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Natick to Field New Combat Ration for Troops on the Move

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2003 – "Ration stripping," they call it when forward- deployed combat troops jettison all but the most essential items from their Meals, Ready to Eat so they don't have so much to carry as they set out on a mission.

Troops in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan reported sacrificing all but a few carefully chosen food items from their MRE pouches to lighten their pockets and rucksacks.

These reports alarmed food technologists at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Mass, who recognized that warfighters weren't simply tossing aside "luxury" items like flameless heaters and Tabasco sauce.

Janice Rosado from the Defense Department's combat feeding program said troops were also leaving half of their food behind, losing half the nutrition and calories packed into their MREs at a time when their bodies needed them most.

In response, Rosado said Natick is developing the "first-strike ration" specifically for short-term use by warfighters during the first days of conflict.

First-strike rations are lighter and more compact than standard MREs. A single pouch holds a full day's food supply and weighs about 21/2 pounds. By comparison, three MREs weigh in at about 2 pounds heavier, Rosado said.

In addition to increasing troops' mobility, the new rations are designed to enhance their physical performance and mental acuity. They contain food easily eaten on the go, she said: a pocket sandwich, beef jerky, nuts, dried cranberries, applesauce and bread or crackers with a cheese spread. Extra energy comes packed into a fudge bar, a high-carbohydrate "HooAH" bar, an enriched beverage mix, and caffeine-laced chewing gum.

"They're a combat-driven ration that has more carbohydrates, less packaging and no luxury items," Rosado said. "They're based on what warfighters say they most frequently take with them when they're on the go."

Rosado stressed that the new rations aren't intended for noncombat operations or field training exercises.

They're "not nutritionally complete," she said, and don't meet all the dietary standards required of MREs. In addition, first-strike rations have fewer calories than MREs 2,900 to 3,000 in a one-day pouch, compared to 3,600 to 3,900 calories in three MREs.

But Rosado insists that the new rations are a big improvement over the "Band- Aid approach" she said troops have historically used to feeding themselves while on the run.

The new rations have been field tested by Army special operations troops and Navy SEALs, Rosado said, with both groups giving them the thumbs-up.

In fact, the latest prototype of the new ration proved so popular during testing that the U.S. Army Special Operations Support Command requested as many of the rations that Natick's food engineering lab could make to ship to Rangers deployed to Iraq.

Current plans call for the first-strike rations to be fielded by 2007.

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