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Goodbye to the Mess Kit

by rick stumbo (01/16/08).
Vietnam War - era Mess Kit
World War I Mess Kit

If it is true that an Army marches on its stomach, then the mess kit was the way the Army marches.

The examples of mess kits I have belong to World War I and the Vietnam Era. The first is heavy gauge steel and has some heft to it. Its design survived through the Second World War. The ‘chow’ was added unceremoniously into uncompartmented sections where everything eventually ran together.

The second, is lighter aluminum with sections to handle different foods such as mashed potatoes or vegetables while leaving the second main part of the mess kit for the entree, if there was one.

Every mess kit was issued with its own set of cutlery that when washed went back into the mess kit before closing it up. Tom, a friend of mine, told me that when he was with the 82nd Airborne Division, it was customary to put the clean (I hope) cutlery in a clean (I hope) sock to dampen the noise of clanging metal when on long hikes. Worked well, he said.

What Tom was amazed to hear, though, was that the mess kit has been phased out of the modern U.S. Army. Nope, there are no longer any clanging cutlery inside a metal mess kit. There are only disposable MRE’s, meals ready to eat, with paper napkins and plastic cutlery. Everything is now completely disposable.

And so goes another tradition. The marches will continue, but the stomach will be fed a little differently.

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