VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (LETTERS)
Improving field rations for troops
Published April 4, 2007
Natick, Mass. -- Tribune national correspondent Aamer Madhani's "Field rations letting U.S. troops down" (Page 1, March 25) is misleading. Warfighters in combat can lose weight due to a variety of factors, including lack of food, increased physical activity and extreme environmental conditions.
To say or suggest that warfighters are not receiving adequate nutrition or calories is wrong.
In 1991, an extensive series of field tests was conducted by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's DoD Combat Feeding Program, where warfighters ate only Meals, Ready to Eat for 30 days. Those tests established the baseline for consumption of MREs for extended periods.
Data showed that there was no significant loss of weight, body mass or warfighter performance.
Twenty-one days was conservatively selected as the target for MRE sole source consumption.
It is important to understand that combat operations are sometimes so physically demanding that warfighters under-eat relative to the high rate that their bodies burn calories, regardless of the types and quantities of foods available. This is generally a transient condition during deployments but can contribute to modest weight loss that is well-tolerated by healthy, fit people. We have no evidence that excessive, pathophysiological weight losses are prevalent among deployed warfighters.
One MRE meal bag contains 1,300 calories; however, warfighters are expected to receive three MREs per day, providing 3,900 calories. We know that warfighters operating in remote terrain, unfortunately, field strip their MREs, discarding up to 50 percent of the ration to lighten their loads and taking only those components that are easy to consume on the move. Solutions for this include units issuing a fourth MRE (4,200 calories per day) to each warfighter. This is not a good option considering the widespread field stripping activity.
A second solution is for units to issue each warfighter three Meal, Cold Weather (MCW) meal bags per day. The MCW, which provides 1,500 calories per meal bag, weighs 33 percent less than the MRE but consists entirely of dehydrated components requiring up to 120 ounces of water to reconstitute a day's ration.
Another solution we've developed is a new ration called the First Strike Ration specifically for those highly mobile warfighters who are first on the ground, first to fight and typically field strip MREs resulting in lighter loads at the sacrifice of adequate nutrition. Each FSR is designed to be eaten on the move and provides the warfighter 3,000 calories. Based on warfighter feedback, more than 83 percent preferred the FSR over a field-stripped MRE. Consequently the office of the surgeon general, which approves all combat rations, approved the FSR and it has been placed on an accelerated procurement program.
Gerald Darsch, Director, DoD Combat Feeding Directorate, U.S. Army, Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center