Support: June 4, 2002

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MREs were introduced 20 years ago. Despite the derision thrown at MREs (Meals Ready to Eat, the field rations that replaced World War II era C-Rations), they were a definite improvement over the "C-Rats." Not only were they lighter, but were actually tastier than the C-Rations (and less common, and even nastier) they replaced. Moreover, the troops found that Tabasco sauce (and other industrial strength condiments) worked even better with MREs than with C-Rations. Also, unlike the C-Rations, the MREs were constantly improved. The less popular meals, like Omelet with Ham, were discontinued and new items were developed, tested with the troops and, if popular enough, introduced. Other innovations also helped a lot. One was the mid-1990s introduction of the "MRE Stove." This was a plastic bag containing heating chemicals. Add water to this bag and you had enough heat to turn your MREs into a hot meal. If you ate your meal quickly enough, the MRE Stove was still warm enough to stick in your pocket for some additional warmth for your hands. The MRE Stove was much appreciated in the Winter. The mid-1990s were the beginning a period of continued improvements for the MRE (triggered by the substantial amount of feedback from Gulf War vets). Some 80 new items were added (most of them commercial stuff that troop surveys found were popular and could be added to the MREs, especially candy items like M&Ms.) Another 16 items were replaced, making it harder to really hate MREs (nothing like coming up against the same unpopular item again and again to do that.) The packaging technology that makes MREs possible has existed since the 1940s, and it was the appearance of civilian MREs for campers that gave the U.S. Army the push it needed to develop the military MRE. Another advantage of the MREs was that they were lighter and less bulky than C-Rations. You could stick up to a week's worth in your pack, and reduce the weight by up to a third by stripping off the accessory items. There's also a lighter weight (15 ounce) and lower calorie (900, rather than 1200) LRP (Long Range Patrol) MRE, and a lot of other new stuff. It was a relief to see that the feedback from all those Gulf War troops, some of whom lived on MREs for months) was listened to, and acted on.

 


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