A Subsistence chief food safety officer got an inside look into soldiers evaluating food rations during field trials at Fort Carson, Colorado.
Army Lt. Col. Michael Hansen, a veterinary advisor and chief food safety officer in the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Subsistence supply chain, said he observed the field trials to learn about the process.
“I really wanted to figure out how they get new rations into the (Operational Rations) program, especially since DLA Troop Support is the one that is buying them,” said Hansen, who attended a portion of the trials in mid-July.
The field trials are conducted annually by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center to improve rations and give service members a chance to test prospective Meal, Ready to Eat components, Unitized Group Ration A, and Heat and Serves.
“The whole reason of the Natick field trials is to keep the menu fresh, because you don’t want them to keep eating the same thing year after year,” said Harry Streibich, chief of the operational rations division for Subsistence.
Approximately 100 soldiers in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division were given control menus, which are meals that are currently being served, and test menus, items not currently in production, to survey and provide feedback.
“Usually for the MREs, they test between two and four new menus,” said Hansen. “I tried two of the four, the beef ravioli and a beef stew with paprika. I liked the paprika one.”
The soldiers’ feedback will help determine whether they will move on in the evaluation process and potentially go into production. What the soldiers ate was also tracked, to better understand the nutrients they were receiving.
“You can always make a product that can be the best thing for the soldier,” Streibich said. “But if they don’t eat it, then it is not doing anyone any good.”
During the fall, Natick will take the data collected from the trials and analyze each item on a rating scale. Then in February, at the Joint Services Operational Rations Forum, there will be a vote on whether to approve the new rations and changes to its components.
It’s then up to the Subsistence supply chain to ensure vendors are able to support warfighters with the new rations.
“We have to get all the paperwork ready and out the vendors so that way they have time to buy (the new ration),” said Streibich. “They are always anxious and ready to know what came out of the field test. We make the new items available as soon as possible.”
It could take one to two years before warfighters get a chance to taste the menu items from this year’s field tests. It is a constant life cycle of developing, testing, evaluating, procuring, fielding and supporting all military rations, Streibich said.