marine in our vehicle served firewatch at least once per day. That meant that at no time were you asleep for more than four hours. When you did firewatch you usually stood up in the gun turret of the vehicle, the first thing you would do when you took over a firewatch from someone else was check the weapon to make sure it was in condition one, that way if you did see something on your watch the gun was ready to go. Usually firewatches happened when Crazy 8 was parked in the same location for more than an hour, but sometimes watches were setup on vehicles because we didn’t trust the Azerbaijanis that shared half of the Hadithah dam with us. There was word that they liked to steal gear, but I’m not sure that was ever true we just had to have someone on the vehicles, I think that was another thing they did just to fuck with us, I mean firewatch inside of the wire? come on now.
Night firewatch was harder to get through, I think than a day watch. Night watches I think I remember being only an hour to two hours long. We didn’t want Marines falling asleep on post because we were basically screwed if an attack happened. We wouldnt’ know what hit us. At times I’ll have to admit I caught myself a few times dozing, but normally we would just pop a few ripped fuels (before ephedra was considered illegal) or some would throw in a dip. Some liked getting woken up a half an hour before their watch just to get themselves up. I wasn’t one of those people. I freaking hated when Marines would wake me up when my watch was at 3am, they would wake me up at 2:30am and then hit the rack. Bullshit.
Another thing that was part of firewatch was an hourly radio check at the top of the hour, I think maybe sometimes twice per hour (once every half an hour). I wasn’t a radio man and I was not good with using a radio. I remember at one point I had to do a crypto change over where I basically had to switch channels and give a radio check. I was accused of doing a piss poor job, but this was by someone who was a real moron anyway so it didn’t matter much. I wasn’t a freaking radio man so I just did my best.
Areas where we did the most firewatch:
Training was the biggest pain in the ass for firewatch. I can remember drawing this when I sat on the world’s longest firewatch where we were actually awake for 24 hours straight. All we would do is just switch posts from hour to hour. This was when we were training in the mock village and I think I remember it was one of the last days of the mock war we had. They basically gave us blanks and told us to have at it in so many words. Simulated situations would come over by radio like, “extremists just attacked the base and now they are hiding in the mosque, what do you do?”
Checkpoint 8 & 9
I would say that Crazy 8 did most of the firewatches at Checkpoint 8, a shitty little spot of flat ground just outside of Hadithah Dam where we would basically sit and do surveillance and ensure supplies came in and left the base. I forgot which road this is (MSR 8?) but I know eventually if you followed it, it would lead you do Route Uranium and eventually al-Asad airbase. I can remember several nights using the thermals to scope out the area. One good thing about it was you could see for miles so if anyone was coming for you it was easy to spot. The hardest thing was distinguishing hot items like rocks and other debris that stayed hot from the sun during the day, from humans etc. I know it sounds weird, like how hard can it be to distinguish a hot rock from a sheep herder? At 3am when you are wired on dip and ripped fuel, a hot rock through a black and white PAS 13 can look like something worth checking out. I think the AZ’s (Azerbaijanis) were worse at that then we were. I think at one point they even called us in to do a QRF on a rusted out refrigerator.
Combat Firewatch and Firewatches in the Cities
This sucked. Most of the time the firewatches during major operations lasted forever and you had to be alert at all times. I guess in a way it sucked less than checkpoint firewatches or training because you knew there was actually a chance of seeing something and opening up on them with the gun.
In Barwana, we actually had tanks sitting with us in the cities on watch. In this particular position we overlooked the Euphrates and large population in the city across from it. There was a cliff face where we were hidden from the rest of the city so it was a pretty good spot. I think we spent about a week there (?).
One day, during the day while I was on watch tanks and some of the guys up in the turrets observed some men walking across the cliff face and into a neighbouring town with huge bags of what looked like mortars and weapons. At that point I think we called it in while we were firing on these assholes. They never knew what hit them. At that point EVERYONE wanted to be on firewatch, I think I even got into a fight with this kid about how it was my watch. Once I got up in the turret I was marking targets with the 240 G for a type II airstrike. Eventually everything in that area was completely eradicated by either the aircraft guns, the coax guns from the tanks and our Humvee‘s guns. I heard from others, and it may be just scuttlebutt, but the following morning they went up to that area and found 6 or 7 dead enemies lying there, but I’m not sure that was ever confirmed officially.