BLUE ASH, Ohio — Whenever and wherever an active-duty member of the United States military sits down to eat while serving in the field, there’s a good chance their dinner was prepared in Blue Ash.
Wornick Foods, run in part by Air Force veteran Tom Miller, is one of only three companies allowed to make the field rations known as MREs — Meals Ready-to-Eat — for the U.S. Armed Forces.
“We try to give a soldier a taste from home while they’re deployed somewhere in the world,” Miller, the company’s director of military business, said.
Here's what happened when non-veterans at WCPO tried MREs themselves:
That might be surprising to readers whose concept of military rations is frozen somewhere at the hardtack-and-gruel era of the 1800s, but the range and quality of meals available to servicemembers has improved at roughly the same rate as other technology. MREs are tastier than the sometimes-rubbery C-Rations served to soldiers in Vietnam, which in turn were better than the J-Rations sent with jungle squads in World War II. (Those actually did contain hardtack.)
And those were probably better than what George Washington’s forces ate at Valley Forge: “Firecakes” made of flour, water and the occasional protein-rich weevil.
Thankfully, modern soldiers have much better options, including chili, spaghetti and steak, all of which can be cooked in the field with a water-activated chemical heater. Each MRE comes with snacks and sides, including bread, peanut butter, toaster pastries, raisins, and a dessert such as Twizzlers or M&Ms.
Although Wornick prepares other types of prepackaged meals, MREs are special.
“The product we make for the MREs is nutritionally engineered to deliver very specific nutrition profile to maximizes the war-fighter’s performance in the field,” Wornick Foods CEO John Kowalchik said.
According to Kowalchik, Wornick packages and ships about 24 million MREs each year. They go all over the world — including, once, to Army veteran Christopher Hayes.
He had attended Lakota West before joining the military, he said. While serving, he opened an MRE packet and noticed the label said it had come from the Cincinnati area.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m from here,’” he recalled.
Kowalchick hopes all soldiers can have that experience when they eat an MRE, even those who don’t come from Ohio. He wants a warm in-the-field meal to mean one thing, he said: “Home.”