C-Rats: When progress isn't progress


When I was in the Infantry, our meals in the field were canned goods called "C rations," or "C-Rats" in grunt vernacular.  They have since been replaced with dehydrated food in plastic envelopes called "MREs," which is short for "Meal, Ready to Eat."

I find that hilarious, because C-Rats were "ready-to-eat": you'd open a can and eat.  With MREs, you're supposed to heat water, add it to the envelope, knead it around, and wait for it to amalgamate.  Then it's ready.

When I was a grunt, heating your food was a luxury.  A foot-movement (which might last all day) consisted of 50 minutes of walking followed by a 10-minute rest.  Repeat.  During that 10 minutes, you could light-up a Marlboro, whip out your P-38 (nomenclature for a GI can opener), and wolf down some chow.  Actually cooking the food was not an option.

My old alma mater, the 25th INF DIV, used to train in the Kahuku Mountain range on the north side of the island of Oahu.  It rains there every day.  One day it had rained enough that the trucks ("deuce-and-a-halves") that brought us potable water couldn't get to us because of the mud.  So what do you do?  You drive on and carry out your mission without water.

We humped all day (hump = march, humped over from the weight of the rucksack on your back) without water, arriving at the peak of a Kahuku overlooking the most expensive hotel on the island – I think it was called "Turtle Bay."  Unlike the congested coast of Waikiki, this place was secluded.  You could rent an Arabian stallion from the stables and prance along the breaking waves of the north shore in your swimsuit.

They had a lavish in-ground pool (which I considered superfluous on the Pacific shoreline).  We imagined they were lounging poolside, sipping frozen margaritas while we were overhead, dying of dehydration.  They had no idea we were spying on them.

So I reached in my ruck, pulled out my Cs, and extracted a can labeled "pear halves in heavy syrup."  In my life, I've never experienced a more euphoric sensation than puncturing a hole in that can and sucking the nectar out of it like a nursing babe.  The light returned to my eyes.

Try accomplishing that with dehydrated envelopes.

When Stallone went postal in the first Rambo movie, First Blood, he sported an olive drab headband with tails.  That's called a "drive-on-rag": a triangular bandage for hoisting a busted wing.  We used to mooch them off medics for bandanas.

Under tactical circumstances, we would often fall under "noise and light discipline," where we were not allowed to talk or smoke at night.  So we would take an empty C-Rats can, poke a hole in the bottom of it, insert a cigarette in the hole with the butt on the outside; affix a drive-on-rag to the open end with a rubber band, light it under the rag, and smoke without detection.

We would pass the can around like stoners.  Our squad leaders could smell the smoke, but they couldn't tell where it was coming from.

You can't do that with a plastic envelope.

While manning a defensive position in South Korea in February of 1983, the enemy forces who were supposed to attack us got lost.  So we stood there for hours, manning our positions, freezing.  If you do experience the luxury of being able to cook your C-Rats, you're provided with heating elements called, "heat tabs," or trioxane tablets.

We were freezing our appendages off.  So I took an empty C-Rats can (frankfurters and beans), perforated the bottom of it with my P-38, inserted a fragment of a heat tab, lit it, and started rolling it around between my gloves.  It got so hot, I had to pass it to one of my buddies.  Soon we had a huddle of GIs passing this can to one another.  My squad leader exclaimed, "VanOuse, you're a genius!"

Nam vets say they used to take empty C-Rats cans, put rocks in them, and hang them from commo-wire around a defensive position.  If anyone tried to sneak up on you, it jangled, serving as an early warning device.

Try that with a plastic envelope.

So all of you preppers who are shopping for the latest dehydrated food packages, consider just going to the grocery store and buying some Campbell's soup, ravioli, or pork and beans.  The utility and versatility of the empty containers outweighs those of the plastic bags.

Sometimes progress isn't progress.

Mike VanOuse is a Factoryjack (one who works in a factory) from Indiana. 

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