Civilians try MREs

Actually, these aren’t *really* MREs. They’re civilian products mimicking MREs. The main entrée is pure MRE, but the rest is a cheaper variant.


MREs aren’t bad, per se. For a day or two, they’re not bad at all, especially now that they have the flameless ration heater. But after more than a few days, they become very monotonous. That’s part of why the Army puts so much effort into making hot meals, such as the UGR series, available to deployed troops.

Youtube being Youtube, there’s actually a small community of channels with people who do very indepth reviews of just about every combat ration around, both the various MRE menus, and their foreign counterparts.


Gschultz9 has over 23,000 subscribers!

OMG!!! Poor Marines Forced To Eat MRE’s!!!!

Sorry, try as I might, I can’t work up much outrage about this story making the rounds the last couple days.

Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan will lose a key daily meal starting Saturday, causing some to forgo a hot breakfast and others to work six-plus hours without refueling on cooked food, according to Marines at the base and Marine Corps officials.

The midnight ration service — known there as “midrats” — supplies breakfast to Marines on midnight-to-noon shifts and dinner to Marines who are ending noon-to-midnight work periods. It’s described as one of the few times the Marines at Leatherneck can be together in one place.

So, for now, the chow hall is going from four hot meals a day to three. The horror!

Some folks will blame this on an uncaring service, or budget cuts on the back of the troops or the sequestration.


Simply put, the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan also means a drawdown of contractor support, including those that provide food services. And with fewer food service contractors, there has to be fewer hot meals.

So, sure, it’s a burden on those air wingers that work shift work. But Camp Leatherneck has always been somewhat more austere than some of the other major installations in Afghanistan (and it IS a major installation– it’s one 0f the biggest bases in ALL the Marine Corps).  Unlike Bagram Air Base, it has never had fast food and coffee shops.

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan (Nov. 26, 2009) Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) the Honorable Ray Mabus serves turkey to Marines and Sailors Thanksgiving Day at Camp Leatherneck. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O’Brien

You can see above the horrific conditions in which our poor Marines are compelled to starve.

Mind you, I’m a strong believer that you don’t need practice being miserable.  Good commanders take care that hot food is provided whenever practical. But the fact is, Marines at Camp Leatherneck have far more meal options and far better accommodations than those Marines and soldiers deployed to smaller combat outposts, where a hot meal is truly a luxury.,_Khowst_province,_Afghanistan.jpg

Both the Marines and the Army have gone to considerable effort to provide (military) cooks to forward outposts. But all too often those troops are either on patrol for days on end (meaning all meals are MREs) or only provided one or two hot meals a day, usually from canned foodstuffs, not fresh, and with a very monotonous menu.

Babette Maxwell, of Military Spouse Magazine, does herself no favors sounding like a whiner.

“MREs are an alternative for when you can’t get to healthy food. They’re supposed to be for desperation,” said Babette Maxwell, founder and executive director of Military Spouse Magazine, the wife of a Navy pilot and an advocate for service members and their families. “These guys have six to nine months left on their deployment. These are highly athletic and highly physical people, toting guns, not working any less now than before — and not working out any less either. Now, they’re short a meal and they don’t have any healthy alternatives.”

MREs are actually rather healthy, if somewhat high in fats. But they are very high in calories. Unless you’re engaged in the most strenuous physical activity (see, patrolling, infantry) you can gain weight quite easily with MREs. 

And Ms. Maxwell, maybe you should ask your husband what kind of midrats are served at sea. Hint- it ain’t usually a hot meal, no matter what shift hours you have.

Then there’s this bit:

“Psychologically, midrats is probably the most important of all the meals because that’s the big social time — where first (shift) crew is coming off and second (shift) crew is coming on,” Maxwell said.”That’s where you get the esprit de corps, the camaraderie. It’s not just the food you’re taking away, it’s their social sustenance.” 

Really? Marines are that fragile?  I’ll have to take a poll of our readers and see how many support that notion. Provided I can get URR off his fainting couch. I’ll give you this much- other bases that have stopped a fourth meal have eliminated either breakfast or lunch based primarily on which is the least attended meal of the day. 

I gotta say, as a grunt who thought a TCT/TCA ration cycle was pure luxury, I’d blow my top at these guys.

I’ll give LTC Gilmore, spokesman, credit for finding a bit of humor:

When serving we are challenged to endure different things — to face different challenges — over time. But we’re an odd bunch, we Marines — probably no surprise that we’ll complain more about losing the sandwich bar on the way out than we did about getting shot at on the way in.”

More on MREs

Soldiers will never be completely happy with MREs, the Army’s combat ration. Having said that, they are now far and away better than the earlier generations of MREs (some old timer is gonna show up and tell me how hard it was in the days of C-Rats).

Most of the time, I was too busy to do anything with an MRE other than heat it up. But given enough time, troops will put their culinary skills to work to improve the meal.  They may not quite make it to this level, however…


So, what’s your favorite MRE/C-Rat?

