The Alphabet Soup of Combat Rations

MAJ Albin R. Majewski

Riggers in the 5th Quartermaster Company appear in a poster of photographs depicting the initial airdrop of 37,000 Humanitarian Daily Rations over Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom last October.
Riggers in the 5th Quartermaster Company appear in a poster of photographs depicting the initial airdrop of 37,000 Humanitarian Daily Rations over Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom last October.

     Soldiers in the field are eating MREs, LRPs, UGRs and the Meals, Religious, while refugees are eating HDRs. What is in this alphabet soup that soldiers and civilians are eating? To answer this question, I asked personnel from the Department of Defense, Combat Feeding Program, in Natick, MA, and I also researched operational rations on the web page for the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia. The military and civilian workers at these facilities are the experts on the rations they designed for field feeding.

     What exactly is the MRE? MRE is short for Meal, Ready-to-Eat, a self-contained operational ration packaged in a flexible pouch. Each MRE meal bag provides an average of 1,250 calories (13 per cent proteins, 36 per cent fats and 51 per cent carbohydrates). The MRE also provides one-third of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals determined essential by the Office of the Surgeon General. The MRE is designed to sustain a soldier engaged in heavy activity such as military training or actual military operations when food service facilities are not available.

     The MRE meal bag is lightweight and fits easily into the pockets of military field clothing. Each meal bag contains an entree/starch, a spread (cheese, peanut butter, jam or jelly), a dessert/snack, beverages, an accessory packet, a plastic spoon and a flameless ration heater. Entrees include traditional favorites such as beef stew and spaghetti with meat sauce, as well as a variety of ethnic items such as seafood jambalaya, beef teriyaki, beef enchilada and oriental chicken. The four vegetarian entrees include black bean and rice burrito and also cheese tortellini. Commercial snacks with brand names such as Fritos and M&Ms provide familiar foods, and a small bottle of Tabasco sauce allows soldiers to spice meals to individual taste. Except for the beverages, the entire MRE is ready to open and eat.

MRE Rations

MRE Entree

Meal, Religious

MRE Rations

MRE Entree

Meal, Religious

     While the MRE entree may be eaten cold when operationally necessary, it also can be heated in a variety of ways, including submersion in hot water while still sealed in its individual entree package. Since mid-1992, a flameless ration heater has also been packed into each meal bag to heat the entrée. The Army currently has 24 different MREs packaged in two cases with menus 1-12 in Case A and menus 13-24 in Case B.

     Lately, the HDR has been in the news. What is the HDR and what is its purpose? The HDR is the Humanitarian Daily Ration. The HDR is a response to specific feeding requirements for large groups of people. The requirement for the HDR originated with a need identified by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency-Humanitarian Assistance/Demining Activities (DSCA-HA/D) for a way to feed displaced persons or refugees under emergency conditions. The HDR is similar in concept to the Meal, Ready-to-Eat with "thermostabilized" entrees and complementary components. Also, the HDR packaging materials are structurally similar to the MRE. However, the similarity ends there.

HDR

HDR

     The HDR components are designed to provide a full day’s sustenance to a moderately malnourished person. For the widest possible acceptance from the variety of potential consumers with diverse religious and dietary restrictions around the world, the HDR contains no animal products or animal by-products, except that minimal amounts of dairy products are permitted. Alcohol and alcohol-based ingredients are also banned from the HDR.

     Similar to the MRE meal bag, the HDR meal bag is currently bright yellow for easy visibility. However, because that yellow is similar to the color of cluster bombs, the HDR meal bag may be changed to a different color for future procurements. The HDR meal bag uses graphic art to show how to open the bag and how to eat the contents. The HDR shipping container, again similar to the MRE, holds 10 HDR meal bags and shows markings and graphics specific to the HDR.

     Because the HDR is designed as a complete food supply for one day, a minimum of two entrees comes in each meal bag. Complementary components are also included to provide the balance of the daily nutritional requirements that call for not less than 2,200 calories (10-13 per cent proteins, 27-30 per cent fats, and not less than 60 per cent carbohydrates). A spoon and a non-alcohol-based, moist towelette are the only non-food components in the HDR meal bag. 

MCW

    The entire HDR meal is ready to eat. The entrees may be eaten cold. However, as is universally understood, the entrees generally are more desirable when heated. The sealed entree package may be immersed in hot water, or the contents may be placed in a pot for heating over a flame.

     Why not airdrop MREs to refugees? Among the many reasons:

     What ever happened to the LRP of the 1960s? Requirements for the LRP are now being met though the combined MCW/LRP Ration. The Meal, Cold Weather (MCW) and the Food Packet, Long Range Patrol (LRP) is designed to meet the joint service requirements of the Marine Corps and the Army Special Operational Forces (SOF). The Marine Corps requires appropriate nutritional and operational characteristics for extremely cold environments. The SOF require a restricted-calorie ration with a long shelf life for initial assaults, special operations and long-range reconnaissance missions.

