Meal, Combat, Individual ration

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Elements of a U.S. Air Force Meal, Combat, Individual ration, as served in Da Nang, South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, 1966 or 1967

The Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI) was the name of canned wet combat rations issued by the United States Armed Forces from 1958 to 1980, when it was replaced by the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE).[1][2]

Development and packaging[edit]

Despite the new name, the MCI was still popularly referred to by the troops as "C-Rations" (or "Charlie rats"), which it resembled in nearly all respects. The MCI was intended as a modest improvement over the earlier canned Type C or C ration, with inclusion of additional menu items to reduce monotony and encourage adequate daily feeding and nutrition. Heavy for their content, they were eventually phased out in favor of the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE).[1] Although the MRE was formally adopted as the Department of Defense combat ration in 1975, the first large-scale production test of the MRE did not occur until in 1978, with the first MRE I rations packed and delivered to Army stores in 1981.[2] MCI rations continued to be issued from Army stocks until depleted, when the MRE was issued.[1]

The MCI consisted of a rectangular cardboard carton containing 1 small flat can, 1 large can, and two small cans. It consisted of an "M"-unit can (meat-based entree item), a "B"-unit (bread item) composed of the Crackers & Candy Can and the flat Spread Can, and a "D"-unit can (dessert item). The M-1, M-3, B-1, B-2, D-2, and D-3 unit cans were small and the M-2, B-3, and D-1 unit cans were large. The ration cans were packed upright, with the flat Spread can over the large can on the left side and the two small cans were stacked one over the other on the right side (the lighter one over the heavier one). On top was the brown foil Accessory Pack and a plastic spoon wrapped in clear plastic. Each carton contained a single complete meal providing approximately 5,000 kJ (1,200 kilocalories or 1,200 kcal), with a packaged weight of 1.2 kilograms (2.6 lb)[3] and volume of 1.5 litres (0.053 cu ft).

The label of the ration carton was printed across the lid of the rectangular box in three rows. The first row always read "MEAL, COMBAT, INDIVIDUAL". The second row indicated the name of the meat unit in bold capital block letters (e.g., "TURKEY LOAF") and the third row indicated the "B"-unit number (either B-1, B-2 or B-3 Unit) in bold capital block letters. Sometimes there was a smaller fourth line of type at the very bottom of the cover that either indicated the contractor who made the ration or the manufacturer that made the cardboard box itself.

The ration boxes were shipped in a rectangular cardboard packing case. Each packing case contained 12 ration cartons (containing one of each meal) packed in 2 rows of 6 rations. They were grouped in 3 menus of 4 meals each, organized by their "B"-unit (B-1, B-2, & B-3). It also contained 4 paper-wrapped P-38 can openers to open the cans. Each packing case weighed 25 to 26 pounds (11 to 12 kg) and had a volume of 0.8713 cubic feet (24.67 L). Early cases were bound with bailing wire, but late Vietnam War and post-war cases were bound in plastic strapping.

Menus[edit]

Meat Unit[edit]

The "M" unit came in 12 basic varieties grouped in 3 menus of 4 different entrees (later supplemented by "Alternative" variant entrees):

  • M-1: Beefsteak, Chicken or Turkey Loaf, Chopped Ham & Eggs, or Ham Slices (Cooked in Juices or Fried). M-1A: Tuna Fish.
  • M-2: Meat Chunks w/. Beans in Tomato Sauce, Ham & Lima Beans, Beef Slices w/. Potatoes in Gravy, or Beans w/. Frankfurter Chunks in Tomato Sauce. M-2A: Spaghetti w/. Meatballs in Tomato Sauce.
  • M-3: Beef in Spiced Sauce, Boned Chicken or Turkey, Chicken w/. Noodles in Broth, or Pork Steak Cooked in Juices. M-3A: Meat Loaf.

Ham and Lima Beans was known irreverently throughout the armed forces as "Ham and Motherfuckers". Beans with Frankfurter Chunks in Tomato Sauce was called "Beanie Weenie".

Bread Unit[edit]

The "B" unit came in three different varieties:

Dessert Unit[edit]

The "D" unit came in three different types:

  • D-1 (Fruit): Halved Apricots, Sliced Peaches, Quartered Pears, or Fruit Cocktail. D-1A (Fruit): Applesauce.
  • D-2 (Cake): Pound Cake, Fruitcake, or Cinnamon Nut Roll. D-2A (Cake): Date Pudding or Orange Nut Roll.
  • D-3 (Bread): White Bread. (There were no alternatives).

Each menu was grouped by their unit number (i.e., M-1, B-1 and D-1 items were grouped together). Alternative items (designated with an "A" suffix) were introduced to provide variety and reduce the monotony. For variety, the M-1 and M-3 units (since they both used small cans) were often switched.

The "B"-unit's Crackers & Candy can was lined with a piece of corrugated cardboard to protect the contents from damage. In the "D"-unit, the white bread came in one solid cylindrical piece wrapped in wax paper, while the pound cake, fruitcake, Orange Nut Roll, and Cinnamon Roll came wrapped in paper wrappers like cupcakes.

