When I was a 12-year-old kid living on the West Coast, my best friend and neighbor, Scott, and I were always hanging out and getting into something. Like most adventurous boys, when the mundane activities of a hot summer got old we tended to find new things to do. Scott’s dad seemed to be pretty cool, although I never met the guy. He was a helicopter pilot for the Army out of Fort Ord, Calif. He had all the cool stuff around the house — Army photos of buddies and achievements, medals, a beer stein with a handle made from a helicopter cyclic, a display of various caliber ammunition, the American flag on proud display.
Scott and I got to digging in the garage, when we found a few boxes in a locker. We thought we hit the motherlode of war memorabilia. However, what we found were a couple boxes of rations, or MREs. It seemed interesting enough to justify digging a little further.
We carefully opened a box, removed a couple of pouches and tactfully sealed the box back up. We took our bounty and headed towards the makeshift tree fort in the woods. Upon opening these pouches, what we found was a bunch of stuff we wanted no part of. Crackers, some meat thing, smashed fruit, toilet paper and gum. We were kids. We were used to cheese puffs and other junk food. None of this was going to work for us. The only thing we ended up taking out of this whole sneaky mess were the two little pieces of Chiclets gum.
Shortly after Laura exited, I had to drop off some office supplies at my wife’s office downtown. As I was driving away, I couldn’t help but notice the steady stream of vehicles funneling into the Civic Center. Turns out the young men and women of the National Guard were stationed to distribute tarps, ice and MREs. Well, why not get in line?
The cars and trucks moved quickly as the soldiers pointed you to a staging area. Once parked in front of my designated loading site, someone asked me, “How many people are in your household?” I replied that there were four people. He yelled back to his people “FOUR!” and the crew loaded me up.
In a situation like Hurricane Laura, you really never know what’s in store for the future as far as food, water and supplies. Although I was not in need of the food, I figured what the heck, it’s there, and if someone is in need, I can deliver it.
As the weeks went by and the supply chain began to balance, this box of rations sat in my garage, calling to me with its Military block font. I’m still just as curious as I was all those years ago. If it’s good enough for the men and women serving our country while deployed, let’s see what it’s all about. I recruited my daughter and told her we had a mission.
The first objective: prepare and eat what’s supplied and report back. The second mission: see what you can do with it.
The first packet was spaghetti with meat sauce. We followed the directions on the pouch which, remarkably, uses an incredibly small amount of water to activate a heat packet, which you seal and in about 15 minutes the meal is warmed up, ready to eat. Inside this packet is also crackers; pop tarts; a Tootsie Roll, which must have replaced the gum of years gone by; a little plastic spoon; and the little packets of salt and pepper.
My daughter plated the meal using the items included, and I was the taste tester. I took the first bite and my only reaction was “blech.” This is the best our country can come up with? Low sodium is tasteless, it’s pasty and it’s bland, but in the end somehow this is considered a suitable meal, twice a day. Says who?
I found myself really having to push through. Now, I hadn’t been on the front line for hours on end. I’m sure these things are very welcomed after enduring mucking it in the bush for hours. But we aren’t in some remote wasteland. We’re in Lake Charles, fighting the heat, humidity and mosquitoes.
We at least have a kitchen, and we wondered what it takes to make MREs actually taste good. The second batch we opened turned out to be chili mac. It really didn’t take much to turn this into something palatable. A little spice goes a long way. Top it off with some Parmesan and you have a really decent meal. It’s not gourmet in its simplistic form, but it’s something that would get you by if you had no other means to eat.