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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 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.
In the 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.
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 service for Americans. 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.
Snoopy is sometimes put on KP by his squadron leader when he loses too many Sopwith Camels in his fantasies as World War I Flying ace Roy Brown. In the marvel universe Captain America is often put on KP duty in his early comics.
In the 1981 movie 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.