By Jane Benson, NSRDEC Public AffairsSeptember 19, 2017
NATICK, Mass. -- Members of the Combat Feeding Directorate, or CFD, at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center participated in a nationwide Joint Service Tactical Field Feeding Exercise held at the Department of the Army and Air Force Joint Force Headquarters, New Hampshire National Guard.
CFD's participation in the event included presentations on a variety of subjects, including the Armed Forces Recipe Service and the Go for Green Program, which is the Army's dining facility nutrition education program.
CFD subject matter experts, or SMEs, led focus groups examining ration advances, seeking out Soldier feedback. SMEs also held refresher training for non-commissioned officers on field feeding kitchen equipment and systems. The field-feeding equipment was jointly developed by CFD and Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems, or PM-FSS.
"This is an excellent opportunity to interact with a key regional partner," said Stephen Moody, director of NSRDEC's CFD. "This strategic relationship helps to ensure that future combat rations and field feeding equipment are 'Warfighter Recommended, Warfighter Tested and Warfighter Approved."'
Cpt. Benjamin Leonard, State Food Service Officer for the New Hampshire Army National Guard, and his team organized, planned and executed the event.
"As a team we have been able to reach out and build relationships with the best subject matter experts in all the different fields of food service," said Leonard. "These subject matter experts are from Natick Labs; Johnson and Wales; Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, Fort Lee, Virginia; and National Guard Bureau HQ. Our service men and women deserve the best training possible, and I feel that they received that."
Leonard thanked CFD for its support in the 2016 and 2017 Joint Food Service Field Training Exercise.
"It is important for service members to understand the big picture of operations," said Leonard.
"Having NSRDEC come and speak about the research and development of combat feedings allows these service members to have a better understanding of the full spectrum of the operations to feed our service men and women on the battlefield."
The CFD-led Soldier focus groups were given existing and potential new items to sample, providing insight into Soldier likes and dislikes and what new items the Soldiers would like to see added to operational rations.
"Giving service members the opportunity to taste and give feedback to the research teams who are preparing the future menus for operational rations makes the service member be part of that process," said Leonard.
One of the items tested was a compressed food bar invented by CFD's Dr. Tom Yang, which he has dubbed the "Salad Bar."
To make the bar, Yang, a senior food technologist, took fresh salad ingredients and then covered them in a honey mustard dressing. The dressing helps with vitamin absorption and taste. He then investigated technologies and made the salad into a nutrition bar that can be eaten as a meal or a healthy snack.
"The prototype Salad Bar is produced using a conventional drying process and compression," Yang said. "It is a low-weight, low-volume, shelf-stable and fresh-like vegetable mixed with salad dressing. It can be eaten as is or can be quickly rehydrated into a salad."
The bar is part of CFD's ongoing efforts to develop more dried foods as a way to lighten the Soldier's load. The Salad Bar was popular with the Soldier participants.
"It tastes like a Caesar granola bar," said Sgt. Scott Christie of the New Hampshire Army National Guard. "Well done."
"I liked the concept of the Salad Bar," said Spc. Devan Bradley from New Hampshire's Army National Guard. "I'd like to see it in an MRE in the future."
Amazingly, the Salad Bar can be put in water to rehydrate and become a salad again.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who attended the ration evaluation, was impressed with Natick's offerings, comparing them to something you would see on the television show "The Jetsons."
CFD scientists believe that working side by side with Soldiers to develop the best items is an important part of the process. Gathering written responses to surveys plays an important role, and working face to face with Soldiers, particularly when they are trying food items, garners even more insights.
"I like to see their faces, to see the authentic reaction," said Sydney Walker, a biological aide in CFD.
"The collaboration with the New Hampshire Army National Guard has proven to be of real value to the Food Engineering and Analysis Team," said Laurie Oleksyk, team leader of CFD's Food Engineering and Analysis Team. "The participants in the annual Field Training Exercise have varied backgrounds and experience with military rations. Their feedback on novel ration prototypes gives us great insight on their wants and needs, their likes and dislikes with regard to future ration items. And we're able to obtain this feedback very early in the ration development lifecycle. Their training facility is outstanding; it's a terrific local resource."
"Interaction with Soldiers allows Natick scientists to observe the tasting of our prototype ration components, getting Soldier feedback as a guideline for future improvement of these samples, and getting Soldiers to appreciate Natick's efforts to improve their rations," Yang said. "This interaction is the most effective and direct communication to find out what Soldiers would like for their field rations."
Leonard praised Moody and Jeremy Whitsitt, CFD deputy director, for their support and for helping make this national-level training a huge success.
"The New Hampshire National Guard is grateful for the amazing partnership that we have been able to build with NSRDEC," Leonard said.
"This is a great opportunity for both organizations."
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.