Military Food Supply, General

Modern ration research for the United States armed forces began when the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps opened a new Subsistence Research and Development Laboratory at its Chicago Depot in 1936. Out of that facility would come a whole range of specialized rations, scientifically designed and tested, for use in all sorts of military situations and climates.

Prior to 1940, each American military service was responsible for the procurement and distribution of their subsistence items. In 1941, based on the recommendation of the Hoover Commission study to centralize perishable food management into one organization, the Market Center System was established under the Army Quartermaster Corps (QMC). This organization sought and hired high quality experts from industry (i.e., Kroeger and Winn-Dixie supermarket chains) to serve as buyers and managers, supplementing Army personnel.

Photo of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot Subsistence Research Laboratory, Chicago, IL, March 1943. The room in the photo is an experimental kitchen where servicemen were sent from Army camps all over the United States to learn how to prepare food that was developed at the laboratory
Photo of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot Subsistence Research Laboratory, Chicago, IL, March 1943. The room in the photo is an experimental kitchen where servicemen were sent from Army camps all over the United States to learn how to prepare food that was developed at the laboratory.

Today in WW II: 15 Sep 1944 US Marines invade Peleliu, beginning a long and tough battle to wrest the island from the Japanese [15 Sep-27 Nov].   

Modern History of U.S. Military Food System

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the mission of the QM Market center System expanded rapidly. Eleven regions were established in the United States, each with an Army QMC Commanding Officer. In geographical areas where there was a heavy concentration of Navy activity, Navy liaison personnel supplemented the Army workforce. In 1953, the initiative to centrally procure semi-perishable subsistence and operational rations was undertaken. As a result, the Defense Subsistence Supply center was established in Chicago to perform these centralized procurement functions, with eight decentralized regional headquarters left to manage the perishable subsistence items. The 1960s brought still more change. The Defense Supply Agency (now Defense Logistics Agency) was established to further centralize the management of common items for the military--including Subsistence. In 1965, the Defense Subsistence Supply center, the Defense Clothing and Textile Supply center, and the Defense Medical Supply center were consolidated to form the Defense Personnel Support Center (DPSC) in Philadelphia.

DPSC was tested almost immediately with the military buildup and escalation of the Vietnam War. Until the mid '60s the demand for food was largely for non-perishables: both canned and dehydrated. But in 1966 thousands of portable, walk-in, refrigerated storage boxes filled with perishable beef, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables began arriving in Vietnam--a logistics miracle. As it had in the past, and would many times in the future, the Directorate of Subsistence met this challenge with commendable results.

Change continued at a rapid pace throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The Direct Commissary Support System (DICOMSS), a data processing system to manage semi-perishable food items, was implemented. Defense Subsistence Region consolidations were undertaken (eight regions were reduced to four--New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Alameda); the Defense Integrated Subsistence Management System (DISMS) task force was established, merging the various ADP systems used to manage Subsistence workload into a single system; and the European subsistence storage mission was assumed. Three landmark occasions reached during this period were the establishment of Defense Subsistence Regions Pacific and Europe in 1974, and Atlantic in 1985. Finally, in 1981, the Subsistence Director assumed the responsibility of both Director of Subsistence, DPSC headquarters and Commander, Subsistence Field Activities.

The 1990s brought new challenges and roles. Significant support was provided during DesertShield / Storm, Hurricane Andrew relief efforts, Operation Restore Hope (Somalia Relief), Operation Provide Promise (Bosnian Relief), and Cuban/Haitian relief efforts. Subsistence is also implementing many new initiatives which will allow the Directorate to successfully perform its mission into the future. These include projects such as the use of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to enhance communication with our producers and vendors; the use of commercial buying practices to ensure that the very best product is acquired for the best price; the establishment of a Direct Delivery System to allow high-volume staple items to be delivered directly to base warehouses in lieu of interim depot storage locations; and the conversion of military specification items to commercially available items.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Justin Sturn, 733rd Air Mobility Squadron, 18th Air Wing, positions 48 cases of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) on an aircraft pallet at Kadena Air Base, Japan, on 28 December 2004. The meals will be flown to Southeast Asia as part of disaster relief following an earthquake that caused tsunami waves that affected 12 countries
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Justin Sturn, 733rd Air Mobility Squadron, 18th Air Wing, positions 48 cases of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) on an aircraft pallet at Kadena Air Base, Japan, on 28 December 2004. The meals will be flown to Southeast Asia as part of disaster relief following an earthquake that caused tsunami waves that affected 12 countries.

DSCP's employees continued their distinguished service during the Gulf War and during various humanitarian relief efforts and peace-keeping missions related to Hurricane Andrew, Somalia, Bosnia and Haiti. DPSC was renamed the "Defense Supply Center Philadelphia" on 13 January 1998.

U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Ration Programs in 2010

Under the auspices of the DoD, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) DoD Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD) and the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia’s (DSCP) Directorate of Subsistence, Operations Rations Business Unit, collaborate employing a total life cycle approach in developing, testing, evaluating, procuring, fielding, and supporting all military rations. These rations are a vital contribution to the overall quality of life of the individual combatant.

DoD CFD is responsible for the research, development, engineering, integration, and technical support for the entire family of combat rations. The program is driven by Warfighter recommendations and feedback that the CFD obtains from annual field tests of rations. DoD CFD maintains strong partnerships with the commercial sector, other government agencies, and the Office of the Surgeon General (OTSG). In accordance with U.S. Army Regulation 40-25, Nutritional Standards and Education, the OTSG approves all menu changes that are made to rations. The Joint Services Operational Rations Forum (JSORF), which meets annually, approves all changes made to individual components within rations. The Operational Rations Business Unit at DSCP is responsible for developing and implementing a master strategy for the integration of the U.S. food industry into the combat ration program. The Directorate of Subsistence is also responsible for ensuring a logistical infrastructure is in place to supply present and future customers with the highest quality combat rations in a timely manner and at an affordable price.

U.S. Operational Rations in 2010 are described in NATICK PAM 30-25, 8th Edition, MAY 2010 available for download at the linked page (4.4MB PDF).

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