With a few months left in the decade, it’s safe to say that the 2010s were the worst decade on record for hacks and data breaches.
Of the 15 largest data breaches in history, 10 took place in the past decade. Each involved the theft of tens or hundreds of millions of records — such as login credentials, financial information, or personal data — adding up to nearly 4 billion records stolen in total over the past 10 years.
The number of data violations like hacks and breaches is steadily trending upwards, according to a recent study by the cybersecurity firm Kastle Systems.
Lawmakers and the private sector have both been relatively slow to adapt to the rising threat of cyber attacks, but the federal government has started taking new action this year. The Department of Defense released a new draft of cybersecurity standards in August 2019, and plans to publish a finalized set of standards in January 2020.
Here are the 10 most serious data breaches in the US from the past decade, ranked by the number of records seized by hackers.
10. Target was subject to a data breach in 2013 that exposed 40 million credit and debit card accounts.
Target’s network was compromised after hackers targeted a third-party heating and air conditioning contractor working for the company, according to cybersecurity watchdog Brian Krebs. The breach took place during two weeks in late 2013 and was unveiled in 2014, setting off a Secret Service investigation.
9. A 2017 data breach targeted Equifax, impacting as many as 143 million users.
Hackers stole names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and the numbers of some driver’s licenses from Equifax users, the company discovered in July 2017. It was later uncovered that some users’ passports were also accessed.
8. A 2014 cyber attack on eBay stole login credentials of up to 145 million users.
Hackers compromised accounts of a handful of eBay employees, gaining access to information on millions of users. The company wasn’t sure how many people were affected, it told the Washington Post at the time, but warned 145 million of its users to change their login credentials.
Buildings at the Under Armour headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.
7. An Under Armour data breach affected 150 million users of the store’s mobile app in 2018.
Users of the retail giant’s food and nutrition app, MyFitnessPal, were hit by the data breach, in which hackers stole usernames, passwords, and associated email addresses. The company’s stocks took a significant hit after the news of the breach came out, CNBC reported.
6. As many as 152 million records were stolen from Adobe in a 2013 data breach.
Hackers compromised millions of users’ Adobe login information in a 2013 breach.
Adobe at first said 3 million accounts were affected, then revised that number to 38 million, while cybersecurity watchdog Sophos said it found over 150 million breached records in a database dump of the stolen data. At the time, Adobe told The Verge that that figure could include “many invalid Adobe IDs, inactive Adobe IDs, Adobe IDs with invalid encrypted passwords, and test account data.”
5. A group of Eastern European hackers stole over 160 million records from companies ranging from Nasdaq to 7-Eleven before being stopped by authorities in 2013.
The hackers were finally caught and charged by federal prosecutors in 2013 after stealing data from Nasdaq, 7-Eleven, J.C. Penney, and other companies. Prosecutors said the hackers were affiliated with Albert Gonzalez, a Miami-based hacker who had already been charged with cyber crimes in 2010 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, according to the Wall Street Journal.
4. A 2016 data breach compromised more than 412 million accounts from a network of adult-oriented networking sites.
The breach targeted users on the Friend Finder network, which included adult-oriented social media sites AdultFriendFinder.com, Cams.com, iCams.com, Stripshow.com, and Penthouse.com.
The network discovered the breach after it was brought to their attention by a Twitter user, according to Cyber Security Online.
2. More than 540 million Facebook users’ data was up for grabs on unprotected servers until April 2019.
While the data exposure wasn’t as headline-grabbing as more high-profile incidents like Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was notable for affecting a huge number of users. The insecure data wasn’t removed from unprotected cloud servers until it was uncovered by Bloomberg in April 2019.
1. 885 million sensitive financial records were left exposed by First American on public servers where anyone could access them until May 2019.
Social Security numbers, tax documents, and more personal information was left exposed on publicly accessible web pages for years. The data exposure was brought to the attention of the insurance giant First American by Brian Krebs in May 2019, after which the company took the records down.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The 3-year-old daughter of Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerome Cinco, a hospital corpsman with Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, holds her father close before his departure from Marine Corps Base Hawaii on a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. Unlike their last two deployments — supporting Task Forces Military Police in Iraq — 1/12 will revert back to its primary mission and provide artillery fire support to 2nd Marine Division (Forward) during ongoing counterinsurgency operations in the province.
On Tuesday night, the nation watched as President Trump praised a military spouse for her sacrifices and efforts, and then surprised her and her children. “I am thrilled to inform you that your husband is back from deployment. He is here with us tonight and we couldn’t keep him waiting any longer!” The woman looked genuinely surprised.
She gathered her two young children close and they watched as her husband, handsome in his dress uniform, walked down the stairs toward them, as members of Congress and millions of television viewers cheered.
But some of us in military families saw something different.
As pleased as we were for that family, and we were very pleased, we were also cringing. We knew more, much more, was happening under the surface, and would be happening for many days to come. I’ve been married to a soldier for 17 years, and he has deployed nearly every year of our marriage. I know this subject well.
Some of us call these public homecomings “reunion porn” because they’re shared for the entertainment of the spectators, not for the health of the family. Surprise public reunions are such a part of our culture now, after 18 years of war have overlapped with 15 years of YouTube, that in the later weeks of a deployment, well-meaning friends and family members will start asking us what our plans are for the reunion. They look on expectantly, hoping for details of jumbotrons — like we’re supposed to be organizing a flash mob on top of taking care of absolutely everything else. For them, these are grand milestones that should be celebrated en masse, like over-the-top engagements and increasingly complex gender reveals.
But a deployment reunion does not have the unfettered joy of an engagement or a birth announcement. It’s a complicated stew. There is joy, undoubtedly, but there is also trauma. There is survivor’s guilt, and resentment, and weeks of awful reintegration that loom, in sleepless nights after endless fights. On some level, I wish that every reunion video was paired with a deployment video, bookends of the war experience, and that you didn’t get to celebrate the hello until you had agonized through the goodbye. I wish people saw that many months before that child was surprised by a smiling, uniformed parent in an elementary school classroom, he had to be peeled and pulled off that deploying soldier by the parent who was staying home. I wish people saw that service member gulp, blink back tears, and force him or herself to turn and walk away. Not out of indifference or cruelty, but out of duty.
I wish people could hear the screams – the actual screams – military teens and tweens make when they are told their parent is deploying. Again. I wish the cheering crowds knew what it feels like to give birth alone, in a town where you know no one, and to take that baby back to an empty home without a clue of what to do, but having to do it anyway.
I wish they knew what it feels like for a service member to meet his own child on Skype, and not get to hold her in his arms until the baby is already crawling. Or to not be at the bedside when their child goes into surgery. Or to miss a graduation, and every game, recital and play.
