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World at war? National Guard travels on soldiers' stomachs

Friday, January 3, 2003

Contents of an MRE issued to National Guard soldiers.

Modern battlefield re-quirements demand ration support systems that adequately provide for the needs of the individual combatant in extremely intense and highly mobile situations.

Soldiers often move on short notice and can face extremely intense combat. In these situations, nutritional intake can have a great impact on a soldier's performance. The Meal, Ready-to-Eat, Individual is the standard military ration developed to support the individual soldier in all the Armed Forces (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and National Guard).

The MRE replaced the Meal, Combat Individual (C ration) in the early 1980s and has been continuously updated since then.

However, the MRE designation is popularly expanded as Meals Rejected by Everyone. As a result of consumer feedback from Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, major customer focus improvements were implemented to expand variety and improve acceptability, consumption and nutritional intake to en-hance performance on the battlefield.

Soldiers suggested they would consume more if their preferences were taken into consideration. Recent improvements focused on replacing items to make the rations more acceptable and to expand variety. Since MRE XIII (1993 packaging date) 95 new items were approved, 18 of the least acceptable items were replaced and the number of menus increased from 12 to 24 and four vegetarian meals are now included.

Changes in the menu help reduce monotony, meet varying consumer tastes and keep pace with the latest advances in nutrition, packaging and food processing.

The MRE is a totally self-contained operational ra-tion consisting of a full meal packed in a flexible meal bag.

The full bag is lightweight and fits easily into military field clothing pockets. Each meal bag contains an entree and a variety of other components selected to complement them as well as to provide the necessary nutrition. Other items include an accessory packet, spoon, flameless heater and matches.

Entrees include grilled beefsteak, boneless pork chop, chicken stew, ham slice, chicken with noodles, beef frankfurters, pork chow mien, chicken and rice, beef stew, chili and macaroni, pasta with vegetables, cheese tortellini, pork with rice, chicken with cavatelli and grilled chicken patty.

Components vary among menus and include rice, fruits, bakery items, crackers, spreads, beverages, snacks, hot sauce and chow mien noodles. Fruits may be applesauce, pears, peaches, pineapple or strawberries. Bakery items include a fudge brownie, cookies and pound cakes in flavors of lemon, vanilla, orange, pineapple and chocolate mint.

Nutritionally, the MRE is designed to provide the energy to sustain an individual engaged in heavy activity such as military training or during actual military operations. The entire meal provides an average of 1,300 calories made up of approximately 13 percent protein, 36 percent fat and 51 percent carbohydrates.

It also provides one-third of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals determined by the Surgeon General of the United States.

Packaging must meet stringent durability requirements, including resistance to air drop, rough handling and temperature extremes.

Boxes of rations sit for months in a hot storehouse, waiting for shipment to troops around the globe. The MRE must maintain high quality for three years at 80 degrees Fahrenheit and for six months at 100 degrees.

By the time the rations reach their destination, will they be fresh enough to eat? The Time-Temperature Indicator links the quality of the ration to the time and temperature since it's been packed. The indicators are printed on pressure-sensitive labels applied to the outside case of MRE rations. Each indicator consists of an outer reference ring and an inner circle. The inner circle darkens with time and darkens more quickly as the temperature increases.

The quality of food products is very dependent on the time and temperature of storage -- so the darker the circle, the less fresh the food. The labels give inspectors a reliable, state-of-the-art technique to determine each ration's freshness.

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