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For the Combat Soldier, A Day's Worth of Chow

By Walter Nicholls
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The U.S. military's standard field ration, the MRE (meal ready to eat), has a new, compact and lightweight sidekick that the Department of Defense hopes will be more appealing to soldiers in combat zones. Developed by the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., and ready for delivery next month, the First Strike Rations (FSRs) were introduced at a recent Pentagon media event.

Everything a soldier needs for a day's worth of meals and snacks is packed in 16 foil pouches and enclosed in a clear plastic bag about the size of a flattened football. At 2 1/2 pounds per bag (half the weight and size of an MRE), the FSR can replace three MRE meals and provide 2,900 calories, with 14 percent of the protein, 34 percent of the fat and 52 percent of carbohydrates recommended for operational rations (3,600 calories per day). This new grab-and-go for soldiers has a two-year shelf life when stored at 80 degrees. Unlike the MRE, the FSR has no instant heating unit.

Soldiers will recognize some components that are identical in both rations, such as the packets of peanut butter, crackers and beef jerky that are quite popular. But the FSR stands out because the packaging is more attractive and there are some brand-name products to remind them of home, including a Kellogg's Pop-Tart. Overall, the presentation is less generic.

In the FSR we sampled, the main dinner course was a generous seven-ounce pouch of Sweet Sue brand diced chicken breast. It had the aroma and flavor of canned tuna. Its chicken chunks can be doctored with an enclosed mini bottle of Tabasco sauce and made into wrap sandwiches with the accompanying flour tortillas and schmear of fat-free mayonnaise.

For lunch, an Italian Pocket Sandwich turned out to be a spongy bread pastry filled with concentrated tomato sauce and bits of sausage.

Trading of food items is big with the troops, so we might swap that pocket for, perhaps, the far tastier Apple Cinnamon Energy Bar or the two-ounce bag of peanut-raisin mix.

Staff writers Judy Sarasohn and Josh White, both with field MRE experience, contributed to this report.

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