Mealtime in the Military, A New Exhibit in the National Guard Memorial Museum

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"Mealtime in the Military," Temporary Exhibit at the National Guard Memorial Museum

If you had to carry an entire day’s worth of food with you, what would you pack? What if you had to plan for weeks or months and for thousands of people? 

These are questions the military must consider when preparing to send troops overseas, and when members of the National Guard are deployed in the service of the federal government, they are affected by these preparations.

“Mealtime in the Military,” a new temporary exhibition (snapshot above) in the museum, explores the evolution of field rations over the course of the 20th century. As our understanding of nutrition and preservation has increased, the military has created meals that better serve soldiers’ needs.

Among the items included in the exhibit:

  • Canteen with cover, World War I: The cover had a loop on the back so a soldier could hang the canteen from his belt.
  • Mess kit with utensils, World War II: The two halves of the kit could be connected and used like a cafeteria tray when field kitchens were available.  The deeper half of the mess kit was used to heat up rations when kitchens were not set up.
  • Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI), Vietnam War: The bulky tins used to store food in the MCIs made it difficult for soldiers to travel light. Although these meals were intended for only occasional use, many soldiers in Vietnam ate them for extended periods.
  • Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE), Current Operations: MREs offer more options – including vegetarian and kosher meals – than were available in earlier field rations. Members of the National Guard also hand out these meals in areas suffering food shortages after natural disasters.

Provisioning troops is essential for the success of any military exercise, but it is a necessity that many people do not consider. “Mealtime in the Military” strives to shed light on some of the ways the armed forces has addressed this most basic need.

Sarah Allison is the National Guard Educational Foundation intern.

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