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Meal, Ready to Eat, Individual [MRE]

Modern battlefield requirements demand ration support systems that adequately provide for the needs of the individual combatant in extremely intense and highly mobile combat situations. The standard military ration for the individual warfighter is the Meal, Ready-To-Eat (MRE) which replaced the Meal, Combat Individual (C Ration) in the early 1980's. The MRE must maintain high quality for three years at 80o F and six months at 100o F, be highly acceptable, and meet the Office of The Surgeon General's nutritional requirements (AR40-25). In addition, MRE packaging must meet stringent durability requirements (to include airdrop, rough handling and temperature extremes).

From the time of the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, the basis of all Army troop feeding, whether in camp, on the march, or during combat operations was the garrison ration. It consisted of an allotment of bread, meat, occasionally vegetables and a beverage.

Initially the beverage was alcohol and the patriot soldiers under General George Washington welcomed their allowance of rum, whiskey, and other assorted "spirits" which included one quart of cider or spruce beer per soldier per week. A colonel could receive as much as a half-gallon of spirits a week.

In March 1819, an extra gill of whiskey or spirits was allowed per day to noncommissioned officers, musicians and privates engaged in the building of fortifications, in surveys, road construction, and other constant labor, of not less than ten days.

Noting the "harmful effects" of including alcohol in the military diet, the Surgeon General, and later Secretary of War John C. Calhoun began to lobby against its inclusion in the ration. The struggle over this issue continued throughout the 1820s -- just as a full-scale Temperance Movement was gaining momentum on the national scene. But no actions were taken to remove alcohol from the daily rations.

Then it happened. President Andrew Jackson, a War of 1812 veteran, impatient with Congress, took matters into his own hands, and signed an Executive Order on October 25, 1832, dictating that coffee and sugar were to be substituted for the allowance of rum, whiskey, or brandy.

This Executive Order made the spirit ration an extra issue, subject to the discretion of the President. Army General Order No.100, 1832 directed that an issue of coffee and sugar, at the rate of 4 pounds of coffee and 8 pounds of sugar per 100 rations, would be substituted for alcohol. Since then coffee has remained a vital component of the U.S. Army soldier's field ration.

President Jackson's Executive Order was recognized by Congress in July 1838, when it declared "that the allowance of sugar and coffee to the noncommissioned officers, musicians, and privates, in lieu [of whiskey], shall be fixed at six pounds of coffee and twelve pounds of sugar to every one hundred rations, to be issued weekly when it can be done with convenience of the public service, and, when not so issued, to be provided for in money."

Field rations have changed since President Jackson signed the Executive Order requiring coffee. The two main types of field rations used until recently have been MREs and the Unitized Group Ration (UGR).

UGRs are used to sustain soldiers during tactical operations around the world under various environmental conditions. The UGR is designed to maximize the use of commercial items and to simplify the process of providing high quality food service in a field environment. All components for a complete 50-person meal are included in the UGR, with the exception of mandatory supplements, such as bread, milk and cold cereal. Each UGR meal module also contains all required cups, compartment trays, and utensils.

The Meal, Ready-To-Eat is designed to sustain an individual engaged in heavy activity such as military training or during actual military operations when normal food service facilities are not available. The MRE is a totally self-contained operational ration consisting of a full meal packed in a flexible meal bag. The full bag is lightweight and fits easily into military field clothing pockets. Each meal bag contains an entree and a variety of other components as may be seen in the table of Menus. For the current production year, menus 1 - 12 are designated case A, and menus 13 - 24 are designated case B. Each shipping pallet contains 24 A cases and 24 B cases. The net weight per case is approximately 22 lbs. and 1.02 cubic feet, while each pallet weights 1,098 lbs. and is approximately 56.1 cubic feet.

The twenty-four different varieties of meals can be seen in the menu table. Components are selected to complement each entrée as well as provide necessary nutrition. Each meal also contains an accessory packet. The contents of one MRE meal bag provides an average of 1250 kilocalories (13 % protein, 36 % fat, and 51 % carbohydrates). It also provides 1/3 of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals determined essential by the Surgeon General of the United States.

Except for the beverages, the entire meal is ready to eat. While the entree may be eaten cold when operationally necessary, it can also be heated in a variety of ways, including submersion in hot water while still sealed in its individual entree package. Since mid 1992, a flameless ration heating device has also been packed into each meal bag to heat the entree.

