future versions of the ration, convened a workshop to gather information regarding the nutritional needs of individuals doing high-intensity activities for a short term while under stress.
US Army Field Feeding Doctrine (i.e., fundamental principles by which the military forces guide their actions) calls for supporting soldiers by providing them with “the right meal at the right place at the right time” (US Department of the Army, 1996). To accomplish this, Natick Soldier Center’s DoD Combat Feeding Directorate conducts research, development, testing, evaluation and engineering support for combat rations, field food service equipment and total combat feeding systems for the military services and the Defense Logistics Agency. To that end, the Combat Feeding Directorate has developed an appropriate range of combat rations that are available for requisition through the military supply system. Each of these rations is designed to meet the Military Reference Dietary Intakes (MDRIs) as established in AR 40-25 (US Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, 2001). Detailed descriptions, including menus, nutrient content, and packaging information for the entire spectrum of these operational rations, are documented elsewhere (US Department of Defense, 2004). Table B-1 briefly summarizes key features for several of the most widely used rations.
In those instances when operational conditions preclude serving hot, cafeteria-style rations, military personnel are provided individual operational rations, of which the MRE is the flagship ration. The nutrient requirements of most deployed soldiers can be satisfied when they are provided MREs or other appropriate rations listed in Table B-1. However, due to several factors explained below, the current rations may not completely satisfy nutritional requirements of soldiers in some situations (i.e., during the assault phase of combat operations, certain Special Operations Forces missions, and missions anticipated to be conducted by Future Force Soldiers).
First, daily energy expenditures of personnel engaged in these types of military missions are so high (Tharion et al., 2005) that these soldiers will not maintain an energy balance even when they consume three complete MREs per day, which could lead to adverse physiological effects and detriments in health and performance (see also next section on “Physiological Demands of Combat Operations”). Moreover, in some cases during combat operations, soldiers receive only two MREs, which further exacerbates the situation.
Second, soldiers who must carry heavy loads or engage in strenuous military duties (e.g., light infantry, US Marine Corps, and Special Operation Forces) compound their energy balance problem by “field-stripping” the MREs. To lighten their heavy loads, soldiers often open the individual meal packages, select certain components based on individual preference, and discard the remainder.