Meals Rejected by Everyone

If you know a young soldier in todays Army, chances are they have told you how terrible the MRE, or Meal Ready to Eat is. He’s lying. They taste great. Now.

Back in the dark ages when the MRE was first introduced, they were so bad, people prefered the old C-ration. With good reason, too. The meals were terrible. The Army had abandoned the C-ration because of issues with the weight of the canned meals, and the difficulty of packing them in a soldiers load. The problem was that few foods were stable enough to be stored in the new foil pouch packaging. That shortcoming led to the following selection of less than inspiring menus:

Pork Patty (a dehydrated chunk of ground pork)

Ham and Chicken Loaf (yes, it is as bad as it sounds)

Beef Patty (similar to the aforementioned Pork Patty)

Beef Slices in BBQ Sauce (think shoe leather)

Beef Stew (almost palatable)

Frankfurters with Beans (The Four Fingers of Death, since there were 4 dogs in a pack)

Diced Turkey with Gravy (not like Mom’s home cooking)

Beef Diced with Gravy (best of the bunch, which ain’t saying much)

Chicken a la King (in 5 years, I never finished this one- that’s how bad it was)

Meatballs in BBQ Sauce (heartburn, here we come!)

Ham Slices (again, almost palatable, how do you screw up ham?)

Beef Ground with Spice Sauce (whoever came up with the sauce committed a war crime)

Chicken Loaf (this, and the Ham and Chicken Loaf, had the looked a lot like tuna in a pouch, but dry and tasteless)

In addition to this entree, each meal had crackers; a spread -such as jam, peanut butter, or processed cheese; a desert such as a rock hard chocolate bar or what they called pound cake; and an accessory pack with salt, pepper, sugar, instant coffee, creamer, a toothpick, matches, and a tiny little bundle of toilet paper (EVERY grunt knows to take his own roll or baby wipes with him)

When we went to the field, that’s all we got. MREs. Generally, if we were going to be out in the field for a week or less, that’s all we got. If we were lucky, they would bring us one hot meal (hot is a relative term- it was cooked, but stone cold by the time we got it). Each meal had about 1200 calories. Now, I know that the svelte ladies who read this site will say that that’s enough for a full day. But consider this- the average grunt burns between 4500 and 6000 calories a day in the field. That leaves us 2400 calories short per day. In fact, because the meals were so bad, most folks ended up getting only about 2400 calories a day. You would be weakened by hunger in two or three days.

The Army actually worked hard to fix this problem (no, really), but progress was very slow and it wasn’t until Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm that improved MREs came into the field.  New menu items, larger portions and better accessories made for a much more survivable experience. Later, in 1992, a big leap forward came with the Flameless Ration Heater- a plastic pouch that heated the entree in by adding just a little water to it. I can’t tell you how great it was to have a hot meal.

 

By 1997, there were 20 different entree, including some breakfast menus, and all the original menus had been dropped. Every year now, new menu items are tested to see what the troops like. If it’s popular, it’s added and the least popular menu is dropped.

In the aftermath of Desert Storm and in Somolia, MRE were given to refugees facing starvation. Turns out, that wasn’t the wisest course of action for people suffering from malnutrition. The rich, fatty, high-protein menus were difficult for them to digest. In response, the Humanitarian Daily Ration was developed. This was a single pouch with food for one day, and was usually a high starch meal, such as beans and rice or lentils. They were also kosher/halal so there were no cultural issues in distributing them. Quite a few soldiers snuck a few of these and found them very tasty. As a result, the menus made their way into MREs as well.

 

 [youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=r89MvoNLCdk]

Flying Tanks (yes, really)(well, sorta)

No, we aren’t going to drop a 70-ton M-1A1 tank using parachutes. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had airborne tanks. I wouldn’t call any of them huge successes, but our main topic today, the M551 Sheridan wasn’t a complete flop, either.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50cpPAVoxJQ]

Airborne forces got their start in WWII. We’ve all seen the movies of paratroopers jumping into Normandy. One problem they had was a shortage of ways to defeat German armor and take out targets like bunkers and pillboxes. The bazooka went a ways toward this, but a tank would help a lot. The US and the British developed a very light tank called the M22 Locust that could be landed by glider or transported by plane. Arriving in service too late to see combat in WWII, it was also badly undergunned.

After WWII, the Army still tried to come up with lightweight tank for the airborne forces, but had little success. To have any success defeating armor meant a bigger gun. A bigger gun meant a heavier vehicle, and heavier vehicles couldn’t be airdropped. That was pretty much the state of affairs until missile technology entered the picture.

