- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

NATICK, Mass. — Tom Blakey remembers cooking everything from coffee to potatoes in his helmet during World War II. He and other members of the 82nd Airborne Division would plop their “steel pot” helmets onto campfires and heat whatever was inside.

That isn’t an option for modern-day soldiers, whose Kevlar-fiber helmets can defend against bullets but don’t work so well for cooking.

So researchers at the Defense Department’s Combat Feeding program in Natick came up with an easier way for troops to make a hot cup of joe: a thick, resealable polyethelyene bag that can be used anywhere.

Soldiers mix instant coffee with water in the bag, then slide it into the flameless ration heater bags troops use to warm their meals. A magnesium and iron oxide pad within the flameless ration bag transfers heat to the water in the hot beverage bag. Within minutes, the coffee is steaming hot.

Soldiers slip the bag into an envelopelike cardboard carton, which can be used like a cup to drink the coffee and protect their hands from scalding.

Barbara Daley, a food technologist at the Defense Department’s Combat Feeding program, said many soldiers on the front lines were going without coffee because there was no easy way to make it. So researchers based at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick spent about two years developing the Hot Beverage Bag, or HBB, as it is known in military speak.

“There are coffee lovers out there and they wanted a way to make a hot cup of coffee. We found a simple, dependable, inexpensive way to do it,” said Miss Daley, who helped develop the bag.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Rick Haddad, who spent two months in Afghanistan last year, said the lightweight, easy-to-use bag was a big hit with the soldiers in his platoon.

“It’s a morale thing,” said Sgt. Haddad, who explained that the hot coffee was especially welcome “if you are pulling guard duty for 12 hours a night with no sunlight.”

The bags were first introduced to troops last year and now are being included in every meal pack, known as meal ready to eat, or MRE.

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