FORT BLISS, Texas – America’s Tank Division recently completed a unit-led Army field ration testing mission, becoming the first unit to get a taste of the latest and greatest field rations the Army has to offer, and during a pandemic to boot.
For a full week in early August, the 1st Armored Division conducted evaluations and gathered Soldier feedback on the latest prototypes of the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) and the Unitized Group Ration – Heat and Serve (UGR-H&S). The results of the mission will directly impact future development of these meals, which will ultimately fuel every Warfighter across the Army.
Under normal circumstances, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command – Soldier Center (CCDC SC, known locally as ‘Natick Labs’) would have conducted the Army ration tests by dispatching representatives to target military installations to gather feedback on developmental ration items.
In response to COVID-19, instead of postponing, the 1AD food service team supervised the mission, seeing it as an opportunity to lead the way in creating new TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) for ration testing in the future.
“We have a chance to change testing protocol for the future, pandemic or not. The Soldiers are already out there training, so embedding ration tests while they are in the field is both time and cost efficient,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Zachary Brubaker, 1AD Food Advisor.
Sgt. Maj. Corey Gravesande, 1AD Chief of Culinary Management added, “We are paving the way with this pilot program; if they decide to conduct ration tests at other installations they can just follow the procedures that 1AD did.”
MRE: NEW PACKAGING
The new MRE prototype features packaging that produces less waste in the field and decreases the overall volume, weight, and cost of MREs.
Compared to the original Blown Film Meal Bag, the new Horizontal Form-Fill-Seal (HFFS) Meal Bag is lighter, takes up less room, and makes it easier for Soldiers to store and dispose of rations during missions.
1AD Soldiers filled out surveys after trying out the new MREs, providing their feedback on the prototype’s durability, size, weight, and ease of opening and disposal.
All of the Soldiers agreed that the new outer meal bag comes as a welcome change.
“The old MREs are so bulky, it’s hard to put more than one into your cargo pants,” said Pvt. Dominick Smith, Delta Forward Support Company; 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment; 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1AD. “With the smaller packaging I feel like I could fit a couple more, that way I don’t have to carry a big assault pack when I’m training on a mission.”
UGR-H&S: NEW MENU OPTIONS
While the MRE ration test purely focused on new packaging, the UGR-H&S ration test focused on new menu options and concepts.
“With the help of 1AD, conducting this operational test represents an integral component of the process to provide combat rations that meet the operational, logistical and nutritional needs of military personnel,” said Meg Walker, senior food technologist at the CCDC SC’s Combat Feeding Directorate.
The UGR-H&S is a group ration that is prepared and served hot, cafeteria-style from a field kitchen.
“We always try to meet Soldier preference and get the overall food quality as high as we can get it, especially for group rations,” said Brubaker. “When Soldiers come off the range, they don’t want to eat MREs all day, they look forward to that hot meal.”
UGR-H&S menu options during the testing included choices like Italian beef and peppers over brown rice with canned green beans, canned peaches, a cherry oat bar, bread, and peanut butter & strawberry jam.
“It actually tastes different; it tastes better,” said Pvt. Kelvin Asubonteng, Delta FSC, 2-13 CAV, 3rd BCT, 1AD. “Maybe it’s better spices or recipes, but whatever it is, they should keep it up.”
“It tasted more authentic; it had more flavor to it today,” said Sgt. Deandre Haynes, Delta FSC, 2-13 CAV, 3rd BCT, 1AD.
It is critical to get Soldiers’ feedback on ration prototypes because ultimately they are the ones on the receiving end.
“You want the Warfighters on the ground being the ones providing their opinions on what they’re eating,” said Brubaker. “It’s important for the development of the Army family of rations.”
The results of the survey will determine decisions that will impact the future of these items.
“Their efforts will ultimately impact our Soldiers worldwide as the results will lead to product improvements,” said retired Warrant Officer (CW4) Charles Tally Jr., Quality Assurance Specialist at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence (JCCoE).
Brubaker considers any changes in the Army food service program a win.
“I love anytime we can make a positive impact on the force,” said Brubaker. “Food is one of those things that’s taken for granted, but when Soldiers get hot chow coming off the range, the smiles on their faces make it worthwhile.”