Army Field Feeding System-Future
Peter Motrynczuk1, with Bernadette M. Marriott
Not Eating Enough, 1995
Pp. 65–76. Washington, D.C.
National Academy Press
The current Army field feeding policy was in place during Operation Desert Storm. This policy states that the Army is to provide soldiers with three quality meals per day. The responsibility for meeting this policy lies with the commander. This standard was typically met by providing soldiers with one Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) and two Tray rations (T Rations) per day, with one A or B meal2 every third day. This meal configuration was supplied to the commanders during Operation Desert Storm.
Peter Motrynczuk, Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence, U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee, VA 23801-5000
A T Ration is a group ration that consists of heat-and-serve prepared foods in half-steam-table-sized rectangular cans. A Ration meals are fresh foods; B Rations include the semi-perishable and dehydrated foods. For a more detailed description, see Darsch and Brandler (Chapter 7 in this volume).
After Desert Storm (and even during Desert Storm), senior leaders suggested that this was not acceptable for the soldiers. In particular they indicated that there needed to be more cook-prepared meals. To maintain morale the leaders said that soldiers needed ''…to smell the bacon and coffee brewing in the morning." As a result, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School (QMC&S) was directed to conduct an Army-wide study. A study of the Army Field Feeding System (AFFS) began in March 1991 to develop an AFFS strategy for the future. The QMC&S conducted the field trials and established an independent evaluation effort called Army Field Feeding System—Future Concept Evaluation Program Data Collection Effort (AFFS-F) to validate the future strategy. The study concluded on June 2, 1992, and the results were presented to the Army Chief of Staff.
The main recommendation from the study was that soldiers should be provided with at least one A or B cook-prepared meal daily. This recommendation was stated as Mission, Enemy, Troops, Terrain, and Time (METT-T) dependent, which means that a commander is expected to follow this meal plan if the tactical and logical scenario allows. The Army Chief of Staff approved the concept, which resulted in increases in personnel, new equipment, and changes in the ration concept. The concept was approved contingent upon its validation with active Army divisions and a reserve component division to ensure that the concept is realistic and effective.
Four field validation trials were conducted to evaluate the AFFS-F under four conditions (heavy, light, airborne, and air assault organizations):
December 7–20, 1992, 82d Airborne Division field trial;
March 12–25, 1993, 24th Infantry Division (Mech) field trial;
April 12–28, 1993, 101st Airborne Division field trial; and
June 13–28, 1993, 49th Armored Division, Texas National Guard field trial.
The results were positive throughout. This new concept for a field feeding system is expected to be initiated as early as January 1996.
AN ILLUSTRATION OF ARMY FIELD FEEDING3
In Figure 4-1 an Army division is schematically arrayed on a battlefield. The division boundaries are identified, and within the division boundary there
is a brigade support area (BSA) that typically is found to the rear of the troops where the soldiers are hypothetically engaged in battle. The approximate travel time between the two areas is typically 1 to 2 hours, but possibly longer.
The BSA includes all support facilities, including the battalion field kitchens. At the kitchens the large pallets containing rations are disassembled, and the food is prepared. Figure 4-1 and the following description provide an overview of how a typical mechanized infantry battalion would feed its soldiers that are forward of the line of troops, which is where the soldiers are fighting.
This chapter will begin with a discussion of how such a battalion would be fed by current Army doctrine and what is actually often taking place, beginning with the BSA at the rear and advancing to the forward line of troops. Subsequent sections will present a description of how the newly proposed Army Field Feeding System would solve some of the existing difficulties of Army field feeding.
The Current Situation
Once rations are issued, there is a core support group that organizes and moves the rations to a forward ration breakdown point. The forward ration breakdown point is within the brigade support area (BSA). The core support may be 2 or 3 hours behind the divisional boundary which is therefore a significant distance away from the forward ration breakdown point.
