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Expansion Project Begins on Combat Feeding Lab

American Forces Press Service

NATICK, Mass., March 10, 2005 – With three successive swings of gold-painted sledgehammers, the $4.6 million Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate food laboratory expansion project officially began during a ceremony here March 7.

Army Brig. Gen. James Moran, commanding general of the Soldier Systems Center; Joe Dalton, district director for U.S. Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts; and Philip Brandler, Natick Soldier Center director, each poked a hole into the X marked at the bottom of the wall of the existing sensory analysis room, which is one of several areas to be improved in the 18,650-foot expansion.

"It seems like 100 years ago when I was the director of the Food Engineering Directorate that we had a dream for a second-floor expansion," Brandler said. "I guess what they say is true: Good things come to those who wait."

Funded by the 2003 Defense Appropriations Act, the project brings 12,859 square feet of lab, with the remaining space set aside for offices, to assist food researchers in developing the best rations for America's warfighters.

"It's been almost 30 years that I've been in the Army. And like Napoleon said, the Army does still travel on its stomach," Moran said. "You have played a principal part in ensuring our soldiers are the best-fed in the world."

He thanked Markey along with state and local officials who made the project possible. Dalton spoke on behalf of Markey, who was unable to attend.

He said that Markey, working together with Massachusetts Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, secured funding for the food lab expansion as well as the money for a new thermal test facility on the installation and are committed to do everything they can to support the Soldier Systems Center.

Referring to the most commonly issued ration developed at Combat Feeding, Dalton coined another name for the MRE -- "morale, readiness and energy" -- and commented on one newspaper's report on the meal, ready to eat.

"Sounds like there is some world-class bartering that goes on for the products developed here, and each MRE packs quite a punch of nutritional value and fuel for the body," Dalton said. "And maybe, just maybe, this new facility will help solve the most vexing of MRE problems, according to the (Washington) Post story: the perfect slice of pizza." Several areas will see major upgrades with the goal of delivering ration components of the highest safety, quality and acceptability.

The polymer packaging materials testing lab will enable the Natick Soldier Center to conduct in-house polymer processing trials using leading-edge materials and techniques. Incorporating novel structures, notably nanocomposite materials, into existing and future combat rations will cut packaging weight and waste while enhancing package survivability.

Five modern microbiology labs and an analytical chemistry lab will have state-of-the-art hoods for critical microbiological and chemical analyses. Collocation of microbiologists and food technologists offers the opportunity to increase collaboration and shorten development time.

A new sensory analysis room will have separate stations for thorough and independent assessment of rations for quality and acceptability. Food technologists will be able to provide evaluations of commercial foods and in-house components. Feedback can be rapidly sent to the Defense Logistics Agency to ensure only the best and safest products are issued to warfighters.

For better lab safety, an elevator will simplify transit of liquid gas cylinders between floors.

"It was always a show to watch the propane tanks being hoisted," Brandler said. "Our thanks go to Congressman Markey. He's recognizing that if we're going to continue to develop world-class products, we need world-class facilities."

Construction is scheduled to be completed by April 2006.

(From a Soldier Systems Center news release.)

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U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center


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