It was only last week our family was talking about the MRE’s we sampled back in 2003. Easy enough to recall the meals. Our life at the time, somewhat more difficult to digest.
If you don’t already know and I certainly didn’t before, Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s) are combat rations provided to troops. As it says in yesterday’s New York Times article,
The menus and accompaniments are intended not just to nourish but also to remind the soldier of home. Some include branded comfort foods — Australians get a dark-brown spreadable yeast-paste treat called Vegemite, for example — while others get national staples like liverwurst (Germany), or lamb curry (Britain’s current culinary obsession).
As I mentioned, I’ve tasted a few of those MRE’s. It wasn’t during the best of circumstances but I don’t imagine they’re usually found in places where life is quiet and comfortable.
It was the start of the Iraq War.
We live about 20 minutes away from USCENTCOM (or the US Central Command) where the American military orchestrated the war. The launch pad for much of the air combat. By comparison, it was calm here – as opposed to over there – at the receiving end. As the Shock and Awe campaign started we, along with many neighbors, gathered. While the rest of the world watched on their TVs, we watched and listened here with stunned silence to the night skies overhead.
The following day of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom‘ as it was called, Dear Husband went to work feeling a little uneasy as did I, having dropped the kids off. Keeping to our normal routine we made the decision to take them to school. Others, had already booked flights and were waiting for their ticket out of here. As DH got to work and went on a look-see he stumbled upon a Patriot Missile. They’re kinda hard to miss, but I didn’t know that either, until I looked up what they were exactly. I had never lived anywhere close to a war zone before so how was I to know.
In effort to make a long story short, … DH did his usual thing. Went over to the military guys, talked to them about what they were doing, must have befriended them I guess…. and a couple days later he came walking through our front door with about 6 or 7 MRE’s to try.
We were all intrigued. They were a distraction perhaps, from the thoughts preoccupying our minds at the time about what was going on. If we were safe here. If we should stay put. What the people of Iraq were experiencing.
We sampled the food over the next couple of nights. Beef stroganoff. Roast beef with mashed potatoes. Burritos, I think. The main courses. But the best part was all the extra stuff inside. Things we couldn’t get here like particular brands of American-made chewing gum and candy. Kool-Aid powder. It always varied except for what seemed to be in every package. Each had a miniature size bottle of Tabasco sauce in it. I can only assume from this that Americans love their hot sauce!
I can vouch for the comfort these little touches of home bring when you’re living in a foreign land. 11 years living abroad and still whenever something familiar from home shows up on the shelve in the stores, it’s cause for celebration. It’s like showing up at your Mom’s place to find she’s made all your favorites for dinner.
Our experience doesn’t compare in the least to the safety and comfort these packages bring to soldiers when they can take a break, to at least eat. But I get how the simplest of sensations can distract the soul from uncertainty. Providing much needed nourishment.
Sweet, sweet nourishment.
(Here’s another link from the NY Times with interactive graphics showing typical MRE’s for 14 various countries’ troops if you want to see a few samples. Its interesting to see what’s provided for each, the similarities or differences they contain.)