By Laura Kaae
Killeen Daily Herald
Sure they come in a brown sack, but Meals, Ready-to-Eat are anything but the turkey on whole wheat bread with carrot sticks and an apple your mother used to send along in your backpack for lunch.
MREs, the official "brown bag" of the U.S. military, might look unfamiliar to civilians, but deployed troops and military personnel training in the field know a few things about those brown pouches – starting with the nobody-likes-'em veggie omelet to the little white and green pieces of gum that are rumored to do more than give you fresh breath.
Though the Department of Defense adopted a combat ration in 1975, the MRE I, as the first was called, was initially packed in 1981 after several years of testing.
Over the years, the MRE has changed a great deal, including the upgrade in size from 5 ounces to 8 ounces and an increase in calories for troops who use far more calories in combat and out in the field than at home in garrison.
After Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s, a shelf-stable bread was added to the MREs and a high-heat-stable chocolate was developed to withstand high heat climates. A flameless heater was also added for troops to quickly heat up their entrees, and a longer, biodegradable spoon replaced the older, shorter version.
MRE expert Kinton Connelly, who runs the Web site www.MREinfo.com, said he's been interested in MREs for several years now, after he noticed a huge trend among civilians who were looking to purchase MREs when the Y2K scare hit in the late 1990s. At that time, he said, many people thought they'd have to go several weeks or months without electricity. The interest in shelf-stable foods perked up again during Hurricane Katrina when the Federal Emergency Management Agency dropped off truckloads of MREs for people who had lost their homes.
Though it's well-known that MREs are government property and not to be resold, Connelly said the going rate on eBay is anywhere from $50 to $100 per case of 12 MREs, plus shipping.
"The government charges an internal charge of about $83 per case," he said.
"There is a lot of interest in MREs," Connelly said, noting that three groups of people are most keen on purchasing either military MREs or the civilian versions which, he said, are almost the same with a bit less variety than the government-issue versions.
The first group of people looking to buy MREs are former military personnel who liked the taste and just want to try them again.
Others are curious individuals interested in what's in the ready-to-eat meals, he said.
The third group, Connelly said, are people looking to purchase shelf-stable meals for emergency preparedness reasons.
As for the flavors, Connelly said the various kinds are always being re-evaluated.
"They are constantly going through testing," Connelly said, noting that the military does take into consideration the likes and dislikes of troops.
But are they still good after a decade?
Sure they are.
Connelly said he has tasted an MRE that was 13 years old, and although the colors had changed a bit, everything tasted fine. And no, he didn't get sick after that meal.
One misconception that some people have is that an MRE contains enough calories to last a person one day. Connelly said that's not the case.
Each MRE has about 1,800 calories, which is about enough energy for one meal when a soldier is burning lots of calories out in the field or in combat.
As for the gum packets, experienced soldiers will tell you they may not only freshen your breath, they may send you to the restroom quicker, too.
"I don't think it's true, just a rumor that people start," he said.
Contact Laura Kaae at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7464.