Meals in the Combat Zone

March 18, 2003
Posted at: 10:03 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Meals-ready-to-eat. They are better known in military terms as MREs. Most civilians do not know what is in them, what they taste like, or how to fix them.

If you are a current or former member of the armed forces, you may want to forget. So what is inside the "meal in a bag" our military members are being served?

It's been about 18 years since Lee Alcott opened an MRE. Meals have changed a great deal over the last decade or so. The ones Alcott ate were dehydrated. There's now 24 meals from which to choose.

"What is this thing," Alcott asks as he opens the military-issue MRE bag. "Wow, it's a heater. Tthere we go. Chili and mac."

Chili and Macaroni was introduced in 1995 and is menu number 10 on the list of "Operational Rations," the armed forces use. The totally self-contained meals are designed for when normal food service isn't available due to combat situations.

"Cheese tortellini in tomato sauce, this is coincidently the vegetarian meal," said former Marine Tony Chappelear as he opened his MRE and examined its contents. "Apple sauce, and sterling pound cake."

The plastic pouches found in the aluminum-plastic bags also include drink mixes, seasonings and an accessory packet.

"And you can't go anywhere without this. Toilet paper. Three squares of toilet paper," Chappelear said.

Besides the... necessities, MREs have included a flameless heater to prepare food since 1992, although the food is edible hot or cold.

"You put the MRE in," Chappelear said, inserting the pouch holding his entree into the plastic bag that will heat his food after water is added. "You hold the MRE above the line, so it doesn't displace the water."

A chemical inside a pouch reacts with water to reach the boiling point. However, Chappalear found another use for the chemical pouch when he was in the Corps.

"You cut these open, you pour this little powder into a 20 ounce soda bottle. You quickly put water in it, screw the cap back on, then in a few seconds it's gonna go boom," Chappelear said, jokingly.

MREs have nutritional labels on them, just like the food you would buy in the grocery store. The cheese tortellini meal has 990 calories and 39.5 grams of fat. The chili and macaroni has 950 calories and 45 grams of fat.

"Dog food to chili mac," Alcott said, referring to the rations he ate while an M1 tanker for the Army. "Really, they just weren't as good."

On the web: MRE Information