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New Rations in Pipeline for Service Members

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2001 – Military food has had a bad rap through the ages.

In the Revolutionary War, the menu at Valley Forge, Pa., left much to be desired. During the Civil War, many Union soldiers received rancid pork and corn meal as their only issued rations. During the Spanish-American War, soldiers and Marines called desiccated rations -- essentially dried vegetables "desecrated rations."

More recently, service members called the initial Meals, Ready-to-Eat menus "Meals Rejected by Everybody."

Anyone who has gone to the field lately will admit that military chow has gotten much better. The folks behind the effort to improve rations are in the DoD Combat Feeding Program. The scientific and technological focus lately has been on reducing the weight and volume of the rations and the fuel needed to heat them," said Gerald Darsch, joint program director.

The Combat Feeding Program is for all services but comes under the Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command in Natick, Mass.

One new meal is the first-strike ration. Its intent is to allow service members to eat on the move. "Warfighters won't have to stop to use even a spoon," Darsch said. The ration prototype consists of shelf-stable pocket sandwiches, and pouches of carbohydrate-enhanced "Zapplesauce" product and Ergo high-energy drink powder.

"What we envision is the Zapplesauce being consumed directly from the pouch using a nozzle," he said. A fitting on the Ergo pouch would connect to a troop's 'camelback' water carrier -- soldiers would fill the bag with water, shake it and then drink from a nozzle.

"Everything would be complete to 'eat on the go.' They wouldn't have to stop in a (mobile operations in urban terrain) environment and eat in a stairway or roof when there are snipers around," Darsch said. The ration is about half the weight and volume of a typical MRE, he said.

New rations don't mean that DoD is forgetting the old. "Our combat ration improvements are as aggressive as ever," he said. "Everything that goes into our rations is warrior- tested, warrior-selected and warrior-approved."

New items are being added to the MRE ration line for 2001. Service members will start seeing seafood jambalaya, beef enchiladas and mashed potatoes. Pork chow mein and "smoky franks" are toast.

In 2002, service members will see beefsteak with mushroom gravy, multigrain cereal, cappuccino and hamburger patties. Beefsteak and chicken with rice will disappear.

Darsch said Natick's future test menus include a vegetarian manicotti and clam chowder. "My condolences to the folks from Manhattan, there's no tomato sauce in it -- it's New England style," he said in his broad Massachusetts accent.

Another technology the program is examining is compressed entrees. The menu of 25 different entres would cut the current weight of rations by 66 percent and their volume by 75 percent. "Compressed entres also cost 75 percent less to make than freeze-dried items, and you get an A-ration quality product in 4 percent of the time," Darsch said.

The Natick crew is also examining improving the quality of regular food. Regular canned food is steamed until it is sterile. All that cooking changes the taste and texture of the food.

Researchers have found that pressure will sterilize food -- packers can kill pathogens by exposing unsealed pouches, cans and other primary containers of food to 120,000 pounds per square inch of atmospheric pressure. The pressure only affects living organisms, Darsch said, leaving the food fine. Because there's no high heat, the chow tastes closer to fresh.

Researchers are also looking at using electric pulses to sterilize food.

Cooks will also benefit. Recently introduced unitized group rations allow the services to feed troops A-ration quality food anywhere. "Among our recent developments is a polymeric tray to replace metal 'traycans,'" Darsch said. "Now, the cooks don't have to call the Red Cross for blood transfusions after they try opening the cans. We're also expanding the number and variety of menus available."

"We'll continue working in all aspects of rations to ensure service members get the best, most nutritious food they can," Darsch said. "Stand by. We always have something cooking."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNew, air-dried compressed entrees are a quarter the weight of conventional field food service meals. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMichael Acheson, DoD food technologist (left), and Army Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Moody, veterinary liaison, sample the beefsteak with mushroom gravy entrée in the 2002 line of Meals, Ready to Eat. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.  
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