(CNN) — Nutritional experts have long lauded breakfast as the most important meal of the day, but reports that 17 military bases stopped serving hot breakfast have one congressman up in arms.
On January 17, Congressman Bruce Braley wrote to Secretary of the Army John McHugh to express his concern. According to Jeff Giertz, Communications Director for the United States Congressman’s office, he was prompted to do so after being contacted by the mother of one of his Iowa constituents who is serving abroad in Afghanistan.
“I am troubled that the Army would deny any deployed troops three meals per day, regardless of force size,” Braley wrote in the release.
“These men and women put their lives on the line every day to protect the very freedoms we cherish. The exhaustive mental and physical labor that is required by soldiers to fight in harsh and unforgiving conditions is tremendous. We shouldn’t deny our troops something as fundamental as a proper meal.”
As of publication time, Braley had not heard back from the Army Secretary.
While Braley and the mother were concerned that the troops weren’t getting adequate nutrition, Army officials note that is simply not the case.
In a statement released by the Department of Defense, Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service said the reports surfaced “from a few forward operating bases in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province that are closing or being turned over to Afghan security forces.”
Colonel Joseph Wawro, the commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said breakfast and the midnight meal are now MREs* (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) at the affected bases, while lunch and dinner are still served hot. He also noted most dining facilities have take-away items like cereal, granola, energy bars, milk, juice, fruit, etc. for supplemental snacking.
“This has absolutely nothing to do with the national budget and everything to do with our responsible reduction of forces,” Wawro said.
Wawro said the initial complaint may have been raised by a recently arrived unit that was unaware of the recent meal changes.
Giertz, however, noted that Braley wrote the letter out of concern for the troops’ morale.
“The least we can offer is to get them a good meal,” Giertz said.
Registered dietitian and Captain Christina Deehl said while MREs are not very popular among the troops, they do yield all the nutrients a soldier needs to meet one-third of his or her Military Recommended Daily Allowance (MRDA).
“When we initially entered Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers were eating MREs every day until we were logistically established. Once again when we draw down and pull out, we will see a similar trend,” Deehl said.
Deehl explained that army dietitians regard food is a tactical weapon, as it maintains mental and physical performance.
“We would never deprive the soldier of adequate nutrition and that’s just all there is to it,” she said.
What’s in an MRE?
*According to the United States Armed Forces, a MRE provides an average of 1,250 calories (13 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates) and one-third of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals. It includes the following items:
Entree — the main course, such as spaghetti or beef stew Side dish — rice, corn, fruit, or mashed potatoes, etc. Cracker or bread Spread — peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spread Dessert — cookies or pound cakes Candy — M&Ms, Skittles, or Tootsie Rolls Beverages — Gatorade-like mixes, cocoa, dairy shakes, coffee, tea Hot sauce or seasoning — in some MREs Flameless Ration Heater — to heat the entree Accessories — spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, salt, chewing gum, toilet paper, etc.