The Accessory Pack came with salt, pepper, sugar, instant coffee, non-dairy creamer, 2 pieces of candy-coated chewing gum, a packet of toilet paper, a 4-pack of commercial-grade cigarettes, and a book of 20 cardboard moisture-proof matches.

Typical commercial brands issued in the cigarette ration were: Camel, Chesterfield, Kent, Kool, Lucky Strike, Marlboro, Pall Mall, Salem, or Winston. Due to health concerns, cigarettes were eliminated from the accessory packs in 1975.[4]

Repackaging[edit]

In 1967 there were changes in packaging to help standardize the ration. The B cans were now all small sized.

Postwar additions[edit]

The B-1 unit added Chocolate-Toffee, Chocolate-Vanilla, and Chocolate with Peanuts discs. The B-2 unit jam spreads were expanded with the addition of Blackberry Jam, Peach Jam, and Pineapple Jam. The B-3 unit added a Vanilla Fudge disc and Hickory-Smoked Processed Cheese Spread. The D-2 units added a Cherry Nut Roll and a Chocolate Nut Roll.

Field reports[edit]

Although the MCI had been designed as improvement over the earlier Type C or C ration of World War II and Korea, with the inclusion of additional menu items, it was still designed for infrequent use, to be regularly supplemented with fresh Type A (Garrison) and canned Type B (Field Kitchen) rations.[5] Predictably, this goal was rarely achieved in the field, and some Army and Marine forces in Vietnam would operate for two weeks or more while consuming only the MCI ration or other processed, canned foods.

The new ration had some curious superstitions attached to it during the Vietnam War. The "Ham & Lima Beans" entree was perennial disliked since Korea,[6] was detested by U.S. soldiers and Marines, who considered even pronouncing the correct name brought bad luck, instead calling it "Ham and Motherfuckers".[7][8][9] US Marines, Paratroops, Infantry Soldiers, and Armored Vehicle Crewmen, particularly AMTRAC (Amphibious Tractor) personnel, believed that Halved Apricots were bad luck to eat during combat operations.[10] The Peanut Butter issued in the B-1 unit was unappetizing to some and was often discarded, but was consumed by those with dysentery, as it was certain to stop a case of 'the runs.'[11][12] Soldiers in Special Operations units used to hoard B-1 peanut butter in empty ration cans to make improvised smoke candles while on long patrols.[13] Being extremely oily, the peanut butter burned with ease, and could be used to boil water for coffee, although it left a greasy black stain on the bottom of the canteen cup.

Other menu items were more popular, such as the pound cake, canned pears, and the spaghetti & meatballs.[11][14] In 1973, Army Colonel Henry Moak was issued a MCI ration during his stay in Vietnam. Included in the MCI ration was a can of pound cake, manufactured in 1969. He kept the unopened can and vowed to eat the pound cake when he retired from the Army. On July 24, 2009, with news media and dignitaries in attendance, Moak opened the forty-year old can and ate the contents. He noted that the pound cake still looked and smelled like fresh pound cake.[15][16]

Throughout the Marine Corps 'Beef Slices w/. Potatoes' were known as "Beef and Rocks" due to their half cooked texture caused by chemically maintained integrity of the potato slices to prevent disintegration during storage and “Beans with Frankfurter Chunks in Tomato Sauce” were more commonly referred to as "Beans and Baby Dicks". While Marines in general praised Pound Cake particularly with Fruit Cocktail most detested Fruitcake and generally handed it off to less discriminating unit members.

"C-Rat" Boonie Stove[edit]

The small "B"-unit can was often made into an improvised field stove that could be carried in the cargo pockets of a set of combat fatigues. This was done by making a series of diagonal cuts around the top and bottom edges of the can with a P-38 can opener or a standard can opener to allow the trioxane fuel tablet to burn evenly and warm the entrée. Small chunks of C-4 plastic explosive were often substituted for the fuel tablet, as it produced a hotter flame.[17] Heating of canned meat items was often accomplished by inserting the can into the exhaust of a running truck where it would jam into the curved exhaust pipe end, warming it to a palatable temperature and de-congealing the grease.

End of the MCI ration[edit]

Though it had been given a new name, the MCI was in essence still the canned C ration of prior years. Selecting the MCI ration for all field issue resulted in limiting troops in the field to a single class of heavy wet packaged ration that despite meal variances, was simply not suitable for extended consumption. As they had in World War II and Korea, soldiers and Marines regularly complained of the monotony of a single class of field ration, especially where field mess A and B rations were not available for extended periods of time.[14] Despite the inclusion of additional menu items, the MCI was still designed only for "infrequent use" (unlike later individual rations, which would be required to pass a new field test of seven consecutive days of consumption as the sole diet without complaints of monotony).[18]

