- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

PB&J; meets R&D.;
Indeed, the all-American peanut butter and jelly sandwich is part of research and development at the Department of Defense. It wants one that will last three years.
"Yes. A packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwich that has an unrefrigerated shelf life of three years at 80 degrees, or six months at 100 degrees," said Jerry Whitaker, spokesman for the Army's Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts, which manages the department's combat-feeding program.
"There are other unique challenges. This is a sandwich that may get dropped from a helicopter, as well," Mr. Whitaker said. "And it's important. Soldiers who don't eat right don't perform well."
Which is certainly the thinking behind "First Strike Rations," now in development and being kept under wraps.
The ration will include two such sandwiches, as well as crackers, beef jerky, a high-energy drink, dried fruit and a kind of super-charged applesauce called "zapple." It is meant to be eaten during the first 96 hours of a conflict.
The development took "a lot of behavioral science," according to Gerald Darsch, the director of the project.
"Soldiers on a super-intense mission want something that is literally fast food. Open and eat," Mr. Whitaker added.
The tenacious sandwiches also to be available in chicken salad, ham and cheese and pepperoni versions won't reach the field without considerable input from those who will have to eat them.
Soldiers from the Army's prestigious 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y., are sampling the sandwiches, which resemble pocket-style civilian versions found in the grocery-store freezer. And they're getting a thumbs up.
Such intense scrutiny is part of the department's effort to provide sustenance that raises the spirits, as well as the energy level of soldiers. Field menus are no longer concocted by some bureaucrat who has never experienced combat. Food has become soldier-centered, and rated by those who will carry them.
More than 120 items have come and gone in ration packages based on results of popularity polls. Such legendary hair-raisers as tuna noodle casserole, smoked franks, chow mein and chicken a la king have been dropped from field rations in recent years.
Mr. Darsch acknowledges that Marines referred to the dubious tinned wieners as "the four fingers of death," while the chicken earned the title "chicken a la death."
Combat food is getting futuristic. The department is working with two universities to develop a "food patch" that can deliver nutrients directly to the skin under less-than-ideal dining circumstances. A "combat breakfast foods" program is also under way.
Meanwhile, nutritionists and researchers continue to pore over the peanut butter and jelly challenge, which is both scientific and aesthetic.
They are looking for ways to prevent the beloved combination from getting moldy, growing bacteria, drying out, turning to mush, becoming plain unrecognizable or sapping moisture from the companion bread.
Such concerns involve decidedly unculinary methods, such as "intermediate moisture technology," "oxygen scavenger packets" and "tri-laminate pouches." Prototypes should start appearing in 2004 and are classified under the acronym "MERCs," or mobility-enhancing ration components that are suitable for arctic, jungle, desert, mountain and urban areas.
"This doesn't surprise me at all. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have been in Army rations since World War II. It's comfort food; it was what was in the school lunch box way back when. It makes a soldier think of home," said Leslie Wagner, director of the Peanut Advisory Board, based in Georgia.
But not any old peanut butter is good enough for U.S. troops.
"The military is particular about its peanut butter, which is made especially for them right here in Georgia. It's nutrient-dense, with added minerals and vitamins to keep our troops going," she said.

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