Experts Develop Future Food for Future Warriors
By Phil Copeland
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2004 The Defense Department's Combat Feeding program at the U.S. Army Soldier System Center in Natick, Mass., is a "one-stop shop for all combat-rations development, field food-service equipment and total combat feeding systems," according to the Defense Department's combat-feeding director.
Two pieces of the new "Jolt" caffeine energy gum are equal to
a cup of coffee for U.S. warriors in the battlefield to help sustain a high
energy level. This gum is included as part of the prototype "First Strike"
rations that provide highly mobile ground troops with total eat-on-the-move
capability. Photo by Phil Copeland
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Gerald Darsch said the joint-service program is an effort to provide not only the appropriate types and distribution of food needed by the military services, but also to supply food products to astronauts at the International Space Station.
Combat rations and their distribution have improved considerably over the last five to seven years, Darsch said. The Combat Feeding program elicits "what soldiers like to eat and what they don't like to eat. All of the rations are soldier requested, soldier tested, soldier approved."
When servicemembers ask for a certain food item, such as Spanish rice or Thai chicken, food specialists develop recipes that will meet the request.
Test panels are randomly selected to evaluate recipes during development. Once a recipe is finished, it is field tested with soldiers to ensure the goal is met.
One type of ration, the Meal, Ready-to-Eat, or MRE, is currently used by the military to sustain individuals in the field until an organized food facility is established. At present, mobile troops, who may not have much time to eat, take out only certain food components from the MRE rations. "They leave up to 50 percent of the unused portion behind, only to be thrown away," Darsch noted.
The prototype "First Strike" ration program provides highly mobile ground troops with total eat-on-the-move capability. He said the idea is to provide a single ration per day containing only food items that are easy to use and consume.
Recently, both the Marines and Army soldiers have requested First Strike rations developed by the Combat Feeding program.
"The Marines have asked for these rations to use in Afghanistan and Iraq," Darsch said. "(The Army's) 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq has also requested to try these rations for their soldiers." Both services said it would provide a capability they really don't have, he added.
Darsch said this ration package includes a pocket sandwich with a three-year shelf life at room temperature, developed by the Army Soldier Center. This sandwich is a good idea for those who can't take a microwave or refrigerator out in the field, he added.
"We put three zip-lock bags in with the rations, so the person can break it up into three separate meals and easily store unused portions in the uniform pockets, wherever is most comfortable and fits the best," he explained. "The beverage mix included with the rations is in a flexible package so you can reconstitute it right in the package and consume it directly from the package."
Tube food, another type of ration, has been provided for the Air Force's U-2 long-range surveillance aircraft pilots during their reconnaissance flights. According to Air Force officials, the U-2 is the most difficult aircraft to fly because of its unusually challenging takeoff and landing characteristics. Due to its high-altitude mission, pilots must wear full pressure suits.
The Combat Feeding program, in a joint effort with the Air Force Research Lab, developed two foods that actually enhance the pilots' cognitive performance.
After the pilots have been flying their aircraft for a long period of time, they can become lethargic and sluggish when they try to land. Darsch explained that adding a certain naturally occurring food ingredient to the tube foods ensures a safe landing.
The Natick research center also has launched a robust program to upgrade food- distribution systems for the Navy fleet. Darsch described how they recently used a new modular process to install a piece of food-distribution equipment on two Los Angeles-class submarines.
In the past, crewmembers would have had to cut up the equipment deckside and lower in the pieces one at a time through a 30-inch hatch and reassemble all of those pieces down in the galley, he said. This old process required up to 500 man-hours. And once everything was put back together, it didn't always work or didn't work as well as intended.
The Combat Feeding program worked with a commercial company to come up with equipment designed and built in modules.
"The new idea is to lower the modules down through the hatch and then put the pieces together again, like LEGOs, in the galley," Darsch said. "This now reduces the 500 man-hours down to a possible less than 75 man-hours to complete this task. And now, everything works the way it is supposed to work."
The bottom line, he concluded, is that the Combat Feeding program covers the gamut of everything required for feeding the armed forces "from deep sea to deep space."