MREs and more

Apparently, the previous post on MREs was wildly popular. And while just about everyone who knows someone in the service has heard a horror story or two, they ain’t that bad. Nor is it the only game in town when it comes to eating.

Like every other bureaucracy in the world, the Army has a program for everything, including food. The Army calls this AFFS, or the Army Field Feeding System. They actually put a lot of time, money and effort into getting food out to the field. Think about it. Some young soldier in the middle of some Godforsaken village in Afghanistan is going to eat, and chances are it’s going to be a meal made right here in the US of A.

Traditionally, meals for troops in the field have been in three categories: A, B, and C:

A-Rations are meals made from items available locally and are cooked in army kitchens just like you would make (if you were serving 800 people). They use perishable items like meat, produce and dairy products. This means the kitchens have to have refrigeration and that the soldiers usually have to come to the kitchen (the old mess hall is now called the Dining Facility or DFAC). A-Rations can be sent to troops out in the field by using insulated food containers called Mermite cans, but this is difficult and the food is often cold when it gets there.

B-Rations are still prepared in a kitchen for groups, but are made from canned items. Since they are non-perishable, a less elaborate kitchen setup is required. Often, where A-Rations are made up to feed a Brigade or Battalion, a kitchen for B-Rats can be set up at the company level. This makes transporting the meal to the soldiers (or the soldiers to the meal) a much shorter trip. This means you get more hot meals. B-Rations are often called T-rations now, but the concept is the same.

C-Rations are individual rations that require no preparation to eat. MREs fall into this class. When Vietnam veterans talk about eating C-Rats, they were really eating cans of MCI, or Meal, Combat, Individual.

The names of the actual rations and meals have changed, but to this day they still fall into these general categories. We pretty well covered the MRE in our previous post. Let’s take a quick look at the other options. In the old days (any day before I joined the Army is the old days, right up there with horse-drawn artillery) a B-Ration might be something like giant cans of ravioli. A side dish might be canned green beans. The cooks would heat these up, dump the contents in Mermites, send along coffee, bread, a salad (if they could), milk, and some sort of desert. Not a bad meal. It was no home cooking, but it beat the ham and chicken loaf MRE. Still there were drawbacks. The meals were often cold when they got to the field, it took a lot of time or a lot of cooks to make the meals, and cleaning the Mermite cans was a major chore. There had to be a better way. And there was. Someone came up with the bright idea of Tray-Packs. The food was still canned food, but the can was shaped like half a steam table tray.

Simply by putting the traypacks in hot water, you could safely and easily heat the meal. The shape of the tray made it a lot easier to pack items like sausages, eggs (yes, eggs) cake (pound cake rocks!), and sliced pork loin in gravy. Serving is a lot easier as well. Putting the trays in a special insulated container kept them warm for long periods of time. Serving was easy too. It was just like eating from a cafeteria or buffet line. Items like bread, milk, and salad would be sent along as well. My unit in Hawaii was one of the first to use the traypacks and while it wasn’t Mom’s home cooking, it beat another look at MREs. Of course, there were kinks to work out. The first trays didn’t have the contents marked on them, so there were occasions when someone got lots of cut green beans, someone got three trays of rice, and someone else found themselves awash in sliced pork. That shortcoming was overcome eventually, but not before I had a breakfast that consisted of blueberries. Apparently, the pound cake made its way over to the other platoon. I hated blueberries then, and that did nothing to improve my opinion of them. In the late 90’s, as the Army began spending a lot more time deployed in places like the Balkans and the Middle East, the traypacks were used in a ration called the UGR, or Unitized Group Ration. Basically, instead of the cooks ordering traypacks and then ordering all the other stuff to make a meal, they just ordered however many UGRs they needed. Everything from the main dish to the plates, napkins and even trash bags came in the box.

The same concept was applied to the A-Ration. Let’s face it. You aren’t going to find a lot of steak or chicken in Iraq to feed 100,000 of your closest friends with. Most of the items in a meal are shelf stable. But some things need to be frozen. In the UGR-A, the Army packs together a meal with frozen items and expedites the shipping to the unit in the field so they can have a decent meal from time to time.

Typically, there’s a cycle, based on what is available, and what the unit will be doing. The operations order that tells you what your unit is doing usually contains a mention of the ration cycle and sounds some thing like this- Rations will be A-C-T for today and T-C-A tomorrow.” Your chances of having A-Rations three times a day are pretty poor. On the other hand, your chances of having MREs three times a day are slimmer than they once were.

MREs with an accent

Our post on MREs has brought commments from one of our readers across the pond. Our British cousins have a ration very similar in nature to our MRE. The British, being British, have to do things their own way. I could do a long post on the development of the British Operational Ration, with menus and whatnot, or I can just link this.

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.