WASHINGTON -- These are not like the MREs I had to eat, said one of nearly a dozen congressional members who stopped by the combat feeding technology demonstration on Capitol Hill.

Army Materiel Command's Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, under U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, hosted a combat feeding technology demonstration for congressional members, staff and visitors in the foyer of the Rayburn building, March 28.

The demonstration allowed onlookers to speak directly with scientists and engineers, learn about advancements in food processing and sample the latest prototypes in combat rations.

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, RDECOM commanding general, opened the display with comments about RDECOM and its more than 10,000 researchers, scientists and engineers dedicated to Army innovation on a variety of platforms. Wins emphasized that the day's focus was on Army Materiel Command's number one customer: the warfighter.

"Often we think a lot about our major weapon systems, but sometimes we forget that our Soldiers are our main weapon system," said Brig. Gen. Anthony W. Potts, deputy commanding general of RDECOM and senior commander of Natick Soldier Systems Center. "Getting him the right nutrition and when he needs it is key."

Food plays a large role in how far and how fast a warfighter can go in the battlefield. The Combat Feeding Directorate, led by Stephen Moody, uses leading-edge technologies to ensure the warfighter has the decisive edge in all aspects of combat feeding.

And not only is nutrition important, but taste is as well, explained Potts.

"A few years ago, we started a Soldiers' jury to taste test and provide feedback," said Potts. "With feedback, we are trying to generate the taste with the right amount of nutrition and supplements the Soldier needs to enhance the performance while they are out in the field."

Between 200 and 400 Soldiers or Marines are called upon to rate existing rations and test rations.

"Every year we design new ration components, along with industry submissions and we incorporate them into test rations," said Moody. "When test rations are rated very high, we take the lower rated ration components and change those out. In any given year, we are changing out three to a half-a-dozen components. This keeps the variety high and the acceptability high among Soldiers."

Between 80 and 90 scientists and engineers work in the Combat Feeding section at Natick, under the direction of Moody.

"They are all really passionate about what they do and that really comes through in a setting like this," said Moody. "The passion helps when we are engaging with the public, leaders in Congress or leaders in DoD to help them see there is a lot of science behind this. Everybody cooks and everyone eats, but when they see the science it takes to make something last for three years at room temperature and still taste good, they are really impressed."

The demonstration remained open for nearly three hours with hundreds of visitors, staffers and liaisons sampling the latest combat rations. On display for sampling were the mocha flavored paratrooper bar, chocolate flavored performance readiness bar, omega 3 lemon poppy seed pound cake, coconut flavored agglomerated hula bar, jalapeno nut meal replacement bar, optimized instant beverage, chicken burrito bowls, teriyaki beef sticks, beef stew, and first strike sandwiches. Nutritional information for each fielded item is located at http://hprc-online.org/comrad.

"What a great opportunity for us to work with our members of Congress today," said Potts. "It's always better if you can touch it, taste it and feel it then you will remember it better than if I just bring you in for a Power Point presentation."