I wish they saw me, sitting in a patio chair in the July heat, trying to hear my husband over a spotty satellite phone connection, with gunshots and mortar rounds perforating the conversation. Then hanging up and putting on a brave face to go back inside the house, because it was time to give my dad more pain medicine so that he wouldn’t feel the cancer that killed him.
I wish they heard the three volleys. I wish they watched the flag being crisply folded. I wish they hugged strangers at military funerals because it was obvious those strangers needed hugs. I wish they pushed the wheelchairs and suffered through the night terrors and witnessed the humiliation of a brain-injured warrior trying to remember his own address.
But, of course, I don’t actually wish everyone could see all of these raw moments. No one should have the worst days of their lives televised. I suppose what I really wish is that the same good-hearted, well-intentioned people who are sincerely happy to see our military families reunited would pay more attention to the war. I wish they knew where our service members were deploying to, and why.
I wish they knew our lives, even when the scenes aren’t pretty or heartwarming, so it wouldn’t feel like we were carrying these burdens alone.
Well, here’s your sobering thought for the day: The War on Terror has officially turned seventeen years old today, which also happens to be the minimum age required to enlist in the armed services. Take that as you will — it’s neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s simply a thing.
For troops in earlier wars, the circumstances were a little more straightforward. We declared war against our enemies (or the enemies of our allies) and the resulting conflict ended when one side conceded or declared victory. A war against an insurgency, however, is inherently different. There isn’t a clear opposition over which to declare victory.
But that’s neither here nor there. The fact is, an entire generation of kids that learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center from history books instead from live television — in much the same way as we learned of the events of the American Cold War — is now capable of raising their right hand and taking an oath of enlistment.
You know those troops are going to get mocked relentlessly — or just make all the senior NCOs depressed.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
The official rules of enlistment state that someone must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien, must be 17 years of age with parents’ consent or 18 without, must have a high school diploma (with very few exceptions), and must pass a physical medical exam.
While it’s not uncommon to receive a high school diploma at the age of 16, it’s unlikely that such an early achiever would apply their child-prodigy skills by enlisting as a young private when nearly any university would snatch them up in a heartbeat. However, if an applicant is from one of the seven states that 16-year-olds to test for a GED, can manage to swing a slot reserved for GED-holders, and they pass the ASVAB, well, they’ll officially be the first post-9/11 baby to serve in the post-9/11 military.
They’ll get their chance again, if the war on terror doesn’t end within the next two years…
(U.S. Marine Corps)
It’s a fairly tough pill to swallow — a kid enlisting to serve in a war they were born into — but it’s not the only significant milestone. There are some troops who have enlisted and served into retirement, all in support of the Global War on Terror.
That’s right, troops who opted into the early retirement system that allowed troops who’ve served for over 15 years to take an early exit could have started and ended their career fighting the same insurgency. The program ended last December, but a handful of troops who enlisted right after 9/11 managed to squeeze into that “early out.”
There’s no word yet when the first post-9/11 baby will fill in the ranks, but I’m sure there will be plenty of pomp and circumstance around their enlistment. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Having a cough has never been more nerve wracking than during the current pandemic. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a cough. Needing to go to the doctor for any reason can send a quick thought of panic, due to current protocols. Needing something as simple as a prescription refill suddenly got complicated.
But fear not, military families! There is an easier way. Thanks to ongoing efforts to increase the logistics of telemedicine and over-the-phone appointments, Tricare beneficiaries can video chat with their doctors to receive a quick fix to many questions or prescription needs.
This includes video calls, but will not include phone calls or texts.
If you or a family member is in need of a non-urgent appointment, you can call your normal doctor’s number and ask what their options are for telehealth appointments.
If you or a family member has an upcoming appointment scheduled, you’re likely to be contacted about rescheduling or moving the appointment to your phone. Services covered include:
Mental health services (individual psychotherapy, psychiatric diagnosis interviews/exams, and medication management)
In addition, from March 31 through May 31, Tricare has announced they will also cover telehealth services for “applied behavior analysis (ABA) parent or caregiver guidance services under the Autism Care Demonstration.”
Don’t skimp on important healthcare appointments just because you can’t be seen in person. These distancing appointments allow Tricare patients to get the care they need, without risking germs. Additional distancing measures have been put into place on military bases, such as drive-through pharmacies, or in-vehicle triage.
Talk to your healthcare team to see if telehealth is available at your base.
When it comes to motivation, Navy SEALs have plenty to spare, but we know one guy that could even make some SEALs look lazy.
Earning your place among the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL teams, gathering intelligence for your nation’s security as a CIA officer, or serving as a fire officer for a professional fire department would each be enough to fill most lives, but not for our friend Frumentarius–he’s done all three, and you can call him Fru, for short.
We caught up with Fru recently to talk about motivation, and how young service members can follow in his accomplished footsteps. Of course, Frumentarius isn’t his real name, but it’s not a throw-away pseudonym either. After a career in covert special operations and another in covert intelligence gathering, he’s learned the value in keeping his identity at arm’s reach when it comes to engaging with the public.
The Navy SEALs specialize in small unit tactical operations in difficult and dangerous environments.
I’ve known Fru for a few years now, and can personally attest that the guy practices what he preaches. Keeping your body in good working condition through three of the most physically demanding careers out there is nothing to scoff at, but it’s not his physical fitness that sets Fru apart from the pack; in a lot of ways, it’s his mindset.
I wanted to know what advice Fru had for young service members just beginning their careers in uniform, and like you’d expect from a SEAL, a spy, or a firefighter; he didn’t disappoint.
“Just enjoy the experience as something you’ll miss when it’s over. Always work hard at everything you do so that you become a ‘go-to’ guy or girl when somebody needs something done,” Fru said.
“Don’t get too jaded, but cultivate a sardonic sense of humor and learn to laugh at the sometimes-absurd nature of military life and war. Treat your family as your number one priority throughout so that you have a good support system at home. Have fun because it will be over before you know it!”
When this is what you do at work, it pays to have support at home.
Of course, military service isn’t all good days, especially if you want to become a SEAL, Ranger, Green Beret, or any other member of America’s Special Operations units. In order to be successful, you’ve got to learn how to keep your head in the game and stay motivated. I asked Fru what he does when he’s working through exhaustion or high loads of stress.
“Those are the times when you need to be the most motivated,” he told me. “No one enjoys those times, and a true leader (in the sense of someone worth following or emulating) thrives in those difficult moments.”
A Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) student participates in interval swim training in San Diego Bay.
