RICHMOND, Va. — Every Thursday at the Virginia National Guard’s Sergeant Bob Slaughter Headquarters at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, a spirited group of veterans and retirees comes together with chisels, scrapers, sanders and other tools to tackle a unique restoration project with historical significance.
The headquarters recently obtained a 1955-dated M42 Duster, a self-propelled, open turret anti-aircraft gun, thanks to the efforts of Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and retired chief warrant officer Al Barnes, the VNG command historian. Now, Barnes is joined in restoration efforts by that group of retirees and veterans, a group Williams has dubbed the Friends of the Guard, or “FOG Men” for short. The group comes together weekly for a few hours of hard labor as they scrape, sand and paint the Duster in an effort to get it and a separate stationary World War II-era Bofors anti-aircraft gun display-ready.
Barnes explained the historic significance of the Duster.
“The Duster and the anti-aircraft gun came from the armory in Portsmouth, which used to be 3-111th Air Defense Artillery,” said Barnes. “It’s a 1955-dated M42 Duster. When the mission changed and the Cav took over from the ADA guys, it no longer appealed to them to have an air defense artillery piece on display. So we took it off of their hands.”
Though intact, the Duster has suffered from years of exposure to the elements, an issue compounded by the open nature of the turret on top.
“Because it is so open on top, water has stayed in there for years, so you have a lot of rust in there. Tom found the drain hole in there today,” said Barnes, referring to Tom Michels, one of the FOG Men and a retired ordnance lieutenant colonel.
“Now we can keep the water flowing through instead of just sitting,” said Michels.
“You have two different things to look at,” explained FOG Man Sluggo Ebertowki, a retired transportation corps colonel. “One is the outside of the Duster, and then the inside. That doesn’t have the paint on it but I think it’s more rusty than the outside.”
That rust will take hundreds of hours of hard work to remove, but the FOG Men take it in stride.
“It’s just preserving it, really,” said Steve Bourgeois, a retired ordnance colonel and retired GS-15 with the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. “You’re just trying to get the rust off, get down to metal. Then you’re going to seal it and paint it, and it should last for a while.”
“Chipping and painting, and Doug is the master sander on the vehicle,” added Ebertowski, referring to their friend Doug Weiser, a former Army aviator. “Chisels and hammers and sanders, that’s it.”
The weekly gathering is more than just a chance to work on restoration of a historic artifact, though. The group didn’t form by accident, as most of them knew or worked with each other at CASCOM at Fort Lee. The weekly gathering, which includes a group lunch once the day’s work is complete, gives the friends a chance to catch up and socialize.
“We get caught up on people we knew when we were in the Army. It’s kind of like a veteran thing,” said Bourgeois.
“It’s our place to be on Thursday morning so our wives cut us some slack,” joked Ebertowski.
Though the group likes to give each other a good natured hard time whenever they get together to work on the Duster, they all agree preserving the historic vehicle is an important task. Retired VNG Master Sgt. Craig Jewell said that he could remember when these vehicles were still being used by the Guard and how they would use them in anti-aircraft competitions against their active-duty counterparts.
“It’s a heritage vehicle out of the Virginia National Guard. They had this kind of equipment back in the 50’s,” agreed Ebertowski. “It’s the heritage of the Guard.”
“For any veteran, they always have a favorite vehicle,” said Bourgeois. “We all had one – Bradleys or M60s or UH-1s. As we modernize, they all go away.”
“When we were kids, we all made model airplanes and tanks, then we went in the military and got to play with the real things,” said Barnes. “Now we are all retired and we are back building models, but life size ones this time.”
Sometime in Fall of 2019, new concrete pads will be installed outside of the headquarters building, similar to existing ones which hold other historic Guard vehicles, including an M41 Walker Bulldog tank and an F-84F Thunderstreak jet fighter. Once the restoration and preservation work on the Duster is complete, it will take its place next to those other Guard relics, thanks to the FOG Men’s hard work, for which most of the group is waiting on Barnes to reward them.
“He said there would be beer,” joked retired CASCOM GS-15 Brian Wood.
“There will be. Someday!”