The U.S. military has always had menu options, although no one expects a five-star buffet. But when your leadership tells you to cut those ties and bust open a Meal, Ready-To-Eat (MRE) box after a long day in the field, you can expect that you are now entering the Hunger Games. 

Let the games begin.

MREs draw out a range of emotions. Some kids grew up playing soldier and gnawing on the MREs their uncles ‘acquired’ and shared with the kids. Others know the MREs coming out means they aren’t returning to the FOB anytime soon. Some love them. Others hate them. 

Editor note: We usually try to minimize cussing in any story published on Task & Purpose. This is not one of those stories. You have been warned.

It’s one of the various items in the military that’s inanimate but can invoke strong emotions. But nothing brings people to fisticuffs faster than a very hungry warfighter discovering their MRE was rat fucked before they received it. 

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Kyle Gunn, Task & Purpose’s social media wizard and Marine veteran, says the realization of a rat fucked MRE has stayed with him to this day. 

“If you weren’t there soon enough, you got stuck with all the bullshit veggie stuff, like the veggie omelet. So when you get stuck with that, it was always the worst feeling because the one thing you look forward to is food, right?” Gunn said. “Because you’re not really getting mail. There’s no time off. So you just start to enjoy your meals. When you get a rat fucked box of MREs, it’s the worst shit left. That’s a bad feeling.”

Field stripping an MRE

Field stripping an MRE is a generally good practice that allows a service member to pack as much into their ruck as they can. An MRE fresh out of the box is a large, thick plastic pouch packed with necessary items but some unneeded creature comforts as well. 

A complete MRE is ‎16.18 inches x 10.31 inches x 9.88 inches. Each one weighs approximately two pounds. Trying to pack the whole thing into a rucksack is a waste of space, even moreso if you have to take multiple MREs.

“They took up so much space. And if you’re packing them individually, there was never enough room for MREs,” Gunn said. “So you would have to field strip them, or you just say fuck it and bring a bunch of like dried fruit and beef jerky. And just eat that.”

Wayne Capacillo served in the 75th Ranger Regiment for four years, completing four deployments as well as completing Ranger School. He’s spent plenty of time in the field, and mastered the art of field stripping an MRE. 

“It’s making everything organized and quick to access, so when you’re in a patrol base, or you have 15 minutes to fucking eat, you’re not fucking around with that stupid bag that’s impossible to fucking open and end up slicing your fucking hand open and bullshit like that,” Capacillo said. “Or, you can just reach into your bag and shove food in your mouth.”

Gunn echoed the frustration of the difficult-to-open packages. True to his Marine nature, he once used his Ka-Bar knife to open up his MRE and it connected with his left index finger, leaving a scar over the knuckle that he still has as a reminder. 

What’s the difference between field stripping and rat f–king an MRE?

Field stripping is an art form. It’s something veterans can forget about once they are out of the military, but not Capacillo. He’s an avid ultra-marathon runner and has completed 100-mile races in austere terrain. From emptying electrolyte mixes into dime bags to preparing zip-locked mini-meals ready to rock, Capacillo’s lessons learned in the military have translated into civilian life.

“Instead of carrying around that fucking bullshit bag or having to scoop powder into my bottles, I’ll have these little dime bags, and I took that from field stripping all my bullshit in the military, making sure everything’s like efficient and effective,” Capacillo said. “So, I can do it on the move and not have to worry about it.”

So field stripping an MRE is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s encouraged. When you have everything organized for easy access without taking up excessive space, you can stay fueled while executing a raid in the middle of nowhere or during extended field training exercises. When asked what he’d eliminate from his MRE to save space, Capacillo said nothing.

“There’s fucking sleepy Rangers, and there’s hungry Rangers. I 100% was a sleepy and hungry Ranger, so I tried to eat everything I could,” Capacillo said. “I would fucking try to pound the salt to get all the electrolytes when we’re out on movements or eat the creamer for extra fucking quick energy.”