“Embrace the pain and stress and exhaustion and tell yourself those are the moments that make your own life exemplary — they are what make it stand out. They are what in many ways will define your service. You’ll tell the stories of those hard times for decades afterwards. Make them count and be the hero of your own story.”
But even Navy SEALs like to have a good time, and Fru is quick to point out that, while exhaustion and stress are par for the course, it’s still probably one of the coolest jobs on the planet.
“Most people are aware of the camaraderie, the high speed equipment/gear, the missions/operations, and all of that,” Fru explained.”
“They may not be aware that SEALs get paid to work out every single day, to dive and parachute, and to generally do fun stuff as part of the job. There are some sucky parts too, but for the most part, SEALs are paid to do stuff they love to do.”
Eventually, Fru left the SEALs to go to work for the CIA. While these two jobs may compliment one another, being a SEAL didn’t guarantee him a spot in America’s most secretive intelligence service. Just like earning his SEAL Trident, Frumentarius had to start from scratch and prove he could hang in the very different world (and culture) that is The Agency. As Fru is the first to tell you, even SEALs can’t rest on their laurels.
“I had an academic background in international affairs that made it an appealing move for me. After getting to the Agency, I then tried to remember that I was in a different culture than the SEALs,” he said.
“Some things I brought over with me, in terms of attitude and drive, but other things I had to leave behind (most of the ‘military’ culture). I ultimately made the transition successfully by working as hard as I could to be an effective CIA officer, knowing that my time in the SEALs was not something I could rest on. I had to earn my way at the CIA like every one else.”
I asked Fru what his best tips are for current service members that want to pursue a career in an elite intelligence outfit like the CIA.
“Get a degree in foreign language, economics, chem/bio/nuke, or international affairs/politics. If you can be proficient in a hard language (Chinese, Russian, Arabic, etc), even better.”
Just like being in the SEALs, working for the CIA has its benefits. For Fru, some of the coolest parts of serving in that capacity was getting to see the big picture, and playing a role in how it unfolded. Even so, a job with unique benefits also comes with unique challenges.
“CIA officers have to be choosy in their chosen targets of collection because CIA officers are supposed to acquire intelligence unobtainable through all other means. That’s the real challenge.”
Aerial view of the CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia
Fru has since left the CIA behind as well, opting to switch to a different sort of service life that allows him to maintain a more regular lifestyle: that of a professional firefighter. Just like his previous gigs, saving lives and putting out fires can be extremely physically taxing. So I wanted to know how Fru had managed to stay so fit, active, and injury free throughout all of his various roles.
“A commitment to self-care — physically, mentally, emotionally, health-wise — is paramount. You have to commit to eating somewhat healthy, taking care of your body through aerobic exercise, weight training, and stretching, and to taking care of your emotional/psychological needs.”
“That means finding something healthy that works as an outlet for you (shooting, slinging weights, running, reading, playing guitar, painting, whatever). You have to keep yourself on an even keel as best as you can because all of those jobs have immense stresses. They’ll occasionally overwhelm you, and you have to just reset yourself and continue to carry on.”
If you want to know more about our friend Fru, or just to give him a shout on social media to thank him for his service, you can find him on Twitter here. Make sure to tell him Sandboxx sent you!
The International Space Station is getting the most amazing home-food delivery since the early days of Uber Eats. The recent launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket bound for the ISS carried genetically identical mice, a spherical AI robot named Cimon, and Death Wish Coffee — the world’s strongest coffee — at the request of Serena Aunon-Chancellor, one of the astronauts floating above the Earth.
The Upstate New York-based company created a zero gravity-friendly brew of their powerful joe just for the members of Expedition 56 aboard the ISS. The coffee has a whopping 472 milligrams of caffeine — more than twice the caffeine of a Starbucks Pike Place Roast, 13 times as much as a can of Coca-Cola, and four times as much as a Red Bull energy drink.
Astronauts love having fresh hot coffee aboard the International Space Station so much that they’ve designed and patented an espresso maker (called the ISSpresso machine) and the Zero-G Coffee Cup to facilitate their morning ritual.
Not having to drink the coffee from a bag is a big deal to astronauts. Any coffee aficionado will tell you that being able to smell a fine coffee is an important factor in tasting the coffee. Astronaut Don Pettit was one of many who were sick of the bags of coffee. So he crafted a prototype cup using overhead transparency film into a teardrop-shaped container and poured the coffee in. The design worked.
US Air Force Pararescue specialists, or PJs, are one of the most elite special operators in the world.
Consisting of about 500 airmen, PJs “rescue and recover downed aircrews from hostile or otherwise unreachable areas,” according to the Air Force.
These “highly trained experts perform rescues in every type of terrain and partake in every part of the mission, from search and rescue, to combat support to providing emergency medical treatment, in order to ensure that every mission is a successful one.”
“One of the challenges [in Afghanistan] is the altitude and terrain because we are surrounded by mountains,” Maj. Jason Egger, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander at Bagram Airfield, said in a Defense Department news release on the training.
“We overcome that challenge by working with the Army pilots, which gives us the capability to get to the altitude we need and insert the teams,” Egger added.
Here’s how PJs rescue troops in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.
US Air Force PJs on the ground during a training mission in Afghanistan on Nov. 5, 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
A CH-47 Chinook helicopter takes off during a PJ training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
After getting a call, the PJs load into an Army CH-47 Chinook, which they often use for transports in rescue missions in Afghanistan.
“Most of the central and northern Afghanistan area is very high altitude, and that’s where the CH-47s can really provide some special capability because of their ability to get to that high altitude area and insert the team,” Eggers said.
PJ operators perform rescues during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
A PJ operator helps an service member with a simulated injury during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs provide first aid to wounded service members during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. The wounds were simulated for the training’s realism.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs flying in Chinook helicopters during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs carrying a service member with a simulated wound during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs conduct combat arms training Nov. 1, 2018 at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
(US Air Force photo)
But PJs also undergo intense combat arms training as well, which is needed in certain rescue scenarios.
“The PJs and the combat rescue officers have a pretty broad skill set, and it’s pretty difficult to stay sharp on all those skills,” Eggers said. “So continuing to keep them engaged through training, it keeps those skills sharp throughout the entire deployment.”
Watch the full interview with Eggers here, and the PJ training videos here, here and here.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
We’ve all had that item we wanted to buy but maybe couldn’t quite justify or afford, but figured out a way to make it happen. For Air Force veteran David it was a 1971 Rolex Cosmograph Oyster. He appeared on Antiques Roadshow this week to tell his story and to have the watch that he so desperately wanted, but ultimately didn’t wear, appraised.
David entered the Air Force in 1971 with a draft number of seven.