At the forward ration breakdown point, rations are disassembled into unit piles, and then the unit foodservice sergeant or his designated representative will use a 2.5- or 5-ton truck to repeatedly traverse the distance from the forward ration breakdown point to the battalion field kitchen area, which may be an hour away, in order to retrieve one or more days' rations or food items.
The battalion field kitchen area includes the kitchen, cooks, and sanitation equipment, where food is prepared for the typically 500 to 700 soldiers in a battalion task force. The kitchen includes a staff of 17 cooks, 3 mobile field kitchen trailers, 3 sets of sanitation equipment, and the mess kit laundry lines, which have been in the system since the 1940s. Also included are the Kitchen Company Level Field Feeding (KCLFF) equipment that are used primarily to heat T Rations, which are essentially large cans that can be put into boiling water and heated, with the contents being served directly to a group of soldiers from the large tin or "tray."
Once the kitchens have the food, it is prepared, cooked, and packed into food containers to move forward to the soldiers. This typically occurs as part of a daily logistics package. A logistics package is the ammunition, food, fuel, and everything else that sustains the soldiers for another day or day and a half. In terms of timing, for example, if the daily delivery is an evening logistics package, the trucks will move forward at about 2:00 in the afternoon.
Consequently the kitchen staff must have the food cooked and packed at 1:00 or 1:30 p.m. Unfortunately, the soldiers may not actually receive the food until 8:00 or 9:00 at night.
The food is thus prepared, cooked, packed into containers, and loaded on a 2.5-ton truck to become part of a logistics package that will move forward for an hour or more to an area called the logistics release point. This area is a centerpoint between the BSA and the forward line of troops. The logistics package will be met by a unit representative, normally the company first sergeant. Each company first sergeant will take their portion of the logistics package forward to their company, and they will make further distribution of the food, fuel, and ammunition to their platoons, tanks, and/or soldiers in the foxhole.
Deficiencies in the Existing System
Food is prepared, packed, and sent forward of the line of troops, and then it is further distributed to the soldiers. Some of the problems associated with this system are time, utensils, and preparation.
For time considerations, it may be as much as 6 or 7 hours from the time that food is cooked and packed until it is received by the soldiers. For food in a container, 4 hours is about as long as it will retain its temperature; beyond that, the food becomes unacceptable. Part of the problem is that the soldier does not complain. The young soldier normally accepts this as a fact of Army life and continues with the mission. Delivery of food in this inappropriate condition is unacceptable and should be corrected.
Another problem is the ability to prepare the food items properly when they are received at the forward positions. If soup is provided as a warming beverage, there is no one to heat the soup, to make the coffee, or to complete similar preparations. These items move to the forward lines as part of the logistics package, but they are cold when received. This simple problem needs to be corrected.
Another point to consider is that the individuals who serve the food in the forward areas are not trained foodservice personnel. Cooks are no longer sent forward with the logistics package to feed the soldiers. The first sergeant or platoon sergeant will identify someone and charge them with the task of feeding the soldiers. From day-to-day the individuals selected to serve the food vary and may be truck drivers or supply clerks, for example. Often they do not have any understanding of how to prepare or serve the food.
As an example, in one November field setting, the food arrived at the company area at 10:00 at night. The T Rations had been in the containers for over 6 hours since their original heating. At this time of night in November the food was left open, and nothing was kept hot. Unless the soldiers were among the first few people in the line, they did not get a warm meal, and as a result,
the soldiers did not eat the food. In this particular situation, there were no tables so the T Rations were placed directly on the ground. There were also no serving utensils, so the food was ladled with paper cups. Circumstances such as these make food very unappetizing. Also the individual may take the food because the first sergeant is there watching as people go through the line, but that does not mean that the food will be eaten. In this type of situation when the appropriate facilities were not available, the soldiers should probably have been given MREs instead of the lukewarm or cold T Rations. However, the server did not have the background, knowledge, or authority to make this decision, and if MREs were served, the company then may have been faced with a ration shortage prior to the arrival of the next logistics package.
