My love/hate relationship with the M.R.E.

MRE: Three letters that will evoke a range of emotions to any service member and veteran.

Meal, Ready-to-Eat – commonly known as the "MRE" – is a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging bought by the United States Department of Defense for its service members. They are used in combat or other field conditions where organized food facilities are not available.

MRE's replaced the canned "C rations" in 1981, initially offering six different options to include beef stew, chicken a la king, and ham and chicken loaf. Each meal provides about 1,200 calories.

They are intended to be eaten for a maximum of 21 days (the assumption is that logistics units can provide fresh food rations by then), and have a minimum shelf life of three years (depending on storage conditions).

The major breakthrough came in 1990 with the introduction of the Flameless Ration Heater which is a water activated product allowing a service member in the field to enjoy a hot meal. Today there are 24 entrees to choose from for your "dining pleasure."

MRE Love – "Beggars can't be choosers."

After a couple days in a variety of environmental and high-risk conditions without eating, nobody is passing on an MRE. And with the advent of the heater, these can be a feast while in the field. They provided us life-sustaining calories in a light-weight package when we needed it the most.

After several days of eating MRE's, a little creativity can go a long way. In addition to playing MRE poker and bartering for entrée packets with your fellow troops, an MRE cookbook was published a couple decades ago. They took dozens of combinations to create a "delicious" meal.

MRE Hate – "Too much can be bad."

As with life – all things in moderation. But as I described above, sometimes you don't have a choice. Hunger can be very motivating.

Even with 24 options and the ability to be creative with recipes, after a while just seeing one of these meals will turn your stomach. Which is a good time to also explain what MRE's were meant to do. It's not pretty but a reality to extended military operations.

MRE's were also meant to limit the need to have a bowel movement by using "stiffening" additives in the food. Let's just say that "stiffening" after a week can become incapacitating. And that is where the hate kicks in.

My Favorite MRE Memory

I was in my 4th week of SEAL training (BUD/S) when my class had done something to anger the Instructors. As a punishment the 50 of us were forced into the outdoor showers.

There we huddled together to stay warm while being blasted with cold water when we were suddenly pelted with MRE's followed by an "Enjoy your lunch" from the Instructors.

Well, in an effort to make lemonade out of lemons – we proceeded to pull our napkins out and serve each other as if it were a 5-Star restaurant. Laughing the entire meal.

"Yes, misery loves company."

So while an MRE can be a lifesaver in a pinch, and if you've gone without food long enough you'll relish one... I can say that no matter what the situation, I hope I never have to eat another one.

Not when there are so many better options available. Even in an emergency.

Be a survivor... not a statistic,

Cade Courtley
Former Navy SEAL / 4Patriots Contributor


  • Russell Hughes - January 31, 2020

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    Russell T. Hughes

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