Buffalo Chicken, Anyone? (MRE Update)

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Napoleon famously quipped, "An army marches on its stomach." And anyone who's been hungry in the field knows that few things out there are as big a deal as chow. So when I visited Natick last week, I was especially interested in seeing what was new at the DoD Combat Feeding Directorate.

Well, buffalo chicken, for one thing. That's right, warfighters; come FY '09 you'll have a new menu item in your MREs. And I had a chance to taste the stuff, and I'm happy to report it's really good . . . and I'm a hot wing connoisseur.

Jeremy Whitsitt, Combat Feedings outreach coordinator, explained that the command is conscious of the morale elements along with the nutritional value of menu choices . "An item like buffalo chicken makes a Soldier feel in touch with life back home," Whitsitt said.

Since 1992 Combat Feeding has added over 200 components to the basic MRE.

Whitsitt described the "ration timeline," which is the strategic plan behind combat chow:

- Initial wave eats MREs for 15-20 days. (No requirement for heat or electricity.)

- After that "heat and serve" group rations (like the Unitized Group Ration - Express) will be used for the next 10-15 days.

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- Then hopefully things are settled to the point that a chow hall is up and running and "A Rations" are being served. This assumes refrigerators, boilers, and stoves are in place.

Speaking of the UGR-E, Whitsitt demonstrated how easy it is to fire one of those bad boys up. The box comes with chow for 18 folks, and with the simple pull of a lanyard, the auto-boiler starts heating the entrees. They're ready to eat in about a half hour.

The UGR-Es have been a huge hit in the field. Introduced in June '07, Combat Feeding had planned on moving 60,000 modules in the first year. Because of demand, they wound up shipping 60,000 modules a month instead.

Now we've reported on the "First Strike Ration" here before, but what we didn't know was what caused the development of it. MREs are packaged per meal. Turns out that special operators didn't like the bulk of 27 MRE bags when headed out for a 9-day op, so they'd break them down and take out what they really wanted and leave the rest behind. When Combat Feeding got wind of this trend they feared that the spec ops boys might be missing out on some basic nutrients in their zeal for mobility. So they designed the FSR, which is about the same cubic size as an MRE but contains enough nutrients for an entire day instead of just a single meal.

Next post: Taste-testing DoD-style.

-- Ward

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