Rat fu—ing an MRE

You’re starving. You’ve made it to Florida phase of Ranger School, and your Ranger buddy has turned a blind eye to his MRE. This is when the devil will whisper ever so softly but convincingly to take your buddy’s Skittles. If you do, you are a greedy buddy fucker. A longstanding rumor blames young officers fresh from the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course as a common culprit. 

“If there’s a set amount of MREs for your group, and then somebody goes in and rat fucks it, that’s just a selfish motherfucker,” Capacillo said. “That’s just some selfish fuck doing that, and it’s probably going to show in their leadership skills or how they are on the team. So they’re going to be a selfish fuck in everything.”

In Gunn’s experience in the Marine Corps, anyone who had early access to the pallet or MREs, regardless of the rank, would rat fuck. But in his experience, senior NCOs and officers would pick up food rather than eat MREs. 

“Junior enlisted rat fuck, officers field strip, and senior enlisted ordered DoorDash,” Gunn said. 

There are two different types of unjustly picking apart MREs. When you go through a pallet of cases and pick out the best MREs from each box, and when you intentionally pull your favorite things from an MRE. Whether it’s still in the box or if it’s your buddy’s MRE after he walked away for a minute, it’s not okay. 

Some people don’t try to hide their devilish acts, while others go to great lengths to conceal their work. You check for tampering the same way you’d check for the damage rats can unleash on a pantry. Check for clever holes in the bottom of the box or in the base of the MRE package. 

“Because yeah, they do that. They sneak in and like covertly extract the good shit,” Gunn said. “You go back and check, and it’s like, damnit, someone has been in this shit.” 

What is proper MRE ettiquette?

When Capacillo was at Cole Range during the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program and has a distinct memory that skirts the lines of both rat fucking and field stripping an MRE, but on steroids. The RASP cadre had put a lot of effort into one of many mind games they unleashed on the Ranger hopefuls as their welcome party to Cole Range. 

As the medics checked the candidates’ feet following their timed 12-mile ruck march to Cole Range, the cadre started handing out MREs — a change from having the candidates grab them from the box. That’s when the candidates noticed a theme. 

“How the fuck are there three omelets in the same case? They saved up for three or four fucking classes, every single omelet MRE and then brought that whole box to our Cole Range class,” Capacillo said. “Our whole class started Cole Range with fucking omelets.”

That’s when one of the candidates threw up and passed out, falling ill from an apparent heat injury of some sort. Capacillo is convinced that happened because the omelet MRE depression set in for the whole crew. So, lesson one is if you want to weed out the mentally weak soldiers, throw a bunch of omelet MREs at them. 

But, if you want to be well-liked in your peer group, show some etiquette when going through the MRE box. Field stripping and rat fucking MREs go back to the early days of C-Rations, the predecessor of the MRE. But when should you and when should you not do it? 

Proper field stripping, boiled down to basics, is just eliminating excess trash or items you don’t want. For Capacillo, he didn’t get rid of anything but the trash, while Gunn would throw away any type of milkshake powder every time. There’s nothing wrong with field stripping your MRE. It makes tactical sense to optimize space in your pack. 

But it’s never okay to screw over your buddy by rat fucking their MRE or by being a selfish turd and picking apart the only box your team is going to get. But, Capacillo said there are unique circumstances that justify that heinous act of tearing apart MREs. 

“If it’s a whole warehouse of fucking MREs and your team is in there, like, ‘Yo, guys, let’s go get the good ones.’ If you’re rat fucking with your team, Hell yeah, I’m down with it,” Capacillo said. “Fuck everybody else, I’m gonna take care of my boys, and that’s it. Let’s get the good shit and get out of here. But if it’s one dude or like a couple of dudes, now they’re just being greedy fucks.” 

But is it okay to rat fuck your own MRE? Capacillo thinks so. He’d take advantage of the circumstances in Ranger School and sell high-value items like expired Skittles. May the odds be ever in your favor.

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