The overuse of the canned ration culminated during the Vietnam War, where American troops frequently resorted to the extreme of placing stacked ration cans in empty G.I. socks to save bulk and reduce noise on patrol, while enemy forces improved mobility by carrying lightweight rations of dry rice in scarves.[19] Primarily implemented due to cost concerns, the decision to standardize on a single canned wet individual ration resulted in a severe weight penalty for troops marching on foot through the jungles of Vietnam while carrying a multi-day supply of MCI cans, adversely affecting combat readiness and increasing soldier fatigue[20] (a typical complete individual ration of cans for one day weighed five and a half pounds).[21][22] Many combat soldiers and Marines, already overburdened, carried the minimum amount to save weight on operations until the next resupply drop; when the drop was delayed, they went hungry.[21]

The failure of the Quartermaster Command and its Subsistence Branch to develop a suitable lightweight general-purpose ration after World War II, combined with the absence of a dehydrated, very lightweight dry ration for jungle environments led directly to the hurried development of the Long Range Patrol, or LRP ration in 1966.[19]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Meyer, A.I. and Klicka, M.V., Operational Rations, Current and Future of the Department of Defense, Technical Report Natick TR-82/031 (September 1982)
  2. ^ a b MRE History', MREInfo.Com, retrieved 4 August 2011
  3. ^ DCSP Philadelphia, Article
  4. ^ Westheider, James E., The Vietnam War, Greenwood Publishing Group (2007), ISBN 0-313-33755-1, ISBN 978-0-313-33755-0, p. 86
  5. ^ Alspach, Rita (Maj), Gagne, Susan D., and Meyer, Alice, NEW AND IMPROVED: T-Ration and MRE Development, Quartermaster Professional Bulletin (December 1988) http://www.qmfound.com/mre_tration.htm
  6. ^ Granfield, Linda, I Remember Korea: Veterans Tell Their Stories of the Korean War, 1950-53, Clarion Books (2003), ISBN 0-618-17740-X, 9780618177400, p. 48
  7. ^ Peavey, Robert E., Praying for Slack: A Marine Corps Tank Commander in Vietnam, Zenith Imprint Press (2004), ISBN 0-7603-2050-0, ISBN 978-0-7603-2050-1, p. 189
  8. ^ Ham and Muthas: More Info on C rations, http://17thdivision.tripod.com/thepeacethatwasnt/id20.html
  9. ^ Granfield, Linda, I Remember Korea: Veterans Tell Their Stories of the Korean War, 1950-53, Clarion Books (2003), ISBN 0-618-17740-X, 9780618177400, p. 48: In Korea and in Vietnam, U.S. and allied troops often attempted to give away the hated Ham & Lima Bean cans to civilians, who frequently refused them or even threw them back at the troops.
  10. ^ Donner, Bob (S.Sgt), Taste For Apricots Canned At Cua Viet, Stars and Stripes News (1968), http://www.amtrac.org/1atbn/Interest/Apricots.asp
  11. ^ a b Ehrhart, W.D., Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir, with contrib. H. Bruce Franklin, University of Massachusetts Press (1995), ISBN 0-87023-957-0, ISBN 978-0-87023-957-1, p. 200
  12. ^ Peavey, Robert E., Praying for Slack: A Marine Corps Tank Commander in Vietnam, Zenith Imprint Press (2004), ISBN 0-7603-2050-0, ISBN 978-0-7603-2050-1, p. 190
  13. ^ Vortisch, Hans-Christian. "GURPS SEALs in Vietnam", Steve Jackson Games (2007), SJG37-0603.
  14. ^ a b Westheider, James E., The Vietnam War, Greenwood Publishing Group (2007), ISBN 0-313-33755-1, ISBN 978-0-313-33755-0, pp. 85-86
  15. ^ Retired Colonel Digs into 40-Year Old Pound Cake
  16. ^ Retired Colonel Digs into 40-Year Old Pound Cake (Video)
  17. ^ http://www.vietnamgear.com/kit.aspx?kit=680
  18. ^ Alspach, Rita (Maj), Gagne, Susan D., and Meyer, Alice, NEW AND IMPROVED: T-Ration and MRE Development, Quartermaster Professional Bulletin (December 1988) http://www.qmfound.com/mre_tration.htm
  19. ^ a b Kearny, Cresson H., Jungle Snafus...And Remedies, Oregon Institute (1996), pp. 286-288
  20. ^ White, Terry, The SAS Fighting Techniques Handbook, Globe Pequot Press (2007), ISBN 1-59921-081-9, ISBN 978-1-59921-081-0, p. 28: "A [special operations] team could become virtually immobile due to the weight of needed supplies...Mobility and stealth are decreased when loads become too heavy, and the soldier is too often worn down by midday. Fatigue affects alertness, making him more vulnerable to detection and error."
  21. ^ a b Westheider, James E., The Vietnam War, Greenwood Publishing Group (2007), ISBN 0-313-33755-1, ISBN 978-0-313-33755-0, p. 86
  22. ^ White, Terry, The SAS Fighting Techniques Handbook, Globe Pequot Press (2007), ISBN 1-59921-081-9, ISBN 978-1-59921-081-0, pp. 27-28: In contrast, fast-moving NVA forces operating in jungle were supplied daily rations weighing a total of approximately 2.7 pounds.

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