Wednesday, April 09, 2008


In these days of contractors like Halliburton running parts of what used to be Army responsibilities, do soldiers even have KP anymore? When I was in training from December 1966 through April 1967 I got more than my share of that deadly duty. KP stood for Kitchen Police, although no one could actually tell me why. Military Police were cops, and policing the area meant picking up cigarette butts and debris from the ground, but why there were kitchen police was a mystery.

Like most GIs I hated KP. It meant going to work at around 4:00 a.m., and not getting off until as late as 9:00 p.m., depending on how industrious we could be or how fastidious or prickish the cooks were. I saw all kinds. The cooks in our Artillery training unit at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma were some of the worst slave-driving sadists I encountered. We fixed them, though, by sending them Scout.

I don't remember Scout's real name; we called him Scout because he told us to, and Scout was a man to be reckoned with. He came from Montana. He didn't talk very much, but from what we learned from him, he had been on federal probation for several years for bootlegging--bootlegging! of all things, in the 1960s--and when his probation was over the draft board snapped him up. Scout was tall and lean, with a pinched face and perpetual scowl. His eyes were dark and his eyelids were heavy, giving him a hooded look. He always looked like the wheels in his head were turning. In retrospect I think of Scout as a survivalist or a militiaman type, hiding out in the hills, living off the land. Often I'd wake up to see Scout walking the floor at 2:00 a.m. He was an insomniac, so sometimes other guys paid him to take their fire guard shifts. We had two hour turns where we were up and walking the floor to make sure the place didn't burn down. Some guys just couldn't stay awake and crashed onto a bunk during their guard duties. I did that a couple of times, but Scout never did.

The rumor was that Scout was more than a bootlegger, that he had killed some men in Montana but that the law couldn't prove it. It was probably a legend grown up around his mysterious personage, but to a bunch of 19 and 20 year olds it seemed real enough. Scout was older than us, probably not more than five or six years, but to us he looked much older. You could see he'd had a hard life. Scout didn't plan on staying in the Army. He told us he wouldn't be going to Vietnam no matter where they said they were going to send him. We figured when we got our orders at the end of our training he was planning to go over the hill to Canada or disappear into the wilds of Montana . To that end Scout was saving money. He'd charge people $5.00 or $10.00 to take their fire guard shift, depending on the time of night, he charged between $15 to $25 for a KP shift, depending on whether it was a weekday or on a Sunday. Everybody wanted Sundays off. I paid Scout $25.00 once so I wouldn't have to do Sunday KP because I thought my parents were driving to Oklahoma to see me. They canceled out, but I didn't dare tell Scout, so I gave him the $25 and went to a movie that Sunday.

The sergeants were probably listening to the same scuttlebutt and rumors as us trainees. They might have believed that Scout was a dangerous person. They didn't stop him from taking those KP shifts even though it meant he missed training. He wasn't lazy. He did his work in the mess hall but the cooks didn't treat him like they treated the rest of us. In a place like the Army it pays to cause fear in people. I never found out what happened to him. When the orders were read out at the end of our training his name was called for Vietnam. I looked at him and his face looked like it always did, like he'd as soon kill you as look at you. Whether Scout ended up in Canada as a deserter, somewhere hidden in America, or whether he actually went to Vietnam as a soldier I'm sure there were people who ended up either seriously intimidated or dead.

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