He was stationed in Thailand from 1973-1975. While he was there, he flew on Air America and Continental and noticed that the pilots wore Rolex watches. “I was intrigued,” he told appraiser Peter Planes.
At his next duty station, Planes started scuba diving and found that the Rolex Cosmograph Oyster was a great resource to have underwater. He ordered one from the base exchange in November of 1974. With his ten percent military discount, it cost him 5.97. Making only 0 to 0 per month, that was a big buy. When he got it, it was too beautiful to wear. David put it in a safe deposit box and has kept it there since he bought it, only taking it out a few times to admire it. With all his original paperwork and the watch in pristine condition, David fell on the floor when Planes told him the value of the watch.
See his reaction and how much the watch is worth now:
Veterans with heart conditions will soon be able to hold a 3D model of their own heart while talking with their doctor about possible treatments, thanks to 3D printing.
VA Puget Sound Health Care System doctors, researchers and engineers are working with their counterparts at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine to use 3D printing to diagnose and treat complex heart conditions.
Hold your heart in your hands
“Imagine the power of holding a life-sized 3D model of your own heart in your hands while your cardiologist discusses your treatment plan and walks you through your upcoming procedure step by step. This is the reality that we want for all of our patients,” said VA Puget Sound radiologist Dr. Beth Ripley.
3D models of aortic valve helps doctor plan surgery.
Currently, without a 3D model, a surgeon creates a plan for surgery by looking through hundreds or thousands of CT or MRI scans, putting together a rough picture of the actual organ from a series of flat images. To create a model, a radiologist uses those same images to make a 3D blueprint, which is then sent to a 3D printer. The result is an almost perfect copy of the patient’s body part.
Reducing costs and shortening surgery times
Three-dimensional heart models will come in handy for a procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, in which the surgeon replaces a narrow heart valve that no longer opens properly.
“Beyond improving our understanding of a patient’s anatomy, it allows us to know which catheters and replacement valves will fit, and how best to approach the particular structure,” said UW research scientist Dmitry Levin. In turn, he said, that knowledge helps reduce the cost of devices and shorten the length of surgery.
VA Puget Sound doctors already print 3D kidney models that they use for planning kidney surgery. They also print 3D foot orthotics that prevent amputations for veterans with type 2 diabetes.
The VA-UW team expects the partnership to result in new techniques and treatment approaches. As a result, it could eventually help heart patients worldwide.
Ripley said the next frontier is 3D printing of living tissue. “In the near future, we will be able to make living bone,” complete with blood vessels, she said.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Just like many memers, I woke up to nothing exciting this morning. Not a single person out of the millions who clicked “going” on the “Storm Area 51, The Can’t Stop All of Us” raid did a damn thing. I expected nothing and yet I’m still disappointed.
No one Naruto ran onto the compound. No one got to test their new alien weaponry. And no alien cheeks were clapped. The music festival that was supposed to take its place didn’t even go anywhere because no one thought to do even the slightest amount of logistics.
Well. I think we all kind of saw this coming. Anyways, here are some memes.
(Meme via Call for Fire)
(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)
(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
(Meme via Weapons of Meme Destruction)
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
Anyone else notice that kids these days have much cooler toys than we did, but all they’ll ever do is just play on the iPad their parents gave them?
I feel rather insulted that we just got the dinky ass Nerf guns and a handful of Legos and they don’t even appreciate this bad boy.
The U.S. Army Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, is consistently rated by soldiers as a place that you don’t want to go. Hot temperatures, high humidity and a geographically isolated location make it so that soldiers posted there can’t wait to PCS and soldiers training there can’t wait to leave.
It must be said, though, that JRTC does offer world-class training for warfighters from the riflemen on the frontline to the commanders maneuvering them from their TOCs. JRTC also allows international partners to come and train with U.S. forces to foster partnerships and future interoperability. British soldiers are a common sight in the backwoods of central Louisiana, however, they generally come as a single company. For their own large-scale training, the Brits go to Kenya.
The British Army Training Unit Kenya is a permanent training support unit based mainly in Nanyuki, roughly 200 km north of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Consisting of about 100 permanent staff and a short-tour cohort of an additional 280 personnel, BATUK provides demanding and realistic training exercises for units preparing to deploy.
The UK Ministry of Defence maintains a Defence Cooperation Agreement with the Kenyan government that allows up to six British infantry battalions of 10,000-12,000 personnel to carry out four-week long exercises in Kenya every year. The training takes place at Archer’s Post Training Area in Samburu County and Dol Dol Training Area in Laikipia County. BATUK also currently maintains two barracks in Nairobi that serve as a rear area base and depot.
Similar to JRTC, British soldiers stationed in Nairobi serve as OCTs and OPFOR for the units that rotate in for training. BATUK even provides domestic housing so that soldiers can bring their families during their posting.
The local environment is arid and can be difficult to navigate, making it an excellent training ground for units preparing to deploy to combat zones. To optimize training, small towns have been constructed to facilitate MOUT training and hundreds of locals are hired to serve as role players.
(UK Ministry of Defence)
In Kenya, British forces train using both the Tactical Engagement Simulation system (British MILES gear) and live fire. As a result, like at JRTC, soldiers have to be on the lookout for native wildlife that wanders into the training area. However, whereas JRTC hosts animals like turkeys and deer, soldiers training at Archer’s Point or Dol Dol have the occasional elephant or giraffe sighting.
In return for the use of Kenyan land, three squadrons from the Corps of Royal Engineers are assigned to BATUK and carry out civil engineering projects throughout Kenya, while two medical companies provide primary healthcare assistance to the civilian community. Britain also offers training opportunities in the UK to the Kenya Defence Forces and supports its fight against Al Shabaab with British deployments to Somalia.
With a renewal of the defence agreement in September 2015, British troops will continue to conduct valuable training in Kenya through BATUK.
Retired Army Col. G.B. Singh and his daughter Air Force Reserve 2nd Lt. Naureen Singh.
Sikhism is the fifth largest world religion, according to the Sikh Coalition, with 500,000 Sikhs living within the U.S. Among the core beliefs is service to humanity, a principle the Singh family hopes to be fulfilling through their military commitment across generations.
Air Force Reserve 2nd Lt. Naureen Singh, 26, grew up watching her father, retired Col. G.B. Singh, serve as an officer in the U.S. Army. Though he was stationed overseas in places like Korea and Germany, her parents made the decision to keep the family in Colorado Springs for stability.
When attending community group events for South Asians or Sikh, Naureen was confused about why her father was the only one in the military.
“It didn’t really click in my head that my dad is a really unique case until I got a lot older,” she said.
