WASHINGTON - The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate showcased its latest in meal technology March 5 at the Pentagon to the Secretary of the Army and guests.

The Combat Feeding demonstration entitled, "Feeding the Troops, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," highlighted meal rations dating from the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and the Vietnam Wars. Re-enactors from each time period were present to speak about the improvements that technology has afforded Soldiers throughout the years.

NSRDEC, a subordinate element of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, demonstrated the latest in field rations to include the First Strike Ration, Meal Ready to Eat and the Unitized Group Ration-Express.

The DoD Combat Feeding Directorate, of NSRDEC, performs research and development for field feeding technologies and combat rations to improve the quality of life for the Soldier in the field.

Breakfast and dinner items served at the demonstration included eggs, French toast, beef pot roast, teriyaki chicken and blackened catfish among others. Soldiers, past and present, tasted the food and provided feedback about the differences in the demonstration and what was available now.

"I go all the way back to C-rations, and they [the new recipes] are preferable to what we had in the 1990's," said Maj. Gen. Dan Wright, Army deputy judge advocate general.

Soldiers of all ranks joined together at the demonstration, tasting and comparing opinions about the new recipes. For Soldiers who have been in the military for a number of years, the new food was an exciting change from what they have grown used to.

"This is restaurant style food...with the spices, it doesn't taste like it's preserved," said Command Sgt. Maj. Hector G. Marin, RDECOM sergeant major. "NSRDEC's accomplishments in research and development, shows how passionate they are about the Warfighter. They are actually listening to the Soldiers in the field, and these meals are the fruits of their labor."

Many retired Soldiers were present to compare the food they grew up on to the latest in ration developments.

"I remember sitting in a helicopter eating dehydrated egg sandwiches," said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Carl McNair, the Army's first high-tech aviation branch chief. "It was all we had. I think the Soldiers [today] will be very pleased [with the new rations]. The MRE's are good."

The First Strike Ration, the newest addition to the U.S. Army Materiel Command product line, is a compact, eat-on-the-move assault ration designed for use during initial periods of highly intense, highly mobile combat operations. Improvements include a reduced weight and cube to enhance Warfighter consumption, nutritional intake, and mobility. The FSR has enhanced mobility, and a minimum two-year shelf life at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The meal provides 2900 calories a day with three different menu choices.

Nutritional value remains the focus of NSRDEC engineers and food chemists. Producing food options that are appetizing and that will provide the appropriate nutrition to the Warfighter on-the-move is a vital component in the field.

"You can lead a Soldier to a ration, but you can't make them eat it," said Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, chief, Army Public Affairs.

"Variety is the key," said Cucolo. He spoke of the importance of nutrition, specifically from the perspective of a commander. "It's one thing to feed people, and it's another for people to stay interested in their rations. If they don't like the rations, Soldiers will find other means of sustenance." Cucolo said commanders want some degree of control over their Soldiers' nutrition, as it may affect the success of a mission. He said if the Soldiers like the rations, then they will stay healthy and maintain mission readiness.

The new Meals Ready to Eat, are the standard military ration developed to support the individual Warfighter in all the Armed Forces, to include the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. MREs replaced Combat Rations, or C-Rations, in the early 1980s. Since then, there has been continuous improvement on the recipes.

Soldiers are looking forward to the new recipes. "I really enjoyed the food; I'd like to see more of it soon," said Pfc. Tyler Stratford, of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard), present at the demonstration. "There is a definite improvement in the variety. I especially liked the bacon."

Soldier feedback is a large part of the food development process at the Directorate. During Operations Desert Shield/Storm the Combat Feeding Directorate has been incorporating Warfighter feedback on MRE recipe preferences. Since 1993, there have been more than 217 new items added to the MREs that are "Warfighter recommended, Warfighter tested, and Warfighter approved™."

Also served, the Unitized Group Ration-Express is a compact, self-contained module that provides a complete, hot meal for 18 Warfighters.

"The unique thing about the UGR-E is that it is entirely self-contained and provides an alternative to an individual pre-packaged meal," said Kathy Evangelos, program integrator, DoD Combat Feeding. The UGR-E allows a field commander to provide a high quality hot meal to a group of Soldiers in 30 to 45 minutes, when field kitchens are not available and chow is typically delivered by convoys to remote units.

"This [the new recipes and food technology] is a step ahead," said Sgt. 1st Class James Laverty, RDECOM operations non-commissioned officer in charge. "I'm sure the Soldiers in the field will love it."

Showing the evolution of the food rations at the demonstration spoke to the milestones made in food technology. New food rations will be spiraled into the field over the next couple of years.