Instead of using a solid shot to penetrate enemy armor, the plan was to use High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) rounds. These use a warhead that focuses the explosion to “burn through” enemy armor. The velocity of the round doesn’t matter to the penetration. The effectiveness of a HEAT round is directly related to the diamater of the warhead. The larger the better. But that takes us back to the problem of weight. The solution was to sacrifice muzzle velocity and accept a slow flying round, since the velocity on impact didn’t matter. This made the gun effective at short ranges. Unfortunately, the problem of long range defense against tanks was still there. The Army solved this by using the same gun as a launcher for a guided missle. After a protracted (and not terribly successful) development, the gun and missile combination was finalized. The gun was a 152mm bore (about 6″) that could fire HEAT rounds for short ranges, and the MGM-51 Shillelagh guided missile.

The gun/missile combination was mated to a lightweight, aluminum hull (or chassis, if you will) that was capable of both being airdropped from a C-130 and of swimming. Production started in 1966 and vehicles soon began to equip the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam, and other units soon thereafter.

While the system worked to some extent, most of the users weren’t very happy with it. The aluminum armor was easily penetrated, and vulnerable to mines. The Sheridan was also prone to breakdowns. By the mid-70s, most Cavalry units had phased it out. The 82nd Airborne Division, however, had nothing to replace it and so held on to theirs until 1996. The 82nd actually airdropped eight of them during the invasion of Panama, and deployed 51 of them to Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

By the late 1970s, the Army had several hundred relatively new, but obsolete Sheridans on its hands. It had also just opened the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, near Barstow, CA, and needed lots of armor to simulate a Soviet regiment attacking across Western Europe. Many Sheridans were modified with sheet metal and fiberglass to give them a distinctive, somewhat Soviet look to play this part. They served very honorably in this role until 2003 when they were replaced by highly modified M-113s.

Update:

Because there were few enemy tanks in Vietnam, and the recoil of HEAT rounds tended to damage electronics on board, Sheridans deployed to Vietnam had their missile guidance packages removed. In addition to the HEAT round, they carried a cannister anti personnel round. You’ve seen a shotgun shell before. Now imagine one six inches across and about 2 1/2 feet long. This was a fearsome weapon when the VC or NVA attacked Sheridan units.

Unit designations

1/1/A/1-27IN/3BDE/25ID(L)

That was my first assignment in the Army. No, it’s not some secret code. Just shorthand. We talked about the triangular organization of the Army here. Since there are tons of functionally identical organizations around the Army, it’s easier to give a unit a designation rather than a name. So what unit was this?

I was in the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion of the 27th Infantry, 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division (Light).

Now, we normally don’t spell it out in that much detail. Most folks in the business know that that the 1st Bn. of the 27th Infantry is part of the 25th ID. So when we play the old game of “where were you stationed?”, we just say, “Oh, I was with 1-27IN”. Plus, it’s not unusual to be shifted around quite a bit inside a company or battalion during a tour. I actually spent that whole tour in Hawaii in the first platoon, but spent time in each of the rifle squads, the weapons squad, and the platoon headquarters.

During my tour in Germany, I started out in C/1-6IN, spent time in each platoon and the headquarters platoon, was moved over to our Brigade HQ (1BDE, 1st AD), then loaned out to a sister battalion, A/7-6IN, part of the 3rd BDE.

A few designations for different types of unit:

IN-Infantry

AR-Armor

CAV-Cavalry

EN-Engineer

AV or AVN- Aviation

FA-Field Artillery (as opposed to the now defunct Coast Artillery)

ADA- Air Defense Artillery

MI- Military Intelligence

MP- Military Police (you can’t spell WIMP without MP!)

QM- Quartermaster Corps

TC- Transportation Corps

If I left your branch/corps out, just let me know. This list is by no means exhaustive. I’m happy to add on.

How to speak Army

I left a comment over at Pajama Momma’s place that went right over her head:

25th ID, 1st AD, 4th ID.

Like just about every other job, the Army has its own jargon. Lots and lots of it. Virtually everything in the Army is reduced to  jargon and incomprehensible to outsiders. I’ve tried hard not to use “MilSpeak” here because the whole point is to help civilians understand just what their Army is and does.

The comment I left at PJ’s was a resume, if you will. In shorthand. My first duty assignment after basic training was with the 25th Infantry Division, in Schofield Barraks, HI. After leaving the Army and going to college for a couple of (miserable) years, I rejoined and was assigned to the 1st Armored Division, headquartered in Ansbach, Germany (Armored Divisions have four battalions of infantry). Following that tour, I made a PCS (permanent change of station) to the 4th Infantry Division, in Fort Carson, CO, just next to the lovely town of Colorado Springs.

Now, I could have written it all out like this, but the shorthand conveys most of the information to anyone who would care. It’s enough background to play the old Army game of “who do you know”.

I’m drafting a post on how units are designated and how to translate that so you know where it is that your son/daughter, cousin, buddy, whomever is assigned. Of course, if you have any questions, just let me know.