The distinctiveness comes into play because as a Sikh there are certain aspects to their faith that made a goal of military service difficult to obtain at the time. Those who identify as Sikh do not believe in cutting any hair on their bodies and most men wear a turban. In fact, the Sikh Coalition states 99% of the people wearing turbans in America are Sikhs.
Both the turban and unshorn hair are considered articles of faith and a constant reminder to remember their values. These two articles in particular create a barrier to a military that prides itself on uniformity.
Singh’s father pursued a commissioning in 1979. Two years later the Department of Defense banned the turban and long hair. Although he was grandfathered in, Naureen says her father felt honor bound to fight for Sikhs to be able to serve while following their faith.
“It was not easy for him. Day in and day out he had an uphill battle trying to be an officer but then also be an officer with a certain faith,” Naureen explained.
AIr Force 2nd Lt. Naureen Singh, the 310th Space Wing director of equal opportunity, stands outside the wing headquarters building on Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Photo by Staff Sgt. Marko Salopek.
She remembers going on base and listening to people question his rank, not believing he was an officer. Despite treatment like this, she said her father had an overwhelmingly positive experience which he credited to having supportive higher ups.
He went on to become one of the highest-ranking Sikhs to keep his turban and serve on active duty, retiring in 2007.
Practicing Sikhs have served in the U.S. military since World War I. Over 80,000 Sikhs died fighting for the allied forces during World War II. Few temporary religious accommodations were granted following the ban in the 1980s, preventing a whole generation of Sikhs from serving.
“I do think it is really important to recognize that when you are diverse of thought or of background, you bring a new voice to the table … that voice can help with mission accomplishment,” Naureen explained.
In 2017, a successful lawsuit opened the door for more Sikhs to join the military without issue, meaning they can file for a religious exemption to wear a turban and beard.
Naureen completed Air Force Officer Training School earlier this year. She began her journey in 2016, inspired by her father’s service. She is also pursuing a Master of Criminal Justice degree from the University of Colorado at Denver.
She shared that she didn’t always know what she wanted to do or that the military would be her path.
“I was born in the states and my parents, who immigrated from India, grew up with a different outlook than mine. I was always too American for my Indian friends and too Indian for my American friends. It was so hard to see where I belonged,” Naureen said.
There were also other struggles growing up that added to the difficulty of finding herself.
“I grew up in the shadows of 9/11. I think growing up after 9/11 and seeing how we equated the turban with terrorism in this country … Here I was trying to fit in, but in media I would see people who had turbans like my dad be projected in a very certain light. That’s why I think I shoved my identity to the side, I didn’t want to make myself stand out,” Naureen said.
After finishing college, she realized thinking that way was detrimental and embraced her identity as a Sikh.
“If you look at Sikh history and especially Sikh soldiers, it makes me meant to be in this force. It took a long time to get there though,” she said with a smile.
Naureen hopes her family’s story and journey will inspire others to serve, adding those aspiring to join the military should just go for it.
“Don’t ever doubt yourself or put restrictions on yourself … Keep pushing. If my dad could do it in the 1970s, anyone can do it.”
Left of Boom Episode 12: The Wild Science of Military MREs (Featuring Lauren Oleksyk and David Accetta).
It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than MRE meals, or meals ready to eat. They’ve been around since the C-Rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home — albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread.
Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs, and sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item — such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice — requires actual technological breakthrough. Today, we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate.
The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Left of Boom:
Hope Hodge Seck 0:00
Welcome back to Left of Boom. I’m your host, Hope Hodge Seck. It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than meals ready to eat, or MREs. They’ve been around since the C-rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home, albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread. Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs. And sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item, such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice requires actual technological breakthrough. Today we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate. Welcome to the show.
Lauren Oleksyk 1:10
David Accetta 1:11
Hi, thank you very much for having us.
Hope Hodge Seck 1:14
So, Lauren, I am so interested in this really unique job that you have. So how did you end up as the team leader of food engineering, basically one of the top MRE developers for the military? Do you start taking the science career path to get here? Or do you get here through a love of the culinary arts? Or both? What was it for you?
Lauren Oleksyk 1:39
For me, it was a little of both. I specifically sought a career in the combat feeding division. While I was still in college, I majored in food science at a local university and started working at the soldier center as an intern. But I would say my interest in food science actually began as a child. I came from a large family and we had an enormous garden. So we canned most of our fruits and vegetables. And I learned very early on about food preservation, and my neighbors were dairy farmers. So my first job as a teen was in the milk-processing field. So I think I developed an early interest in that and also in nutrition and packaging, and I love to cook. So a career in food science was a perfect fit for me.
Hope Hodge Seck 2:24
When did you encounter your first MRE? or How did you get interested in the military side of boot development in the first place?
Lauren Oleksyk 2:32
Well, I interned at a soldier center in the combat feeding division, and I was immediately drawn to the science and technology side of ration development. And one of my first tasks there was to develop cereal bars for survival rations. You know, I had some product development experience when I was in college. But this was my first real hands on experience with product development. And I assumed it would be not too difficult, you know, I develop a cereal bar and test it out, and it will be ready to go. And I quickly learned all about the military constraints and requirements for rations and realize that this was really a unique job.
Hope Hodge Seck 3:12
Can you give a rundown on what those requirements and constraints are?
Lauren Oleksyk 3:16
Probably the most difficult challenge is, rations have to withstand a three-year shelf life. So that’s at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s a long time that these foods have to be shelf-stable and not spoil. They also have to be extremely compact and lightweight and durable enough to survive airdrop, they have to withstand extreme climatic changes that range from minus 60 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So our packaging has to be really, really durable to protect rations for that long of a period of time. And we have nutritional requirements that are mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. Also we have to consider operational scenarios. Where will these rations be issued? This is a lot to consider. It’s not as simple as if you were developing a food for the commercial market.
Hope Hodge Seck 4:05
So the cereal bar was it a hit? Did it meet the requirement? Is it still out there in the world.
Lauren Oleksyk 4:11
It is still a component of survival rations. These rations have very, very long shelf life requirements, sometimes in excess of three years. And the cereal bars are still packaged in that ration, but it’s a special-purpose ration and it’s not readily used unless it needs to be. There’s less variety in that type of ration compared to the MRE.
Hope Hodge Seck 4:31
And I’m not sure how long you’ve been at the combat feeding directorate. But what other MRE recipes have you created or developed since you got there?
Lauren Oleksyk 4:40
I’ve been there a long time. It’s going on 37 years now.
Hope Hodge Seck 4:44
Oh my goodness.
