A while back I posted a story about Christmas in Saudi Arabia. We eventually got a Christmas dinner. . .Two days later! If my fading memory is correct, a few people got sick from it. I recall steering away from the turkey thinking that it smelled funny and couldn’t possibly still be safe. So I dined on mashed potatoes, stuffing, and dessert.

And that brings me to how we ate out there.

There’s a variety of ways to get food in the field. One is MREs. These come in a box of about a dozen meals, and in our time featured delicacies such as BBQ Beef Patty (really good — unless you get it three meals a day for a week straight – I never tried to figure out the odds of that happening, but it did), Chicken a La King, Spaghetti, and the like. All come with the entree, crackers, cheese, peanut butter or jelly, and some kind of dessert.

A spreadsheet showing the typical contents of a box of MREs. There were boatloads of MRE I-VIII still in depots, so we got them often. A note about the Pork and Beef patties. These were dehydrated, and the idea was you put some water in it and it would soften up. Truth be told, you could have dropped one in the Pacific Ocean, it could have soaked the whole thing up, and it would still be hard as a rock. Might be useful for combating the rising sea levels due to global warming!

The meals mentioned above had some real hits. I was fond of the Stew and Chicken a la King. The Corned Beef Hash and Omelet were a perfect breakfast, and Tuna with Noodles and Spaghetti weren’t at all bad. The best one up there had to be the ham slice. That was nothing short of incredible.

Traditionally, this is how the troops eat. Someone opens a box of MREs. The lowest ranking soldier takes one, then the next. Once the Privates and Specialists get their meals, then the NCOs in order of rank take one out, followed by the officers. Sorry, searching through the box is discouraged. You grab and move on and whatever you get, you eat. If you don’t like it, then trade with someone.

One of the things I remember well is the tribal wisdom handed down concerning MREs. Some it was assembled into what’s known as the “MRE Cookbook.” As the name implies, it’s a method of taking the inedible, and turning it into something yummy, or at least improving what you got.

Two I remember are:

  • Peach Cobbler – Take your canteen cup, and add your dehydrated peaches into the cup. Crush one cracker from your MRE into it. Add the coffee creamer, sugar, and enough water to re-hydrate the mess. Stir and enjoy.
  • Ranger Cookie – Take your brownie from the MRE backet, and top with peanut butter. Enjoy.

Some of the recipes have actually been compiled and are online in book form. I had a cookbook, and it was about a dozen pages thick, and the cook in this case was Beatle Bailey from the cartoons. I wish I’d known where it went. I did find a PDF of it online and if you click MRE Unofficial Recipe Booklet, you can enjoy. This isn’t the one I had, and reflects contents we didn’t have yet. But it reflects the creativity of the Gourmet GI.

One thing I reference a couple of times in Book 3, The Judas Tree, is how Will and Jonesy heat their food up in the mountains. Since they’re eating MREs, what they do is take the main course out of its cardboard container. They open the foil pack a little. Then they poke holes with a knife into the box, place the foil pouch back inside it, and then light the box on fire. The box burns quickly, and you have a hot meal. This is very welcome on a cold winter day when you’re standing a traffic control post in the middle of the freezing cold. Thank you, Greg Bradley, for passing on this tribal wisdom to me while standing in the snowy cold of Germany.

Today, MREs come with their own heater.

Of course he (or she) who had Tabasco Sauce was king.

Then there’s T-rations. These come in a large can that in a lot of ways resembles a cake pan. The idea is you toss them into boiling water, get them hot, and then open them. There’s usually beef or chicken, rice or mashed potatoes, and maybe a cake.

A third way is you get your meal is to have it delivered to you from a mess tent. In

Hot meals were delivered from mess kitchens in containers like this. Food was placed in the pots inside, and sometimes it had hot water poured in to help keep it warm. think of a big thermos, and you get the idea.

this, several aluminum pots are filled up. These are then placed into a larger container filled with hot water. It’s delivered to you, and you eat. It was this last way our Christmas meal was delivered to us. God knows how long it took to go from the mess tents to our plates.

We also received our meals in Basic training this way. We’d road march out to a range, and along about 7 AM, a Truck with the food, and a couple of kitchen helpers to serve it showed. It was was all very nice.

The best way of course, was to eat right out of the mess tent. The mess kitchen was a fold up affair that had a stove, and serving tables built into it. Food was prepared, and you came in, grabbed a paper plate and plastic ware, and got your food.

At the 1st Armored Division Battle Central, which my platoon looked after, we often times ate our meals at tables. At 1st Infantry, we got our meal, and found anyplace we could on the ground.

Of course, once in a while we got to forage off the land. Translation, we ate at a restaurant.

And that leads me into a story from the second time I was in the field with 1st MPs. We had been out in the field for almost two weeks and were past tired of MREs and T-rations. We were doing a Traffic Control Point right across from the base Burger King. Now, according to the rules of the exercise, our world ended at the fence. We weren’t supposed to leave the exercise area at all.

But the smell of grilled burgers was blowing right to us. After living on MREs and T-rats, the smell of the meat, mixed

Cpl Mac and SPC Hagadorn enjoy Gyros purchased from a street stand in Hafar Al -Batin. The Pepsis were the first cold drinks we’d had in a long time.

with sautéed onion was driving us to insanity.

It’s hard to concentrate on pointing tanks in the direction they’re supposed to go when your mouth is watering.

I don’t recall who came up with the scheme, but two privates were detailed to take off their gear, and go across the wire to the Burger King.

A collection was taken up and the two soldiers sent on a mission so hazardous that. . . well, it’s not that bad.

Leaving their gear behind and having scrubbed the camo off their faces, they went over the wire. Twenty anxious minutes later they returned with bags full of  hamburgers and fries. We had enough for our lunch, and when we went back to where we were camped out, we smuggled them into the platoon tent and handed them out.

Our LT was livid! I thought he was going to have stroke he was so mad. “Under no circumstances were you supposed to have left the exercise area.” He wanted to know who it was and was quoting regulations and mentioning the words “Article 15.” Suddenly, the burgers didn’t taste so good. We knew we were in for a ton of trouble. The kind of trouble that can cost stripes.

Thank God our Platoon Sgt. was a smart guy. He noticed the LT was also drooling at the smell of the burgers and fries, and so he reaches into the bag, pulls out a burger and handed it to the LT.

“Sir,” he said. “Shut up. They got you one.”

The LT unwrapped it, took a bite, and was now guilty by association.

The incident was never, ever, mentioned again.