Health - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, December 2004
An army marches on its stomach
DMJ looks at the foodstuffs available to Britain's soldiers on the front line.
The working life of a soldier is a varied one, with deployments to all kinds of climates and environments always possible. Each scenario presents different nutritional problems to personnel, which the Army has to address appropriately in order to achieve best operational performance. Consequently, the British Army offers a wide range of rations, catering for all kinds of situation.
The 24 hour Operational Ration Pack (ORP) currently forms the core of the British Army's hard ration requirement. Designed to give 3,800-4,200kcal per ration, the ORP provides the basic sustenance required for one person per day, with the ration comprising 10% protein, no more than 35% fat and 55% carbohydrate. The ORP constitutes the first stage of feeding troops during deployments – a soldier can live healthily for up to 30 days on ORPs before it becomes necessary to provide a broader, more nutritious, range of meals prepared in field kitchens. Edible hot or cold, the ORP is provided in flexible foil pouches, which can be heated quickly on hexamine cookers, where time and operational requirements permit. Currently, the British Army orders 2.5 million 24 hour ORPs per year.
The basic ORP has numerous variations. The Patrol Ration is designed for soldiers on sustained combat operations. It is significantly smaller and thus more portable, with the contents being dehydrated. The Patrol Ration has a higher calorific value than the standard ORP, to account for the extreme physical demands that active combat patrols impose on soldiers.
The Hot Climate ration is designed for personnel in arid or tropical environments. In addition to extra drinks, the meals contained therein are lighter and generally more pleasant for the uncomfortable conditions. The Hot Climate ration has an important role, as it is vital that troops are fully hydrated during hot weather operations – isotonic drinks are becoming more important for the purpose of quickly rehydrating troops in such a physically demanding theatre of war.
For vehicle crews, there is a four man ration pack, which again is specially tailored to meet the unique needs of vehicle crews. The four man ration pack dispenses with puddings in favour of extra savoury meals and also has more drinks, which are extremely valuable in the demanding and often extremely hot confines of a fighting vehicle.
The Army has also given consideration to non-operational needs from its ration packs. There are a specialised range of rations for soldiers of different religious beliefs. Kosher, Halal and Hindu meals are designed to offer the same nutritional values as standard ORPs, whilst considering the demands of any faith. Vegetarian ration packs are also available for those who do not wish to eat meat for other reasons. These diverse ration packs have proved immensely valuable to the Army. During operations in Iraq, the Army has distributed large numbers of Halal rations to Iraqi interpreters and other affiliated personnel, as well as during humanitarian operations.
Since 2002, the Army has also been able to offer a 10 man ORP for front line units. The 10 man ORP requires basic cooking facilities, preferably a field kitchen, but offers a fresher alternative to the 24 hour ORP. The 10 man ORP is packed by external contractors and contains many commercially available products, a welcome comfort for troops stationed great distances from home. The response to these ration packs has been extremely positive and they should prove to be a long-term favourite for Britain's troops.
The development of rations is an ongoing concern for the Defence Catering Group (DCG), with increasing emphasis on nutritional content and appetising meals. A well fed soldier is an effective soldier, and the British Army is one of the most forward thinking Forces in the world in terms of meeting the wants and needs of its personnel and their meals.