Lauren Oleksyk 4:46
Yeah. And over the years, I was involved in the development of a few MRE items. One in particular, I have a co-patent on the MRE shelf-stable bread, and this bread is stable for three years due to a series of what we call hurdle technologies that keep the bread from staling or spoiling. So this product and technologies that we use to stabilize it form the basis of several other big items in the MRE. To this day, things like the shelf-stable pizza that you’ve heard about, and shelf-stable sandwiches that are in some of our other rations.
Hope Hodge Seck 5:22
That’s incredible. Can you go through what those technologies are that keep the bread for example, from going stale or otherwise spoiling?
Lauren Oleksyk 5:32
The technologies used for bread and baked goods are, we call them hurdle technologies. And this is a way to preserve foods that have intermediate moisture contents without having to subject them to a thermal sterilization process. Essentially, you introduce hurdles to microbial growth. And you do that by using specific ingredients that control water activity that control the product’s pH, control the moisture content, in the case of something like a shelf-stable pizza, it would control the migration of moisture from one part of the food to another, because you might have a lot of components. Like in the case of the pizza, you have the dough, the sauce, the cheese, the toppings, and they all have different moisture contents and water activity. So if you don’t control how that migrates from piece to piece, you are going to introduce the opportunity for microbial spoilage. So we use ingredients, and we also control the headspace in the package. And everything we can do to prevent that spoilage. And we test the safety of the food throughout its three-year shelf life to confirm that it’s safe to consume and nothing will grow. That’s an example of a hurdle technology. And it’s employed in different ways for different intermediate moisture products.
Hope Hodge Seck 6:51
And I know this MRE pizza slice pepperoni pizza slice, I’ve actually tried it, it came out a few years ago, and it was sort of the holy grail of MRE. And as I understand, was a highly requested item since its release. Have you tracked soldier service member feedback? And what are you hearing about how well it’s going over in the field?
Lauren Oleksyk 7:12
Well, we should actually start getting that data soon. It was incorporated into the MRE in 2018, and really first fielded around 2019. Every year, we actually do field tests and evaluation with soldiers and we get that feedback from them. So this will be the first year that we actually can start collecting data on the fielded Pizza to assess how well it’s accepted. But prior to it going into the MRE, we did a number of field evaluations on just that item like all MRE components. It had to be warfighter-tested and approved before it went into the ration. And the pizza definitely was a highly accepted product. They had been asking for it for years, and it was very well received. So we’re hoping that the field test results going forward confirm that, and we’ll keep a close eye on it.
Hope Hodge Seck 8:02
What sort of feedback do you solicit in these surveys that you’re talking about getting the data back from?
Lauren Oleksyk 8:07
We ask them to rate the acceptability of the components, especially if we’re testing new prototypes. So they’re given a scale from one to nine, and they rank how well they like the product. We also do consumption studies, where we measure how much of each item they eat, and how much they throw away, so we can assess whether something is under-consumed. And if we see that trend, we’ll ask them questions regarding that: why aren’t they consuming it? And then every year, based on that data, we make decisions on whether something’s retired from the MRE or replaced with something else. And a lot of times the demographics might change of the military. So things that were well loved by warfighters, you know, back in the ’70s and ’80s are not well-liked by you know, some of the military personnel today who might prefer different foods that reflect more of what they ate when they were growing up.
Hope Hodge Seck 9:03
I know for example, cigarettes are no longer included in MREs and they were historically included in combat rations many years ago. But how often our items are tired and what are some of the most recent items to be retired?
Lauren Oleksyk 9:17
Things that were very popular years ago like chicken a la king, ham and lima beans to go way back, those things were retired, and today we have things like burritos and vegetarian options, things that they request and are much more familiar with — the MRE pizza. But in terms of what’s taken in and out every year, it varies.
David Accetta 9:35
It’s all based on the soldiers and feedback and and it’s actually not just soldiers. We also do the surveys with Marines, because the Army and the Marine Corps are the primary consumers of the MREs. So we need to get their feedback and ask them what do they like, what they don’t like, and then what they don’t like, gets retired, and we try to figure out what they do like, which is how we got to the pizza. And then a lot of the other things that are in MREs — If you looked at the menu from today versus the menus from the early 80s, when they first came out, you’ll see great differences in the entrees. Because the original MREs were pretty much based on traditional American comfort food, the same way that the previous series of rations, meal combat-individual, and before that the Army C-rations. You know, as we did more surveys and got more feedback from military personnel, we found out what they liked and what they didn’t like. And Lauren alluded to it when she said things that they remember growing up, and you’ve got so much more diversity in the Army now, you’ve got people from all different ethnic backgrounds. So there’s a lot of different types of food. It’s not just standard American comfort food, it’s not pot roast, and it’s not those kind of things anymore.
Hope Hodge Seck 11:01
So one of my favorite things about MREs, henever I’ve had the chance to eat them downrange is all the little side items that they come with, all the little packages you can open and the jalapeno cheese spread and the snacks for later. It’s really fun opening them up and seeing all the items that are inside and how they all work together. And you know, of course there are those people who make little recipes in the field with whatever they have or trade them back and forth. So how does a new complete MRE menu come about? And what are sort of the parameters for ensuring complementarity of taste and nutritional balance and appeal for everything that’s in the package as a whole, developing a new menu?
Lauren Oleksyk 11:47
We consider three things really. The first one are the warfighters’ recommendations and their desires, you know, and the MRE pizza is an example of that. But secondly, and probably more importantly, we have to think about military requirements and the operational scenario where the ration will be used. And then lastly, we look at leading-edge food science and packaging technologies, because sometimes the science itself will bring us in a direction that says we can develop something that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to be developed before, because it’s a new technology that we can utilize. In addition to the three-year shelf life requirement for a new menu, we have nutritional guidelines that we have to follow. So there might be a nutrient that’s lacking in a menu. And so we’ll develop a food that specifically has that nutrient in it. So that as a whole when you put all those components together, the MRE is nutritionally complete. As far as taste and palatability, the combat feeding division is outfitted with a sensory lab, where technically trained panelists can examine the foods’ organoleptic properties. So this would include the appearance odor, flavor, texture, and overall quality. And we do that over the duration of the product shelf life. So we’ll rate the products on a scale and we try to achieve a score above a six. So you know,one being dislike, nine being like. And we’ll try to get a six at the end of a product shelf life to ensure that it’s acceptable once it’s issued, six or better. So that’s kind of our internal goal. But we also utilize general consumer panels who rate a new product based on just a matter of how much they like it. They don’t really look at the technical aspects of the food, but whether they like it or not. And then we have military human research volunteers that are located at soldier center. And we solicit them to test new prototypes and to participate in focus groups to get their feedback. And then after we do all of that is when we’ll conduct our annual or biannual field tests with military personnel. And that’s where every new MRE component must be tested and accepted before it will go into a ration.