An additional issue was that the T Ration was not the best ration for this military action scenario. This was a maneuver phase. There were then fire missions throughout the night. The most suitable ration probably was the MRE. This situation further illustrates the outcome of food being sent forward without trained foodservice personnel to evaluate the military scenario.
In Korea with the Second Infantry Division there was a similar problem. The person tasked with serving the troops did not know what food components to serve together. Consequently, some of the meals were missing food components. Some meals did not include the meat entree, and others included two meat components and no potatoes. Again, this is an example of the types of situations that occur with the current field feeding system.
The MRE presently is not packaged with a flameless ration heater. In Korea, MREs came forward of the line of troops, and the flameless ration heater did not accompany them. This made a significant difference in whether or not the soldiers ate the ration, especially in cold weather in November.
PROPOSED ARMY FIELD FEEDING PROGRAM
Figure 4-2 contains the same basic schematic of Army Field Feeding System but has added new components to illustrate the proposed changes (see figure legend). First of all, cooks are being added back to the Army inventory. This is a major accomplishment because the rest of the Army is decreasing in size, and the program will be adding 300-plus cooks.
For the typical mechanized infantry battalion that has to feed 600 to 700 soldiers, this proposed program provides 3 additional cooks, resulting in a battalion with a total of 20 cooks. The big difference is how the 20 cooks will be used. When the program begins small mess teams will be placed forward, so each company in Figure 4-2 will have a mess team of two cooks. One of them will be a cook, and one will be an experienced soldier in the food
business in the grade of E-5 with 5 or 6 years of experience. Therefore, in a mechanized infantry battalion there will be one mess team with cooks to support each of the rifle companies and anti-armor company. The remaining cooks will be positioned at the battalion field kitchen area, where the majority of food preparation will continue to be done.
Some kitchen equipment will also be needed. Before the number of cooks in the Army was drastically reduced, the former feeding system included many cooks, a kitchen tent, and a 2.5-ton truck, with generous kitchen supplies and equipment. The proposed system will accomplish similar preparations but with limited people, limited equipment, and some ration changes. In terms of equipment, the present kitchen level equipment will be enhanced with a field range (model M-59), and the Kitchen Company Level Field Feeding-Enhanced (KCLFF-E) equipment that provides limited cooking capability and moves forward with the company messes. Each company will also have a lighter truck called a high mobility vehicle (HMV) with a trailer to haul equipment on the battlefield.
Another improvement in equipment is the replacement of the immersion heaters that have been used for 50 years for sanitation equipment with a new sanitation center (SC). The SC was actually developed a number of years ago but was never purchased by the Army. The SC is needed when B Rations and some of A Rations are prepared to wash the pots and pans. It is a three-compartment sink with the same gas-operated burner units that are used for cooking purposes. This results in interchangeable equipment that require no modification in the present line, which is a quick, significant improvement. Therefore, with each mobile kitchen trailer (MKT) there will also be a sanitation center.
What does this do to solve the difficulties with the present Army field feeding program? The most significant item is the introduction of the KCLFF-E. The current KCLFF equipment is used in the battalion field kitchen area as nothing more than a heater cabinet to heat the Tray Ration or pan of food, and a pot cradle assembly to heat some water for soup or coffee.
The KCLFF-E has the M-59 field range that has been in Army inventory for a long time. This gives the company mess team the capability to roast, boil, bake, grill, and keep food truly hot in a serving line. The M-59 can also be configured to work like a steam-table adapter that will hold the inserts of food that arrive in an insulated food container. In the present system, the foods are prepared at the battalion kitchen, packed into insulated containers, and then served out of the containers to the soldiers. With the new system instead of serving it out of the insulated container to the soldiers, the food inserts can be removed and placed into the M-59 steam-table adapter to keep the food hot while the soldiers are coming through the line. The food will no longer be served lukewarm or cold. The M-59 also has an adaptor for the T Ration that permits the food tray to be placed directly on the unit to keep it hot. There are also three burners. In addition a 200-lb ice chest is part of the KCLFF-E. This
will keep some of the perishable foods intact forward of the line of troops. Again, all of this equipment fits into the back of an HMV and the rations, personal baggage, and the like can be hauled in the attached trailer. These are very significant capabilities at the forward company level.
