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Troops in Bosnia Getting Best Chow Possible

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 1996 – With 20,000 Americans going to Bosnia- Herzegovina dealing with cold temperatures and snow, the food service specialists are moving to give them the best food available.

For some service members, the Christmas feast of ham and turkey with all the trimmings was their first hot meal since arriving for duty.

Defense officials say it will take between 30 and 60 days to bring service members fresh, prepared meals routinely. Setting up dining facilities, staffing them with cooks and getting supplies will take time, especially for those units patrolling remote sites.

Officials said service members will still get hot, nourishing meals in the field - even without the kitchens and cooks. "We owe it to our soldiers to get them food they need," said Army Brig. Gen. Chuck Mahan, the Army's acting deputy chief of staff for logistics.

Mahan said the goal of all field commanders is getting their soldiers A-rations -- fresh meats, vegetables, fruits -- as soon as possible. "However, it may take time to do that because it takes more cooks to prepare three meals a day," he said.

Mahan added until units establish their dining facilities and staffs, there may be a lot of meal combinations for service members to see.

For soldiers on patrol, hot meals will consist initially of T-rations. Sealed in gray, metal aluminum packets, these "heat-and-eat" rations look like large TV dinners. There's a choice of five breakfasts and 10 dinners.

Units can easily transport and heat T-rations. They are an easy way to give troops in the field a hot meal, Mahan said.

"That's the beauty of the T-Ration," said Mahan. "They're designed for these units that are in constant movement. Many times you don't have a fixed facility or the food service personnel available. This provides commanders the chance to give their troops a hot meal."

Officials designed a better way to heat meals, ready to eat, using a bag and a half cup of water. A service member places a cold entree into a special bag. Pouring the water in activates a heating element that warms the cold meal into a hot entree in minutes.

"We first field tested this last year in Hohenfels, Germany, and got a great reaction," said Army Chief Warrant Officer Pete Motrynczuk. Assigned with the Army Center of Excellence at Fort Lee, Va., Motrynczuk said soldiers loved the idea of having hot food in the field. "We're now issuing these bags with every MRE so soldiers can have a hot meal wherever they are."

As operations continue, Mahan said, food quality will improve. "There will be time when a soldier will get MREs and a hot (meal)," he said. "Other times they may see different combinations. Not every unit is going to be the same."

One concern is units obtaining their own fresh foods from local merchants. "We have to provide food that is both nutritious and fit for consumption. Units don't have those resources, so they're not allowed to obtain local food products.

"We have to ensure quality and for us to do that, we need to send the right people there to do that," said Mahan. "When we start obtaining local fruits and vegetables, we'll do it through the logistics chain."

Mahan said Army veterinary units working with contractors will inspect and select the best quality products they can. "The vets have to make sure there are no parasites or other problems that could harm soldiers," he said.

Throughout the peacekeeping mission, defense officials said they will look at other ways to improve meals for service members. Motrynczuk said the Army is developing meals that provide more substance and more variety, and meet individual dietary demands.

Some improvements include solid meat portions rather than stews and shredded meats. Improvements include ethnic and kosher meals, as well as vegetarian entrees.

"We talk to soldiers all the time when we field test a meal," said Motrynczuk. "They've all told us there's a place in the field for MREs, but there needs to be a variety -- something that will make them want to eat that ration. We've now got 20 different MRE entrees and that will only increase."

However, Mahan said he won't be satisfied until soldiers replace T-rations and MREs with fresh prepared food. "Everything we prepare in our dining facilities can be prepared in the field," he said. "That's our goal and the goal of any commander because our soldiers deserve the very best."

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