Hope Hodge Seck 13:52
When you’re talking about this technical expert panelists, who are those people?
Lauren Oleksyk 13:57
They are primarily food technologists, they’ve undergone specific training in sensory evaluation. So we all have varied thresholds where we can pick up very subtle changes in flavors and odors. And we have a good range of us so they look across you know, people who have a very low threshold for salt, say. Some others might have a very low threshold for rancidity, or bitterness. And so combined, this group of technical panelists really can do a thorough evaluation of foods. And we’ll do it not only when a food is first developed, but even after it’s been stored for three years.
Hope Hodge Seck 14:35
That’s fascinating. So you talked about the hurdle technologies that led to bread and then to pizza, which was sort of like this revelation. Are there current scientific food challenges that you’re currently working through to pave the way to develop more items?
Lauren Oleksyk 14:53
Yes, there are. And one of the reasons is we’re very focused right now on the fact that soldiers and units might be in environments where they have to go longer without resupply. So right now, we’re very focused on reducing the logistics burden by reducing the weight and size of rations so that soldiers in small units can carry more. And this is becoming critically important. And it’s it’s dictating the development of smaller and more compact, nutrient-dense foods. So some of the technologies we’re really advancing right now are drying technologies to reduce the weight of foods, and compression technologies to reduce the volume of foods. And that’s includes things like vacuum microwave drying, and ultrasonic agglomeration, which is a compression technology. And sometimes we’re developing new prototypes, using a combination of those two technologies to make these very nutrient-dense, compact foods, in some cases can actually be entire meal replacement bars.
Hope Hodge Seck 15:56
The way you’re describing it, immediately, what comes to mind is the rations that are sent to space with astronauts, when you’re talking about drying and making things as late as they possibly can be. Are there any similarities there?
Lauren Oleksyk 16:10
Yes, very similar requirements. In fact, we collaborate with NASA, and have worked with them on many dense and compact items such as meal replacement bars that they’re considering for their menus for the mission to Mars. And also, we work with them on developing entrees that are used at the International Space Station. So the similarities and requirements for astronauts and military personnel are very, very similar. And in fact, NASA has long shelf-life requirements too, even longer than military rations in some case, but lightweight products in very dense products are required by both.
Hope Hodge Seck 16:50
How soon might we see a meal replacement bar out in the field and fully developed and being used by troops on the go?
Lauren Oleksyk 16:58
We’re working on a new ration called the close combat assault ration. This is a ration that’s designed to be extremely lightweight and compact. So we’re developing these nutrient-dense bars. Now they’re in the prototype stage for the close combat assault ration that’s going to be field-tested soon. Some of the first prototypes will be field-tested in the near future, the bars that we’re looking at for that ration are not necessarily full meal replacement bars. But they using the technology for drying and compression that enable us to make a full meal replacement bar if needed.
Hope Hodge Seck 17:34
And how much lighter it might these rations be than the typical MRE package?
Lauren Oleksyk 17:39
The ration components themselves, it depends on how much moisture you remove. But we’ve achieved anywhere between 40 to 70% decrease in weight on a component level, because essentially, you’re just taking the fresh food and you’re removing the moisture, but you can dial in how much you want to remove for palatability purposes. We know that war fighters don’t necessarily want to consume all dry bars. So we want to be able to offer a variety of moistures in these products so that it’s something they want to consume. So it depends, you know, the weight reductions depend, but we have metrics and goals to achieve about a 40% reduction in weight. And we can achieve the same and volume if we compress the product as well.
Hope Hodge Seck 18:27
As we’re talking about many development. I know in the last couple of decades, there’s a lot more service members who want to eat, say keto, or paleo, even Whole 30 — these diets that are really dependent on protein and vegetables and probably really hard to sustain in the field. And I’m sure there are things that it’s just like, yeah, there’s no way to make shelf-stable rations that fit that bill. But are you looking at any ways to develop additional menus that cater to people who have specific food requirements like these, or want to, I guess, eat a little bit more whole food or protein-heavy, whatever the case may be?
Lauren Oleksyk 19:12
With regard to the MRE, there is no requirement from the military services to develop keto or paleo menus. All the menus in the MREs have to meet the nutritional standards for operational rations. You know, and as I mentioned, that was that’s mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. But we do listen to some of their desires for this for certain types of foods. And one example of that is we currently have four vegetarian meals in the MRE out of the 24 menus. Four of them are vegetarian, two new vegetarian entrees were approved for the latest MRE: cheese pizza and the Mexican-style rice and bean bowl. And every every ration is labeled in accordance with FDA regulations so individual soldiers can see the list of ingredients and they can determine for themselves, you know whether it’s a product that they want to consume, but in general, you know, we want them to consume the entire MRE, because that is a nutritionally complete ration and it will optimize their performance and health if they consume it all.
Hope Hodge Seck 20:14
In my journeys around the internet, I have found this trove of MRE enthusiasts who live on places like YouTube, where they’ll buy old MREs that are decades old and taste-test them or make Top Chef-style recipes, combining different ingredients, using the Kool-Aid powder and the, you know, you name it just really mixing things up. So do you ever kind of watch those YouTube videos? Or pay attention to that little subculture? And do the fans of MREs who kind of live out in the civilian world and are just interested in these things, do they ever inspire you in your work?
Lauren Oleksyk 20:51
I do watch those. I love those videos, they make me laugh, first of all, but I also think it’s so fun to see how creative they get with the types of things they make. I read the comments, I find the comments are very interesting and helpful. And I will bring, when I read something like that, I will have little brainstorm sessions at work. And we’ll talk about what people think and you know, some of the ideas that come from those videos in terms of new product lines. So yes, I do watch them. And a lot of times, you know, if they’re a positive review, it can be actually somewhat rewarding to know that you were part of the development of those products, I see that a lot with the flameless ration heater that they show inside the MRE, that was a development that — I was one of the original developers of the flameless ration heater. And even though it’s not a food item, it allows soldiers to actually have a hot meal now in the field, where before 1992, they didn’t always have a way to heat their entrees. So a lot of those YouTube videos will show people using the flameless ration heater and heating up their entree and it’s quite enjoyable to watch them.
Hope Hodge Seck 22:03
I love that so much.
David Accetta 22:05
The flameless ration heater was a huge, huge development that to help soldiers — well, all troops in the field. You know, having been in the Army for a long time, before flameless ration heaters, you have to come up with creative ways to to heat your food. Otherwise, you know, your food was essentially the same temperature as it was outside, whether that was 40 degrees or 70 degrees. The flameless ration heater made a huge difference to the morale of troops, because it gave them the ability to have hot food anywhere that they were. So they didn’t have to rely on using the heat from the engine of the vehicle that you happen to be next to, or finding some other creative way to heat up your MRE components without making a fire.
