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Legislators get taste of military life

April 15, 2003
By: Megan McCloskey
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -Waiting in line for lunch, some looked a little worried. Even the most aggressive ones were reluctant. Normally when legislators get a free meal they scramble to get in line first. Not this time.

The lunch they were getting ready to eat has a shelf life of three years.

Amused servicemen and women from Fort Leonard Wood served up a little taste of military life at a luncheon held outside the Capitol on Tuesday. To show support for the military, Rep. Bill Ransdall, D-Waynesville, arranged for lawmakers to eat MRE's.

MRE's, or, Meals, Ready-to-Eat, are self-contained, precooked meals that service members stuff into their pockets to have available whenever they get a chance to eat.

"They're just like meals you would cook at home except they're a little bland," U.S. Army Sgt. Penny George said. Those who eat MRE's regularly say the secret to a good MRE is Tabasco sauce.

Sgt. First Class Lora Finn said she enjoyed being here to see the looks on the legislators' faces when they first bit into an MRE.

"We had to sweet talk some into trying it," Finn said. "They were amazed it tasted anywhere near real food."

MRE's are packaged in almost impenetrable bags one would expect from the military. Many legislators had to resort to using their teeth to tear open the packages. Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, simply gave up on ever getting to his peanut butter.

The MRE's come in 24 varieties, and they contain enough calories for an entire day. Beef Stew and Chili with Macaroni are two of the more popular choices.

Not that soldiers get a choice of entree when they are in the field.

"We stand in line and what we get is what we get," said U.S. Army Pvt. Steven Meiners.

The legislators, however, had a full-service MRE lunch. They got their pick of meals and had servicemembers heating their food.

Each MRE comes with a flameless heater that warms the package in 12-15 minutes.

"It was a little bit humbling to be shown how to eat our lunch," said Rep. Mark Bruns, R-Jefferson City.

Many struggled with spreading jelly on their crackers-the only utencil that comes with an MRE is a spoon.

Harris said that while his bean and rice burrito was a little dense, he was surprised by how good it tasted.

"I'm not very discriminating in my taste," Harris said.

Gov. Bob Holden also came out to try an MRE, and he had five soldiers attending to his vegetarian meal.

"It's pretty tasty," Holden said. "Now where's the hot sauce?"