Support: Comfort Food That Counts in Combat


March 27, 2007: American combat troops in Afghanistan are living off MREs for extended periods while running around the hills. That's leaving some of the troops undernourished. The MREs don't supply enough calories, there are no other sources of food available, and many troops are losing twenty pounds or more during their twelve month tour.

This was anticipated, at least on paper. But the staff officers and scientists who run the MRE program missed a few important items. First, because the troops in Afghanistan are moving around on foot, and carrying all their gear with them, they ruthlessly drop anything they don't need. Thus the 24 ounce MREs are often "stripped" to eliminate a lot of the nice to have stuff, reducing the weight to 16 ounces. But this tends to knock off a few hundred calories as well. The troops often get power bars, and other goodies, to augment MREs. The army developed its own power bar (called the HooAH) in 2000. But not enough of these got to the troops. The HooAH weighs 2.2 ounces and contains 280 calories.

The Department of Defense has, for over half a century, tried to develop a lightweight, high calorie "combat rations." Success has been elusive. In Iraq, the troops get most of their chow from mess halls, and there's plenty of food to be had there. Same deal in Afghanistan, for some of the combat troops. But for those out in the hills for long periods of time, and unable to get power bars shipped from home, the pounds just slip away.

The army now has an official "combat ration", called the First Strike Ration. These weigh 30 ounces and contain 2,500 calories. But the doctors insist these should not be used more than three days in a row. Another problem is that combat troops will eat the wrong foods when back at base. The stress of combat induces many to pig out on comfort foods (sweet and salty stuff) which does not contain the nutrients needed to stay in top physical shape.

While many troops are disciplined to eat what's good for them, the army has a problem with the minority that doesn't. So new combat rations are being developed that address the need for comfort foods, yet still contain the needed nutrients.

All this is not a new problem. It was first encountered during World War II, and has been a major irritant, for combat troops and the people who develop combat rations, ever since.


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