     The same 12 menus (9 dinner/3 breakfast) provide dehydrated entrees, cereal bars, cookie and candy components, instant beverages, accessory packets and plastic spoons. Meals are packed 12 per shipping container. The LRP is considered a restricted-calorie, full-day ration for a maximum usage of 10 days. The LRP is nutritionally compatible with the MRE to allow menu mixes. Each menu provides an average of 1,540 calories (15 per cent proteins, 35 per cent fats, and 50 per cent carbohydrates).

     The consumer prepares the food. The water requirement is 16 ounces for the entrée and 16 ounces for the beverages.

     With the ethnic and religious makeup of the military services changing, questions have been asked about Meals, Religious. What is being done in that area? The Meal, Religious, Kosher or Halal is used to feed military service members who maintain a strict religious diet. Each meal consists of one entree certified as Kosher or Halal, along with religiously acceptable complementary items to provide the recommended daily nutritional requirements. Like the MRE, the Meal, Religious is totally self-contained. However, it is not combined in a flexible meal bag. Each case of Meals, Religious contains 2 intermediate boxes, 1 box with 12 entrees and 1 box with 12 component/accessory items.

     Each Meal, Religious contains an entree plus a bag with a variety of snacks and beverages. In addition, the component bag includes an accessory packet with condiments/seasonings, utensils and napkin. Each menu provides about 1,200 calories (11-13 per cent proteins, 37-40 per cent fats, and 48 per cent carbohydrates).

     Except for the beverages, the entire meal is ready to eat. While the entree may be eaten cold when operationally necessary, it can also be heated in a variety of ways, including immersion in hot water while still sealed in its individual entree package. A flameless ration heater has also been packed into each meal bag to heat the entree.

Group Feeding
     Many remember the old T-Ration. What is the difference between the T-Ration and the new Unitized Group Ration (UGR)? The Army has advanced light years in quality, menu choices and soldier acceptance since the first "T-Rations" were introduced to soldiers in the field, but the idea is the same. The purpose of the Unitized Group Ration (UGR) is to sustain military personnel during worldwide operations that allow organized food service facilities. The UGR is designed to maximize the use of commercial items and to simplify the process of providing high-quality food service in a field environment. All components for a complete 50-person meal are included in the UGR, with the exception of mandatory supplements such as bread, milk and cold cereal. Each UGR meal module also contains all required disposable items (cups, compartment trays, utensils and trash bags).

     The Unitized Group Ration comes in two versions: UGR-Heat and Serve (UGR-H&S) and UGR-A. Both the UGR-H&S and the UGR-A have a core of quickly prepared or ready-to-use commercial products. The UGR-H&S is characterized by shelf-stable entrees, starches and desserts, while the UGR-A includes perishable and frozen entrees (A-Rations). There are currently 7 breakfast and 14 lunch/dinner menus available for both the UGR-H&S and the UGR-A. The UGR-H&S Option is unitized into three boxes, which places two 50-soldier menus on one tier of a pallet. One tier provides 100 meals and one pallet (four tiers) provides 400 meals. The UGR-H&S is ordered with a single National Stock Number (NSN). The UGR-A is also a three-box module to feed 50 personnel. However, because of refrigeration/freezer requirements, the UGR-A comes on two separate pallets. The semiperishable pallet consists of 12 two-box modules. There are three modules to a tier and four tiers per pallet to support 600 personnel. The second pallet, the one that requires refrigeration, consists of the third box of the UGR-A. This box contains the perishable entrees. The UGR-A is ordered with two NSNs, one for the seimperishable components and the second for the perishable entree.

UGR

     The UGR-H&S componets are thermally processed, pre-prepared, shelf-stable foods packaged in hermetically sealed, half-sized steam table containers. A polymeric tray has recently been introduced to replace the traditional metal tray can. The container also serves as the heating pan and serving tray. Each menu, including mandatory supplements, provides an average of 1,450 calories (14 per cent proteins, 32 per cent fats, and 54 per cent carbohydrates) per serving. 

Group Feeding at Logistics Warrior Exercise
Group Feeding at Logistics Warrior Exercise

    The UGR-A, in addition to its core food items, includes perishable/frozen entrees to provide the luxury of an A-Ration meal in the field. However, the UGR-A is configured into individual meal modules for ease of ordering and distribution, preparation similar to any A-Ration Meal. Each menu, including mandatory supplements, provides an average of 1,450 calories (14 per cent proteins 32 per cent fats, and 54 per cent carbohydrates) per serving.

     This brief summary has attempted to spell out (pardon the pun) the Alphabet Soup of Combat Rations. For more information, the following are some helpful web sites:

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