Hope Hodge Seck 22:55
Something that still gives troops a lot of joy is the instructions that those heaters come with. And the fact that they tell whoever is eating the MRE to put the whole package, balance it on “a rock or something” are the words that people really get a kick out of. Do you know how that particular bit of instruction that language came about?
Lauren Oleksyk 23:17
Yes, I happen to know that. Since we developed the flameless ration heater, we also developed the instructions that are on the bag. And initially that when we were designing the pictograms that you see on the package itself, we were trying to come up with an object that you lean the flameless ration heater on top of, at an angle, which helps it to heat faster. And we couldn’t think of an object. And my colleague next to me said, well, let’s just use the rock or something in the picture. And we did we put a rock and we called it the “rock or something” as a joke. And we left it in because people thought it was funny. And it actually brought some humor to the field. So we decided over the long term to leave it in there and we still hear about it all the time.
Hope Hodge Seck 24:04
That is so amazing.
Lauren Oleksyk 24:06
Hope Hodge Seck 24:06
So I do have to ask about a little bit more MRE myths and legends. Anyone who’s ever been out in the field is eating these and so they get talked about a lot and there are all these rumors that are flying around. First of all, the gum that comes with the current mre, they say it’s a laxative to keep things moving along. Is there any truth in that rumor?
David Accetta 24:27
Lauren Oleksyk 24:30
The gum at one point had a xylitol component which can have in some people a laxative effect, but it was it’s not intentionally in the MRE to to serve as a laxative. So yes, that is not exactly true.
David Accetta 24:46
The xylitol in the gum is to help prevent tooth decay. So it was designed for situations where you didn’t have the ability to brush your teeth. You could chew the gum and then that would help with the health of your teeth in the field.
Hope Hodge Seck 25:05
So there was a hidden benefit, but it was not what people were thinking.
Lauren Oleksyk 25:09
Hope Hodge Seck 25:10
Other one that I think spans your career is even back in the ’90s, maybe even in the early 2000s, maybe even longer — Charms candy, were part of some MRE menus and those were notorious for being bad luck. I think even in the Generation Kill miniseries, they come across the Charms dump, where everyone’s just gotten the Charms out of their MRIs to be on the safe side. So do you know anything about how that charms rumor came about? And when Charm stopped being part of the MRE?
Lauren Oleksyk 25:42
I’m not sure when exactly they were removed, they are no longer in the MRE today. And I know, I’ve heard of the curse of the Charms. Back in the day. If a warfighter received a ration with Charms in it, they would deem to bring bad luck, so they would get rid of them. I’ve heard stories of soldiers holding bags out to collect everyone’s Charms at feeding time to get rid of. David might have more experience with that.
David Accetta 26:08
Yeah, we don’t really have a good idea of exactly when or how Charms became associated with bad luck. But I mean, I do remember hearing that, that if you ate the Charms when you were in field, say in a training environment, then that would guarantee that it would rain on you. And then later on, as we got into more combat operations in different parts of the world, they became associated with soldiers getting injured or killed. Which is why some troops were very adamant about not having the Charms and getting rid of them as soon as they could. I think some of that might have to do with the popularity or lack of popularity of the Charms, of hard candy. So those had been part of military rations for a long time going back to World War II. And I kind of think personally that, generations later, troops were just not all that fond of hard candy, and just didn’t want to eat them, you know, whereas it was probably much more popular in the ’40s and ’50s.
Hope Hodge Seck 27:21
Makes sense. It’s good to get to get to the bottom of that one. I could talk to you all for hours. I think this is really fascinating stuff. And I love the work that you do. But I know we have to wrap up. So my final question is for each of you. What is your favorite MRE menu and why?
Lauren Oleksyk 27:39
Okay, well, for me, it’s the MRE pepperoni pizza, of course, partly because my team is the team that developed the item but also because I love pizza. And I also like the vegetarian taco pasta. So those are my two favorites.
Hope Hodge Seck 27:54
David Accetta 27:55
I have, I think very strange sense of taste. And that’s what most people would politely describe it. My favorite MRE was the omelet with ham. And that was also my favorite of the meal combat-individuals and the canned rations. And that was really good for me because most people didn’t like either one of those. So I could always trade whatever I had for that one. Now of the of the newer-generation MREs, I like the cheese tortellini, it’s even though it’s a vegetarian meal and I’m not a vegetarian. I like the cheese tortellini. And just as a point of trivia, the only ration I mean, the only entree that is still in the MRE menu from the original menu is the spaghetti. And everybody likes the spaghetti and during Desert Storm and going into Iraq in in 2003, as well, that one was really popular and I remember soldiers fighting over who was going to get the spaghetti because they like the spaghetti and that one also came with M&Ms. So that was a jackpot if you pull the the spaghetti MRE out of the box.
Hope Hodge Seck 29:19
Love it, jackpot indeed. Well, I have a very fun memory of being very hungry on a late night in Afghanistan and finding a first strike ration that had a pepperoni sandwich in it, and it tasted just so good. And I don’t think anything will ever taste as good as that item did.
David Accetta 29:39
And that is all due to the work that Lauren and her team did with the shelf-stable bread that enabled the pepperoni sandwich. But you’re exactly right. And we tell people that because you mentioned the the MRE videos on the internet and you know, MREs get a lot of criticism. Not only from troops, but also from civilians who may pick one up somewhere and they eat it. And they’re not designed to be gourmet food. And you know, what we like to tell people is that the true benefit of an MRE can’t be found if you’re sitting in your kitchen or your living room eating it. The benefit of an MRE is when you’re cold, wet, tired and hungry, sitting in the dark in the rain on a mountainside in Afghanistan. And you can open up an MRE and you can have hot food, and you can have something that reminds you of home and have better times and that’s really what the benefits of the MRE are and how you can really appreciate them.
Hope Hodge Seck 30:42
Well, Lauren, and David, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
David Accetta 30:46
Thank you. Great being here.
Hope Hodge Seck 30:57
Well, I don’t know about you, but that episode made me hungry. I’ll take the barbecue beef MRE: It comes with a side of black beans and shelf-stable tortillas and that delicious jalapeno cheese. Do you have any favorite memory recipes or stories about how you enjoy them in the field? Are there any combat ration myths and rumors that we didn’t get to on today’s episode? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. Hit subscribe on the show today, and if you use Apple podcasts, please do leave a rating and review. And until next time, remember to check out Military.com for all the information and news you need about your military community.