Since its introduction, the MRE has been continuously improved. However, the "MRE" designation is popularly expanded as "Meals Rejected by Ethiopians" or "Meals Rejected by Everyone". As a result of consumer feedback from Operation Desert Shield/Storm, major customer focus improvements have been implemented to expand variety and improve acceptability, consumption, and nutritional intake to enhance performance on the battlefield.

Since MRE XIII (1993 Date-of-Pack (DOP)), 70 new items (70% Non Developmental Items (NDI) were approved for the MRE. Fourteen of the least acceptable items were replaced. The number of menus increased, incrementally, from 12 to 24 and four vegetarian meals are now included (two in each case).

Natick engineers have introduced sweeping changes to MREs. They've added a flameless heater to all meals so they no longer have to be eaten cold or soaked in tubs of hot water, doubled the number of entrees so troops deployed for extended periods don't grow weary of limited selections, and replaced most dried fruits with "wet pack" fruits similar to those found in a can at the local grocery store. They've also added a wide range of commercial items like candy bars and Tabasco sauce that Rosado said service members are familiar with and like.

Meals Ready to Eat

Temperature (F) 100 90 85 80 75 70 60
Storage Life (months) 22 55 60 76 80 100 130+

MRE XIII/IV 1993 & 1994 Production

MRE XIII/IV began an intense period of improvements; two new entrees replaced older entrees, and new snack foods, pound cake and flameless ration heaters were added.

IN: Smoky franks, Pork chow mein, Pound cakes (five types), Chow mein noodles (NDI*), Potato sticks (NDI), Fruit-wet pack (peaches, pears), Sugar free beverage-in-6 menus (NDI), Heat stable chocolate bar (NDI), Flameless Ration Heaters in each menu bag
OUT: Meatballs w/tomato sauce, Chicken ala king, Nut cakes, Beverage base/sugar

MRE XV 1995 Production

MRE XV had two new entrees to replace lower rated entrees, tavern nuts and lemon tea were introduced and the brownie was improved.

IN: Grilled chicken (NDI), Chili macaroni, Fruit-wet pack (pineapple, mixed), Chewy fudge brownie, Lemon tea-in 6 menus (NDI), Tavern nuts (NDI)
OUT:Corned Beef Hash, Omelet with ham, Fruit-freeze dried, Chocolate covered brownie, Coffee (six menus)

MRE XVI (16 Menus) 1996 Production

MRE XVI added four new entrees, including NDI, vegetarian and ethnic selections, as well as two new starches and jalapeno cheese spread.

IN: Grilled beef steak, Chicken parmesan (NDI), Pasta primavera (Vegetarian) (NDI), Cheese tortellini (Vegetarian) (NDI), Mexican rice, White rice, butter flavored, Jalapeno cheese spread (NDI), New easy-open meal bag with graphics, Two-sided nutritional insert
OUT: Potatoes au Gratin

MRE XVII (20 Menus) 1997 Production

MRE XVII introduced five new entrees with only one replacement, increasing variety to 20 menus. Many new commercial NDI snack items, such as pretzels, corn chips and cheese curls were added as well as new beverages and beef jerky.

IN: Jamaican pork chop/noodles (NDI), Beef w/mushroom gravy, Beef ravioli (NDI), Turkey breast w/potatoes (NDI), Chicken w/noodles (NDI), Fig bars (NDI), Snacks-corn chips, cheese curls, pretzels (NDI), Fruit flavored hard candy (individually wrapped) (NDI), Fruit flavored disc candy (NDI), Peanut bar (NDI), Apple cider beverage (NDI), Beef jerky (NDI), Strawberry jam (NDI)
OUT: Escalloped potatoes w/ham

MRE XVIII (24 Menus) 1998 Production

MRE XVIII completed the move to 24 different menus with the addition of four ethnic style entrees. Many new starches, snacks and a new vegetable cracker were added.

IN: Beef teriyaki, Spicy oriental chicken (NDI), Chicken strips in salsa, Meat loaf w/brown gravy (NDI), Black bean and rice burrito (Vegetarian) (NDI), Pasta w/vegetables in Alfredo sauce (Vegetarian) (NDI), Buttered noodles, Granola bars - chocolate chip, honey nut (NDI), Fruit filled bars (NDI), Cinnamon apples (NDI), Apple cinnamon toaster pastry (NDI), Snack mix (NDI), Shortbread cookies (NDI), Chewy chocolate bar (NDI), Vegetable cracker, Tea bag (NDI)
OUT: Pork w/rice in BBQ sauce, Tuna w/noodles

MRE XIX (24 Menus) 1999 Production

MRE XIX had one new entree and three snacks introduced MRE XX added two new entrees, three soups/starches, two nutrient infused fruits and three snacks.

