One of the things that can really wreck morale or get soldiers complaining are meals. The army generally has thought of feeding soldiers as giving them “three squares.” I’ll bet if you’re thinking about eating, you’re either looking through the fridge for something to make or considering dashing off to a restaurant. If you choose the restaurant, you can go through the menu and find what you like. Every Saturday, I go to IHOP for pancakes. One time, I asked them if I could add bananas. I was thinking as a topping, but the server asked me if I wanted it in the pancake.
But a soldier gets whatever they’re given, regardless of whether they like it, and that’s what they eat.
I remember my first introduction to the MRE — officially, meals-ready-to-eat, but then also called meals rejected by everyone, meals rejected by Ethopia, meals rejected by the enemy — well, you get the idea.
But it was in Basic Training when I got it. The meal came in this dark brown pouch, and I got the Pork Patty. This was part of very early MREs issued, and the army evidently didn’t give a lot of thought to doing anything else other than feeding soldiers. It didn’t actually have to be good…
I remember pulling out the Pork Patty and staring at it. It was dehydrated and then shrink wrapped. What did you do with it? I think a hockey puck would have been more appetizing. It definitely didn’t taste any better than it looked.
I think at that point, most of the experience of soldiers eating MREs was when they went to the field. We’d have them for lunch, and you didn’t get to pick which one you wanted. A cook stood at the stack of boxes and handed you one. Sometimes there were cheers: “I got spaghetti!” which was pretty good, or “I got the omelet.” Yes, a dehydrated omelet. Just so yummy. There were a few that could be improved with other ingredients like nacho cheese dip, but not that one.
This is what the contents of the MRE looked like after you opened it. Though this picture shows a “heater” on the left and a hot beverage bag, that was not part of the actual package. I never even saw the hot beverage bag, and the heater was a luxury item.
The meals usually came with the entree; a side item which might be dehydrated peaches or rice; peanut butter, jelly, or a rubbery white cheese; and a cookie or cake for desert. Sometimes we got hot sauce, which was a hot item (pun not intended) because everyone wanted to use that to mask the MRE taste.
Desert Storm was what convinced me the army didn’t think beyond feeding soldiers during the field. At that time, the military had just issued the next line of MREs. Our daily meals consisted of a hot breakfast and a hot dinner. Lunch was an MRE. No choices, of course, which was actually pretty fair. Otherwise, some people would have always taken the favorite ones that everyone liked and no one else would have had a chance to get them.
Soon, in the center of the dining tables, a pile of rejected MRE parts would begin to appear. I’d go through those because there were some things that most soldiers didn’t like but that I did. The dehydrated fruit was like eating Styrofoam, but it tasted pretty good (and for anyone who’s had one and just snorted, all I need to say is Omelet with Ham or Escalloped Potatoes with Ham). Anything that was desert I claimed. Sure, the cookie or the cake might be really dry, but taste-wise, it was often a luxury to eat.
When I was at Eskan Village, I was lucky to have access to a small shoppette. I found some nacho cheese dip for potato chips and used that to improve on the flavors. It did help the Escalloped Potatoes so they were tolerable, but nothing could help the Omelet with Ham. That was beyond hope.
But the weirdest part was when I went to Log Base Alpha right before the war started. It was pretty isolated territory, and we quickly discovered that the mess hall was really, really bad. By choice, we went to MREs three times a day. But because of our location, we had the older MREs, like the ones I’d eaten in Basic Training. It was like they were new and exciting things because we hadn’t been eating them all along! Better still, we’d managed to get a pallet of MRE bread, which was really good. Cut the bread in half, hydrate the pork patty, and it made a pretty good sandwich.
Once Desert Storm ended, the military realized that they needed to pay attention to how the meals tasted, and since then, they’ve been developing meals like pizza. I’ve never had the pizza MRE. What do you think? Could the army make a dehydrated pizza actually work?
Next up will be “what it’s like to wear a Gas mask” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.