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Casus Belly

Napoleon Bonaparte once declared, "An army marches on its stomach." For Gerald Darsch, director of the Defense Department's Combat Feeding program at the Army's Soldier Systems Center, Napoleon's words serve as a mission. "Precision missiles may be great, but what we do here touches all of our 1.2 million customers," he says. At the Soldier Systems Center, you can sample the latest Meal Ready-to-Eat (MRE) offerings: chicken fajitas, a cheese omelette with hash browns, and even a pocket chicken sandwich that boasts a shelf life of three years.

The lab's demonstration table also features products that will find their way to the battlefield over the next few years. One is a water-filtration system that resembles a simple IV bag and is capable of transforming the dirtiest puddle sludge into potable water. Another nifty gizmo: a self-heating kitchen to go. Pull a yellow tab on this 20-pound box, and in a few minutes a complete, hot meal will be ready for 18 people. Why not give out 18 individual MREs? Because, Darsch says, studies show that eating in a group provides a nice boost to troop morale — another reminder of the nutritional value of Napoleon's words.

A version of this article appeared in the May 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.