More nutrition, less packaging
Stars and Stripes June 8, 2007
ARLINGTON, Va. — The long-awaited First Strike three-in-one rations are scheduled to begin shipping to Marine and Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in September.
About 63,000 cases of First Strike Ration, each containing nine rations, will be sent to the Middle East, according to Gerald Darsch, director of the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass.
The delivery is just the leading edge of what Pentagon food experts are expecting will be a very large wave, Darsch told Stripes on Wednesday.
“Everybody’s raring to get their hands on these,” he said. “I’m sure once they hit the field, the request will go up.”
The First Strike Ration weighs half as much as a single Meals, Ready to Eat (MRE), but includes about 2,900 calories’ worth of nutritionally enhanced food — enough for an entire day.
The average MRE has about 1,300 calories, if troops eat everything in the package.
But Natick researchers have learned that troops rarely consume all the components in MREs, particularly when they are preparing for missions where reducing the amount of weight and bulk in their packs is essential, Darsch said.
Instead, they “field strip” the rations, choosing their favorite items and tossing out the rest.
First Strike, therefore, is specifically designed to include only the MRE components that troops have told Natick researchers they like the best, including pocket sandwiches, dessert bars, fruit and nut mixes, beef jerky sticks, caffeinated chewing gum, and dozens of other goodies specially designed to be nibbled on the run and keep energy levels high.
Ever since Natick began field-testing the prototype with the special operations community in 2002 in Iraq and Afghanistan, the buzz over First Strike has been intense.
The tests prompted a barrage of requests from operations commanders to send thousands more immediately.
Natick wasn’t able to comply because there was no manufacturer — all the prototypes had been hand-assembled in the directorate’s own kitchens.
But those requests — which were followed by hundreds of others from individuals and commands who learned about First Strike from press reports and word of mouth, plus formal interest from the Marine Corps and Army — indicated just how eager the military “ground pounding” community was for a ration like First Strike, Darsch said.
Meanwhile, the Natick researchers are continuing to work on improving the MRE, which is an ongoing work in progress, Darsch said.
In response to a long-standing request from troops, the 2008 MRE menu will have a number of new “breakfasty” kinds of foods, such as granola with milk and blueberries, and vanilla and chocolate instant puddings.
Coming out of the menus in 2008 are the chicken with cavatelli, an entree that was added only this year, but proved unpopular with troops in further taste testing. Its replacement is a chicken pesto pasta entree.
Also nixed in 2008 is vegetable manicotti, one of the vegetarian entrees that was added in the 2006 MRE cycle.
Vegetarians should not worry that they have lost a meal, however: the manicotti has been replaced by vegetable lasagna.