Current Rations

Military personnel located in fixed facilities are fed in dining halls not unlike those used for institutional feeding in the civilian sector. Because these situations are not unique, our focus in this article will be on foods used in field feeding situations that have no direct civilian counterpart.

Group feeding, where semifixed food preparation and serving facilities are possible, rations may be A Rations, B Rations, or T Rations, depending on the degree of sophistication of facilities, combat situation, availability of refrigeration, etc. A Rations are meals prepared from scratch, using primarily fresh or frozen ingredients, as well as many canned components. Although generally regarded as the most desirable, A Ration preparation requires facilities frequently unavailable in the field. In addition, trained cooks are needed to prepare and serve the food.

B Rations, prepared from shelf-stable ingredients such as canned foods, dehydrated foods, and packaged mixes also require trained cooks and equipment for frying, baking, broiling, etc, which may not be available, particularly in early stages of a conflict. T Rations consist of prepared foods thermally processed in tray packs, rectangular metal cans approximately the size of half-size steam table trays (10-1/16 X 12-3/8 X 2 in.). Sufficient tray pack entrées, starches, vegetables, and desserts have been developed to provide good menu variety for lunch/dinner meals, and improvements in breakfast item variety is currently a priority area of interest at Natick RD&E Center. T Rations offer the major advantage of requiring only heating, minimizing the need for equipment and trained food service personnel. Additionally, the tray can configuration allows processing of many popular foods such as lasagna, stuffed peppers and chicken breasts, which could not be thermally processed in conventional cylindrical cans.

For field-feeding situations where no preparation facilities are available and individuals must be self-sufficient, the basic ration is the Meal, Ready-to-Eat, Individual

(MRE). In addition, a number of special-purpose rations are stocked to meet specific, unique military needs, some of which will be described in this section.

The Meal, Ready-to-Eat, Individual has been in use since the early 1980s and has undergone major revision since first introduced. Based on retort pouch technology described in detail elsewhere, the MRE is a flexibly packaged, shelf-stable ration consisting generally of a casserole-type entrée or a meat/starch combination; fruit; crackers and spread; a cookie, cake, or brownie dessert item; as well as accessory items, condiments, candy, and beverage mixes. All MRE menus meet or exceed the recommended daily levels of vitamins, minerals, and calories prescribed for operational rations by the Office of the Surgeon General. Recent development of a highly acceptable packaged bread having a projected shelf life in excess of three years has enhanced the MRE acceptability and the technology developed for the bread is currently being applied to numerous other highly popular items such as shelf-stable packaged pizza, burritos, and a variety of new cake and snack items. Addition of these items as MRE components will add variety to the menu and further improve acceptability as a result of incorporation of more contemporary food items desired by today's service personnel.

To meet the unique needs of military personnel operating in the field during extremely cold weather where conventional hot meals cannot be provided, the Ration, Cold Weather (RCW) has been developed and is currently being procured. This ration, the first ever designed specifically for arctic/extreme cold conditions, is composed of dehydrated items that will not freeze. Salt and protein levels are adjusted to minimize water requirements, and several soup and hot drink mixes are included to help encourage adequate water intake because dehydration is a major problem in cold weather. A 4,500-calorie RCW weighs 2.7 lb. and has a volume of 225 in.3 for a man-day supply of food. For comparison purposes, it would be necessary to carry four MREs to provide the 4,500 calories required for cold weather feeding. One RCW furnishes the total calorie requirement and saves 55% of the weight and approximately 40% of the cube when compared to the MRE.

The military inventory also contains survival subsistence items, generally in the form of small food packets. These are intended for use only for short periods of time in emergency situations. Since the space available for their storage aboard lifeboats and aircraft or in other survival gear is extremely limited, high-caloric-density foods are required. Also, because of the likelihood of little or no potable water available to personnel in such emergencies, foods low in protein and high in carbohydrate are required to provide the necessary calories while minimizing water requirements. Through the application of new technologies, a new survival ration is under development. This ration consists primarily of an assortment of high carbohydrate food bars including cornflake, shortbread, glucose, granola, and chocolate chip. The familiar flavor and texture of the new food bars will greatly increase acceptability, in comparison to current survival packet components.

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