IN: HooAH!(TM) Bar, Ergo Beverage, Flat Bread (NDI), Lemon Poppyseed Pound Cake (NDI), Raisin Nut Mix, Beef Enchilada (if needed) (NDI), Turkey Tettrazini (if needed) (NDI)

OUT: None

* NDI = Non-Developmental Item



The Menus - MRE XXV*

Menu 1 Menu 2 Menu 3 Menu 4 Menu 5
Beefsteak w/ Mushrooms Pork Rib Beef Ravioli Cheese & Vegetable Omelet** Chicken Breast
Western Beans Clam Chowder Fruit Pack, Wet Hash Browns w/Bacon Minestrone Stew
Jam Cheddar Cheese Spread Cheddar Cheese Spread Jam Jalapeño Cheese Spread
Cracker Wheat Snack Bread (2) Vegetable Cracker Cracker Wheat Snack Bread (2)
Candy I Cookie Fudge Brownie Toaster Pastry Pound Cake
Steak Sauce     Candy II Candy II
Dairy Shake Electrolyte Beverage Beverage Base, CHO Fortified   Coffee, French Vanilla
Red Pepper Hot Sauce Hot Sauce Hot Sauce Jalapeño Ketchup
Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet C Accessory Packet B
Spoon Spoon Spoon Spoon Spoon
Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater


Menu 6 Menu 7 Menu 8 Menu 9 Menu 10
Chicken Fajitas** Chicken w/Salsa Beef Patty Beef Stew Chili w/Macaroni
Yellow/Wild Rice Pilaf Mexican Rice Nacho Cheese Pretzels    
  Shortbread Cookie Mexican Macroni & Cheese Chocolate Sports Bar Cookie
Cheddar Cheese Spread Jalapeño Cheese Spread Cheese Spread w/Bacon Peanut Butter Jalapeño Cheese Spread
Tortilla Vegetable Cracker Wheat Snack Bread Cracker Wheat Snack Bread
Raisin Nut Mix Candy II BBQ Sauce Candy III
Coffee, French Vanilla Coffee, Mocha Flavored Beef Snacks Dairy Shake Cocoa Beverage Powder
  Hot Sauce Hot Sauce Hot Sauce Red Pepper
Accessory Packet C Accessory Packet B Accessory Packet B Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet A
Spoon Spoon Spoon Spoon Spoon
Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater


Menu 11 Menu 12 Menu 13 Menu 14 Menu 15
Pasta w/Vegetables in Tomato Sauce Veggie Burger w/BBQ Sauce Cheese Tortellini Manicotti w/Vegetables Beef Enchiladas
Seasoning Blend Cinnamon Scone Pound Cake Pound Cake Refried Beans
Pound Cake   Seasoning Blend Ranger Bar Cookies
Dried Fruit Beverage Base, CHO Fortified Spiced Apple Wet Pack fruit Beverage Base, CHO Fortified
Peanut Butter Potato Sticks Peanut Butter Peanut Butter Jalapeño Cheese Spread
Cracker Wheat Snack Bread Cracker Cracker Vegetable Cracker
Electrolyte Beverage Hot Sauce Candy I Hot Sauce Picante Sauce
        Red Pepper
Accessory Packet C Accessory Packet B Accessory Packet C Accessory Packet B Accessory Packet A
Spoon Spoon Spoon Spoon Spoon
Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater


Menu 16 Menu 17 Menu 18 Menu 19 Menu 20
Chicken w/Noodles Sloppy Joe Filling ** Cajun Rice & Sausage Roast Beef w/Vegetables Spaghetti w/Meat Sauce
Wet Pack Fruit Baked Snack Cheese Cracker Peanut Butter Dried Fruit Blueberry Cherry Cobbler
Cheddar Cheese Spread Jalapeño Cheese Spread   Peanut Butter Cheese Spread
Cracker Shortbread Cookie Cracker Cracker Wheat Snack Bread
Candy II   Nuts    
Pretzels Wheat Snack Bread (2) Cheddar Cheese Pretzels Cookie Wheat Snack Bread
Cocoa Beverage Powder Electrolyte Beverage Beverage Base, CHO Fortified Cocoa Beverage Powder Electrolyte Beverage
Hot Sauce Hot Sauce Hot Sauce Hot Sauce Hot Sauce
Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet A
Spoon Spoon Spoon Spoon Spoon
Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater


