Light infantrymen are obsessed with weight. Everything they take into battle has to be carried on their backs. Some things they don’t have any options about. They have to take their weapons. They have to take ammo. And they have to take water.
But anything they don’t have to take, they won’t. Given the choice of carrying enough warm clothing to keep from freezing, or lightening their load, they’ll fall back on the old adage: “Fight light, freeze at night.”
One item that grunts have to take, but traditionally weighs a lot, is food. Since the early 1980s, the standard Army combat ration has been the MRE. Now, the MRE isn’t bad. Right now, there are 24 different menus, and most of them, if not tasty, are at least edible. But MREs weigh quite a bit. About 2 pounds per meal. They are fairly bulky as well. So if you need to carry two or three days worth of food, you’re talking quite a load.
Grunts being grunts, most folks would take their MREs and “field strip” them. They would remove the meals from their outer packaging, discarding the heavy pouch they come in, as well as any extraneous packaging. A lot of parts of the meal might get tossed out as well.
The Army wasn’t thrilled with this because rations are carefully designed to provide enough calories and nutrients. When you start tossing stuff out, the meals are out of balance. So, the Army started working on a lightweight ration that would get light infantry through the first 72 hours of an operation. After that time, most operations would either be over, or regular ration resupply could take over. For instance, if the 82nd Airborne jumped into combat, after the first 3 days, they could probably count on regular supply channels. And if they couldn’t, they’d have bigger problems than finding something to eat.
The answer to the lightweight ration problem was the First Strike Ration, or FSR. The FSR is a tailor made to provide lots of calories, and to be small and light. It comes in a shrinkwrap pack of three meals, and yet is only a little larger than a single MRE. Unlike MRE meals, which need a spoon to be eaten, FSRs can be eaten by hand, since they are like “Hot Pockets” or sandwiches.
One of the most popular components of the FSR is a packet of applesausce, fortified with maltodextrose for extra energy. For whatever reason, the Army decided that no one wants to eat “applesauce fortified with maltodextrose”, but Zapplesauce, well,who wouldn’t want Zapplesauce? So the name was changed. In addition, there’s a couple of Army specific energy bars (Called the HooAh bar) and a powder to make an energy drink called ERGO (Energy Rich, Glucose Optimized).
The FSR is a handy ration for folks that just can’t carry a lot of extra weight. But it isn’t designed to feed folks for more than a couple days. For one thing, there’s only a few menus, so people get tired of them pretty quickly. For another, it’s hard to provide long-term nutritional balance from Hot Pockets. Ask the mother of any college student. She knows.
Addendum: While looking for pics of the FSR, I came across the following picture:
Back in 1940, they didn’t even have C-rations. Every meal was made from scratch. Each company had it’s own mess cooks and kitchen. The battalion would break down each days ration for the companies to pick up for the next days meals. I can’t be sure, but this is either a battalion or regimental breakdown.