New gizmos keep fruit fresh for US troops in Iraq

WASHINGTON — In the dusty battlegrounds of Iraq where open-air food shopping poses a security threat, new technology is allowing US troops to enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables, even in remote desert locations.“Scientists have shown a direct link between mood, morale and performance when based on the impact of what you eat,” said Gerald Darsch, director of the US army’s “combat feeding” programme at the Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Centre in Natick, Massachusetts.

And “fresh fruits and vegetables clearly is a request.” Darsch last week gave Congress a rundown on the latest scientific developments to help an age-old military problem — feed and protect soldiers while not weighing them down.

In Iraq, he said the army avoids buying food at local Iraqi markets for security and hygiene reasons, citing a threat of bio-terrorism. Markets have also been the targets of deadly bombings.

Darsch’s department works on improving the quality of troop rations, such as extending the shelf-life of the fruits and vegetables in ration packs.

His team came up with “smart label”, part of the plastic packaging, which helps maintain the carbon dioxide to oxygen ratio as storage temperatures change.

This helps keep the food fresh while it is delivered to personnel in far-flung parts of the country.

“It does give a lot more capability to at least get some fresh fruits and vegetables to the most forward operating locations,” Darsch said.

The device keeps tomatoes and lettuce fresh for 35 days and bananas for 15 days, 200 per cent longer than normal, he said.

The centre also devised ration packs weighing 50 per cent less than other types, since troops away from base on foot patrol for several days at a time would often throw away much of the kit to reduce the weight of their packs.

“It saves the US taxpayers 46 per cent of what it would have cost” to send the bulkier rations, Darsch said.

Other new gadgets the army presented to Congress this week were more directly related to combat operations in Iraq, where at least 3,493 US soldiers or personnel have been killed since the March 2003 invasion, according to an AFP tally based on Pentagon figures.

These included hi-tech binoculars for seeing in the dark and an “advanced bomb suit” to protect against the improvised explosive devices used in lots of insurgent attacks.

The suit has a reinforced helmet and built-in fan and lamp, both operated by a remote control on the arm, plus volume enhancers for hearing surrounding noises.

Lushana Offutt, an army clothing and equipment product manager, said a major focus of her work over the last year was to give troops “protection with less weight”.

“We try to look at different technology,” she said, describing a newly developed fire-proof long-sleeved shirt.

“If you are wearing a body armour, your torso obviously is going to be protected from bullets but also from fire, but then your arms, your hands, your neck and your face are an issue.” Her department also developed a special light-weight coat “for extreme cold in the mountains of Afghanistan,” where the United States are patrolling alongside international forces.

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