Not All National Guard Outfits Are Created Equal

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It was my fourth day on KP in one week. I was sweating over a 20-gallon pot whose bottom was crusted with the last remains of an incinerated something or other. It was the fourth pot of five crusted with the same mess, and the worst so far. It had taken me two hours to clean the first three. I was scraping burned-on stuff with a large kitchen spoon and getting nowhere.

Behind me I heard an all too familiar voice, that of Dick Lewis, the broad-shouldered, happy-go-lucky mess sergeant of the 103rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, ANGUS: Air National Guard of the United States.

I was a lowly one-stripe airman, but Sgt. Lewis knew me. My older brother Bill, also a sergeant, was a radar technician in the good old 103rd. He and Sgt. Lewis were good friends.

The minute I heard Sgt. Lewis’ voice, I knew what was coming if he spotted me. I had been put on KP duty on Tuesday and Wednesday as punishment for goofing off, and I knew that Sgt. Lewis had been ribbing Bill about his dumb kid brother.

Purely by coincidence, I had also drawn a day of regular KP on Friday. And now, of all things, here I was back on Sunday, having drawn a day of KP on the weekend duty roster. I knew that Sgt. Lewis was going to have a good laugh if he saw me, so I climbed into that pot and did my best to stay out of sight.

No such luck. From behind me came a familiar chuckle.

“Well look who’s back again! Hey, Garrett, if you like this place so much why don’t you volunteer to be a cook?”

Now, ordinarily I would have no trouble ignoring a comment like that, but these were, to say the least, not ordinary times.

An idea popped into my head. I climbed out of the pot and turned. “I don’t know anything about cooking. You need a baker?”

Sgt. Lewis looked a bit taken back. He raised an eyebrow.

“You bet we do. We’re supposed to have six bakers, but we don’t even have one.”

“I worked in a bakery for a while after I got out of high school. Nights. On the bread shift. I made the doughnuts, but I helped bake rolls and bread when I got done.”

Sgt. Lewis looked even more surprised. “You really want to volunteer to work in food service?”

“If I say yes, can I throw this %$#@! pot in the sink?”

He chuckled again. “Sure. Cooks and bakers don’t pull KP.”

Boom! Balloom! Balloom-boom-boom! One 20-gallon pot hit the bottom of a big old metal sink.

And so I became a baker.

“But why?” you may be asking, in light of the fact that food service is considered to be bottom-of-the-heap in the military.

Why indeed.

I joined the Connecticut Air National Guard in September of 1950 because of a conversation with my oldest brother Bill, who mentioned a few facts I had overlooked. North Korea had invaded South Korea. There was a full-scale war going on over there. I was 1A in the draft.

He then pointed out that his guard outfit, a radar unit that directed aircraft on bombing and strafing runs, was recruiting.

I probably would have bumbled along until the Army reached out and put me in a uniform, except for the fact that my other brother, Charlie, looked at me one day and said, “I’m driving over to Groton to enlist in Billy’s outfit. Want to come along?”

What the heck! As long as I had a ride ...

Now today’s National Guard units are part of a long line of proud civilian soldiers, whose traditions go all the way back to the minutemen, who dropped their plows, and axes, and ledgers and picked up their rifles when duty called.

And National Guard units, which are built around a cadre of proud, dedicated, experienced officers and NCOs, are often the equal of, or even better than, their full-time regular counterparts.

But not the 103rd AC&W Squadron.

The system is bound to screw up once in a while. And screw up it did with the good old 103rd. Big time!

By the day of which I am speaking I had been in the 103rd for 15 months, nine of them spent attending monthly meetings, and six of them on active duty after our outfit was called up. I was a radio operator, but I had never so much as seen a radio set.

That’s right. Never so much as seen a radio set!

A week before the day I volunteered to become a baker, those of us who were supposed to be radio operators were called to the radio shack, a place we had never been inside of before. Sgt. Grabowsi, our NCOIC, gave a little talk while Lt. Spales, our OIC, stood idly by and listened.

“Awright youse guys, there ain’t room enough in here for ya, so go on out in the squadron area and get lost. An’ don’t come back till we call ya. Stay outta the barracks too. Don’t want nobody findin’ ya and askin’ what yer doin’. Don’t go outside the squadron area neither, cause if they call ya, we gotta be able ta find ya.”

And so, as the New England winter grew increasingly bitter, 20 men spent their days outside getting lost — rain, shine or snow. In a squadron area just 100 yards on a side!

Needless to say, we kept getting caught “goofing off” in the barracks trying to warm up, but we couldn’t explain why were there because we were poor, dumb recruits who had never had a single day of training, not even basic training.

We knew nothing about our rights or about going to the inspector general about such a farce. We were between the proverbial hard spot and the rock.

And so, tired of being blamed for something that was not my fault, I volunteered to become a baker.

A few months later, in desperate need for units to fight in Korea, the Air Force sent the 103rd to Iceland, geographically as far from the war as you can get. A very wise move.

In Iceland I worked in the base bakery. Together with the four other men on my shift, I baked 165,000 loaves of bread.

But I never had to scrub out another %$#@! 20-gallon pot!

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