In terms of solving the difficulties described earlier, the KCLFF-E with the two cooks will follow the commander on the battlefield, warming beverages and food around the clock. This provides the commander with much more flexibility. For example, if scouts are on a mission and cannot eat with the rest of the group, when they return they can receive a warming beverage or something hot to go along with their MRE or other ration.
Having the cooks forward will solve many of the other logistical problems. They will ensure that the correct meal components are served together. They will ascertain that the flameless ration heaters have arrived with the MREs. Food will be served with attention to sanitation and basic presentation. The presence of forward cooks will help control many of the logistical issues that presently make meals unappetizing.
There also are some key changes proposed in the BSA. Previously there were warrant officers assigned to the BSA who served as the brigade commander's expert in field feeding. These positions were eliminated, taking that expertise away from the brigade commander. As time went on, the soldiers became more and more unhappy with what they were eating. Part of the reason was that there was no longer anyone in the BSA who was responsible for oversight of the field feeding logistics. With the new field feeding concept, there again will be a brigade foodservice warrant officer (food tech) in the BSA providing expertise to the brigade commander on food-related issues. Sixty-six personnel slots have been dedicated to food techs, which is significant. The food tech will develop the feeding plan for brigade- and battalion-size exercises. This is a key point because it is important to have someone who understands and pays attention to the appropriateness of specific rations for a military scenario.
A feeding plan has to be developed for the commander that includes the rations that appropriately match the tactical scenario. As an example of this, the Second Infantry Division in Korea just finished a major exercise, Team Spirit. This is an annual corps-level exercise that includes a number of divisions with many soldiers.
In an exercise of this nature, there are three major phases: the deployment phase, the maneuver phase, and the redeployment phase. During the deployment phase, the unit moves from their garrison area out to the field. The soldiers are not involved in any maneuver activity during this phase. A and B Rations can be used during this deployment phase on station or at the field site. Once the soldiers have arrived on site, they are in a staging phase as they are waiting to go forward. During the next phase, the maneuver phase, when there is high-intensity activity such as a fire mission, A and B rations are not appropriate because there is no time for food preparations. However, all of the
menus in a specific ration can be put together for the commander. For example, if a maneuver cycle has T Rations and MREs, the food tech can make sure that the commander has all 10 T Ration menus and all of the MRE menu selections. These are the types of activities that can solve basic food delivery and menu diversity problems by reintroducing the brigade foodservice warrant officer back into the BSA. If factors such as these do not receive sufficient attention, soldiers end up eating lasagna day after day. This is one of the roles of the food tech. This soldier will ensure that repeated menu delivery problems of this nature do not happen. The food tech will work with the people who handle the rations to ensure the brigade receives all of the menus.
During the 30-d Team Spirit exercise in Korea, the unit had 10 of 10 T Ration menus and all of the B Ration menus. What a difference this made in morale! As long as the soldier sees variety and is not eating the same thing everyday, the complaints that have been heard previously about the T Rations and MREs are absent. However, it is the food tech that makes this possible.
The issue about training is also important. Training of soldiers, commanders, and all of those individuals at the leadership level ensures that there is an understanding that change has occurred. What the Army does not need is the senior leadership denigrating a specific ration. When that occurs then the young soldier soon starts complaining as well.
If there is a positive commander out in the field, soldiers are positive. If there is a negative platoon sergeant, then the platoon soldiers are negative. So the training aspect of the field feeding policy is critical, and the presence of a brigade foodservice warrant officer also helps with this important aspect of training the troops. The food tech also guarantees that the soldiers are trained in the use of the equipment. During peacetime, the food tech is assigned to the garrison mission.
