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Ready to Eat, but Edible?

Given his stories, I would say that, comparatively speaking, today's troops are dining on vacuum-packed gourmet goodies. Still, all MREs are not created equal.

My boss sported me about a half-dozen of these things last week when we were working in the Great Dismal Swamp. He got them from his buddy in the National Guard. I ate a couple during that week and have had one since returning. Trust me, they taste better when you're tired, sweaty and marginally uncomfortable than they do when you're at your dinner table. These little pouches contain 6,000 calories each, as well as a little taste of home. The menu runs the Americana gamut. Selections include beef stew, chicken and rice, hot dogs, ham and potatoes, pork chow mein and the like. Each pouch includes a nifty, water-activated heating element. To heat the main dish one adds water to the element, wraps the entrée inside and waits a minute or two and — voil…, steaming tuna casserole. It's pretty cool. Also included are crackers with cheese or peanut butter, a dessert, some sort of cold-drink mix (grape, lemonade, etc.), instant coffee, a side dish — often applesauce — and a variety of spices. The miniature bottles of Tabasco sauce are priceless. Don't forget the pre-moistened towelette and the bag of M&M's (invariably crushed into chocolate dust by the vacuum packaging).

I was surprised by the relatively good flavor of such dishes as the beef stew, and chicken and rice. I have read that the troops refer to the hotdogs as "the four fingers of death." Yes, that's appropriate. By and large, though, the food is quite palatable. I'm sure it's made even more so after being shot at halfway around the world. While troops often barter for their favorite dishes, one thing is for sure: The MRE is a kinder, gentler field meal than the C ration of the past.

— Randall

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