Logistics: July 7, 2005

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Napoleon Bonaparte once observed that an army travels on its stomach. Back in the 19th century, that was the biggest concern when one had an army; food for the troops. Even when it could be found, it was not much to write home about. In the Civil War, it was hardtack and various forms of meat (salt pork, or forms of beef). Scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency) was very common when fresh food was unavailable, and losses from disease exceeded losses from combat as late as the Spanish-American War. However, things changed as the Army discovered the extent of the problem. Vegetables were added by World War I, but there was a problem of getting stuff to the front in a condition the soldier could use under combat conditions. This led to the development of the canned C-rations in World War II and those lasted until 1983, when the MRE (Meals Ready to Eat, in a pouch) entered service.

The MRE has evolved from its initial introduction in 1983 (12 separate entrees) to today (24 menu entrees). The MREs change from year to year, and new entrees are added in place of others. In 2005, the Cheese and Vegetable Omelet, the Sloppy Joe Filling, and the Chicken Fajitas replaced the Country Captain Chicken, Chicken with Thai Sauce, and Beef Teriyaki. The U.S. military has generally switched out entrees each year (apparently the notion that such a deal is a zero-sum game seems to persist, as opposed to just adding new ones). The United States also has other rations, including variants for cold weather (which has a higher calorie count than the regular MRE 1540 per meal compared to 1250 for an MRE), and a kosher/halal variant for Jewish and Moslem soldiers (both religions, for instance, forbid the consumption of pork). Vegetarian entrees are provided, as well. The United States also has developed the Humanitarian Daily Ration, which has three meals and is based on vegetarian entrees to provide a low chance of offending cultural sensibilities. Many of these HDRs were dropped over Afghanistan in late 2001.

Canada also has a combat ration called the Individual Meal Pack (IMP). Unlike the MRE, which is one bag per meal, Canadas system involves one box carrying all three meals. Each of the three meals provides about 1200 calories, and the entrees are different (including a veal cutlet with lemon sauce). Canada also has the Light Meal Combat, which supplements the IMP in some cases.

Most of the NATO countries have also developed field rations of their own. France has designed a series of rations (the RCIR) that come with or without pork (to reflect a large Moslem population in that country). These also come in packs for a day, and many are still canned. The entrees are much fancier than those of any other country (including offerings involving rabbit, lamb, and veal). 

The British have gone further, providing vegetarian meals and halal meals. They have also replaced the cans in the older GS pack with the new GP pack, which can be boiled in a bag. The British also provide four-person packs for crews of armored fighting vehicles. There is also a ten-person pack for the crew and squad in a Warrior infantry fighting vehicle. Germanys FPA comes in foil trays, and in three types of two-meal packs. The German system (Einmannpackung or EPA) was slated to be phased out until peacekeeping duty brought the field rations back into service. Russia also has a one-day ration issued to soldiers. The food is canned, and usually the entrees are beef, sausage, or occasionally fish. It is based on the French RCIR, but is nowhere near as fancy. An earlier Russian ration, the Sukhoi, was not well-received by the troops.

Which rations are the best? It depends on what you are looking for. The French RCIR probably is the most gourmet, and reports are that one RCIR was worth five MREs in the informal market in which rations are exchanged. That said, the MRE and its derivatives are probably the most versatile and offer the most variety, even though the Army, at present, is freezing the number of meals offered in a given year at 24. This wide variety and suitability for nearly every climate or culture gives the MRE the edge. Were the Army to increase the variety (simply by restoring the meals that have been eliminated, and just adding more), that edge would probably increase even more (veal parmesan would be a good entre to add). Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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