KP duty is "kitchen police" or "kitchen patrol" work under the kitchen staff assigned to junior U.S. enlisted military personnel. "KP" can be either the work or the personnel assigned to perform such work. In the latter sense it can be used for either military or civilian personnel assigned or hired for duties in the military dining facility excluding cooking.
The image of enlisted soldiers peeling potatoes in an installation's kitchen was once associated with the popular culture image of KP duty due to its frequent appearance in mid-twentieth century movies and comic strips about life in the armed services for Americans.
The U.S. military sometimes uses the word "police" as a verb to mean "to clean" or "to restore to order." For example, after a company picnic on a U.S. Marine Corps base, a group of Marines might be assigned to police, or clean up, the picnic grounds. Its origins in this usage probably came from the French sense of maintaining public order. Kitchen police then may mean to restore the kitchen to order, or clean up the kitchen. The term "KP" has been used in the United States as early as 1918.
In the U.S. military, it is often more formally known as mess duty, and is restricted to enlisted personnel. A service member is sometimes "put on KP" for some minor infraction committed while on duty, in uniform, or on a military installation, something that would not require an Article 15 or non-judicial punishment hearing. In the British Forces the equivalent punishment is known as Jankers. However, KP is usually assigned out of necessity, not for punishment. In this latter case, all junior enlisted personnel assigned to a mess would be put on a roster and regularly receive assignments to KP duty on a rotating basis.
KP duties, however, can include any tedious chores in the military mess at an installation or in the field, such as food preparation, although not cooking, or the more obvious dish washing and pot scrubbing, sweeping and mopping floors, wiping tables, serving food on the chow line, or anything else the kitchen staff sees fit to assign to its KP crew. KP duty can be particularly onerous because it is on top of all regular duties, as institutional kitchens often open before and close after regular duty hours, and generate large volumes of unpleasant food wastes. Mess halls for the modern U.S. military are often contracted out to civilian firms, making KP duty less common today than it once was.
In the U.S. Navy all sailors are assigned to 90 days of Temporary Assigned Duty (TAD) upon reporting to their respective commands. For most sailors this will mean being sent to a shore based or shipboard galley, which includes, but is not limited to, washing dishes in the scullery, food prep, mess deck cleaning, and/or line server. The only exception is if the individual is in a "critical rating" and can't be spared. Upon completion a Page 13 entry is made into the individual's service record to prevent reassignment to the galley or mess deck.
In popular culture
- Irving Berlin's Yip Yip Yaphank, 1918, musical review contains the song "Kitchen Police (Poor Little Me)".
- Al Pacino, as Col. Frank Slade in "Scent of a Woman" tells his co-star, Chris O'Donnell who plays Charlie Simms, that he is going to pull KP duty because Charlie tries to mock him during their first encounter.
- In the Beetle Bailey comic strip, Pvt. Beetle Bailey is occasionally shown on KP for his frequent acts of blundering and goldbricking – and condemned to peel mountains of potatoes one at a time.
- In an episode of The Jetsons animated cartoon series, George Jetson and building superintendent Henry Orbit, while serving a stint in the U.S. Space Guard, are put on KP. Like most soldiers, they complain about the drudgery of KP – even though they are only pushing buttons while robots do the work.
- In the Peanuts comic strip, Snoopy – while fantasizing about being a World War I flying ace – was put on KP for losing too many Sopwith Camels to the Red Baron.
- The Marvel Comics character Captain America has the civilian identity of Steve Rogers, a U.S. Army private. In the early years, Pvt. Rogers would frequently (and deliberately) commit a number of harmless blunders - and get put on KP as a result - so that no one would suspect that the bumbling Steve Rogers is also the dynamic Captain America.
- In the 1981 film Stripes, Sgt. Hulka (Warren Oates) puts his platoon on KP duty for two weekends after Pvt. John Winger (Bill Murray) refuses to admit that he left the base without permission. There is also a scene in the extended cut of the movie showing Pvts. Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) and Dewey "Ox" Oxburger (John Candy) performing KP duty, having to move large garbage barrels out of the kitchen.
- In the film Good Morning Vietnam, Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) mocks his superior Second Lieutenant Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) who tends to overuse abbreviations, with the quote: "Seeing as how the VP is such a VIP, shouldn't we keep the PC on the QT? 'Cause if it leaks to the VC he could end up MIA, and then we'd all be put on KP".
- Department of the Army Headquarters (1998). "AR 310-25, Dictionary of the United States Army Terms". U.S. Government Printing Office. Archived from the original on 2006-09-26. Retrieved 2006-11-20.
- Hutton, Captain T. R. (1919). H-a-l-tt!--Wha-zaa? Being a History of the First Provisional Regiment and the Answer of a State Militant to the Threat of Berlin. New York: The Aqueduct Guard Citizens' Committee. p. 243. LCCN 19017907. OCLC 510981. OL 6620257M. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
- Treadwell, Mattie E. (1991) . "The Women's Army Corps". United States Army in World War II Special Studies. United States Army Center of Military History. Retrieved 2006-11-20.