Long-Term Equipment Plans
Ideally the goal is to replace the mobile kitchen trailer (MKT) at some point. The MKT solves the present goals of developing a kitchen that is self-contained, using a typical container in Army inventory. The intent is to have electrical- or gas-based equipment that does not need a lot of time to preheat. The Army needs equipment that works merely by turning on a switch. This is achieved by mounting an electrical generator to run the equipment. It also has refrigeration capability and some water storage capability, and therefore contains all of the types of items needed for field feeding.
The intent for the future, therefore, is to develop a containerized kitchen that can do all of these types of food-related steps and more. However, this is
not an urgent need. The MKT as presently described will continue to serve the Army well until something better is developed.
PLANNING THE RATIONS
An issue of importance is water storage. The authorization for water trailers for the soldiers is at company level. Each company has water trailer on their authorization document. A water trailer holds enough water for the company's soldiers. Also at the BSA there are two water trailers that fulfill the cooking requirements for the battalion soldiers.
The proposed ration change is to move from the use of MREs and A, B, and T Rations to what is called a unitized group ration (UGR). It comes in six boxes and contains enough food to feed up to 100 soldiers. There are three different configurations of the UGR. The first one is a heat-and-serve option. This can be used if the commander does not have a lot of time but wants to serve cook-prepared or hot food to the soldiers. The heat-and-serve option is a tray pack item. It is heated in water, the can is opened, and it is fed to the soldiers. The point is that everything for that meal is in these boxes with the exception of milk and bread, which make the meal nutritionally adequate. These items are issued separately. Similarly, salad material for the lunch meals, fresh fruit, and other perishable items are provided separately.
The second option in the UGR is the B Ration option. These foods do not need refrigeration, but cooks are necessary food preparation. Again, all of the foods that are needed to prepare the ration are in the six boxes.
The third option is the A Ration option. Even with this fresh food meal, everything is contained the six boxes. It may be the same chicken meal, but now one has fresh chicken instead of the heat-and-serve chicken, or the B Ration's canned chicken.
Quick-to-prepare type foods are under development. When time is critical the Army needs food that is easy and quick, yet is a quality product. Chili and spaghetti are good examples. The Army cook does not need to make spaghetti sauce from scratch. There are good institutionalized spaghetti sauces that are commercially available. This is the type of item that will be developed for the UGR. Another example is gravy mix. If a cook makes gravy from scratch by the Army recipe, it takes 55 minutes. That is a lot of time, and the Army does not have the personnel to do that anymore.
Much of this food-item development is done in collaboration with the U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center and U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. Another example is the chicken breast in the T Ration. It is an excellent product, but the problem is that the soldier eats the same chicken breast with the same gravy everytime. If a heat-and-serve chicken breast can be placed in a can without a sauce, there could be a selection of sauces provided that change the taste of the meal. These are
the types of changes in the ration concept that are under development with the UGR.
Anything the Army can do to lead to a cook-prepared quality product is the goal. If there was a score card comparing the two ways feeding the soldier is done, one column would be headed ''today," and the second column would be headed "beginning in 1996." The major differences that will have a significant improvement on soldier food intake are putting cooks forward to prepare meals for soldiers, giving the commanders the capability to provide their soldiers with different rations, providing cook-prepared meals, and moving newly configured equipment forward. Another key difference is the reintroduction of the brigade foodservice warrant officer into the BSA to ensure that the brigade commander has all the available assets. In summary, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School conducted four Army Field Feeding System-Future field trials with units from the 18th Airborne Corps and the 29th Armored Division. The field trials validated that the AFFS-F concept meets tactical operational requirements and provides the capability to distribute, prepare, and serve one cook-prepared A or B Ration meal daily in the field, based on Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops, and Time (METT-T) available.
An executive summary brief of the field trial results and implementation plan was prepared, and the Department of the Army staff was briefed. Action officers are now working out the specifics concerning timelines for proper implementation of AFFS-F to the force structure. When their actions are completed, the field will be officially notified.