Menu 21 Menu 22 Menu 23 Menu 24
Chicken Tetrazzini Jambalaya Chicken w/Cavatelli Meat Loaf w/Gravy
    Fig Bar Mashed Potatoes
Cookie Pound Cake Pound Cake Vanilla Wafer Cookie
Cracker Jam Cheese Spread w/Bacon Jelly
Jelly Wheat Snack Bread Wheat Snack Bread Cracker
Dairy Shake Dairy Shake Beverage Base, CHO Fortified Cocoa Beverage Powder
Seasoning Blend Hot Sauce Hot Sauce Candy I
Accessory Packet C Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet B
Spoon Spoon Spoon Spoon
Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater Flameless Heater


Accessory Packet A Accessory Packet B Accessory Packet C
Coffee Tea, Instant w/ Sweetener & Lemon Flavor  
Sugar    
Creamer    
Salt Salt Salt
Chewing Gum Chewing Gum Chewing Gum
Matches Matches Matches
Toilet Tissue Toilet Tissue Toilet Tissue
Hand Cleaner Hand Cleaner Hand Cleaner
    Apple Cider

* MRE XXV Menus are the current production year menus. Please note that availibility to the "end user" is dependent upon distribution, the two and one-half to three-year stock rotation process, and exhaustion of current menu stock.

** New MRE XXV entree item.

Candy I: Caramel-Vanilla Flavored, Toffee Roll - Chocolate Flavored, Toffee w/walnuts

Candy II: Chocolate - plin disks, Chocolate w/crisped rice disks, Chocolate w/peanut butter disks, Chocolate w/peanuts

Candy III: Cinnamon Candies, Fruit Flavored Disks

10 Forks MRE #19, Beef Roast with Vegetables The real beef in this meal startled the entire staff. After tasting other meat meals, they'd grown accustomed to spongy substitutes. "It's a Midwestern delight - in a bag," was one comment. The potatoes, however, were a different story. Very pasty, they tasted like they came straight from a can. "But the thrill of real beef overcame that shortcoming."

9 Forks MRE #2, Pork Rib with New England Style Clam Chowder The pork rib was so good and realistic, one taster said, "I swear I could taste bone marrow." And the thick and creamy clam chowder looked and tasted like it was shipped from Boston. The consensus: "The clam chowder is very tasty. But you need to warm it to really enjoy it."

8 Forks MRE #12, Veggie Burger with Barbecue Sauce Surprisingly yummy. Hands down the most unexpected entrée in the batch. The staff approached the veggie burger like Bambi at a rifle range convention, timidly. But a taster said, "It tastes more like meat than the beef-type entrées. It has surprisingly good flavor. Definitely a meal I'd eat again." Everyone agreed. If only all vegetarian cuisine was this good.

7 Forks MRE #13, Cheese Tortellini Tops the list for the Italian fare. "Smells great and is very tomatoey. It looks good, too - like a normal dish. It's creamy, a good meal, overall."

6 Forks MRE #15, Beef Enchiladas with Picante Sauce The best of the south-of-the-border entrees. "It has a spicy-Mexicany taste worth trading for. The picante sauce has kick and mixes well with the enchilada."

5 Forks MRE #10, Chili Mac Get what you pay for in this meal. No false advertising here. "Just what I expected - a good-tasting chili mac. An American classic - dig in!"

4 Forks MRE #3, Beef Ravioli Another Italian meal in the "it's-hard-to-mess-this-up" category. "Not a bad deal. It tastes better than Chef Boy-R-Dee. And it looks good - always a plus."

3 Forks MRE #21, Chicken Tetrazzini " Looks like a school lunch." Although the staff agreed it tasted yummy, the texture was a bit disturbing. "Sticks to teeth and gums a bit, but it's really good.

2 Forks MRE #16, Chicken with Noodles An old reliable and close kissing cousin to chicken tetrazzini - and with the same disturbing problem. The taste was great, "but the consistency was kind of weird. It stuck together like cow saliva [Napoleon's grenadiers would have loved that]. But looks were deceiving."

1 Fork MRE #8, Beef Patty with Mexican Mac & Cheese The mac and cheese side dish kept this entrée from falling off the list. The beef patty was unreal - as in not real. "It was kind of like a 'Mexican Sponge Bob.'"




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