Morale in the Field Tip – Hot Drinks

Coming Soon – The M.V.T. SHIELD – The Thermal Shelter (+ Update 6/10)
June 10, 2013
Grandma, 72, shoots at intruder, misses in Calif.
June 12, 2013
Hot Drinks in the Field

“Any fool can be uncomfortable.”
Yes, before you start in on me, I am from the UK and I do like my cup of tea – cuppa, or brew. In fact, I blame the original Boston Tea Party for putting Americans off tea, and more towards coffee. By which I mean hot tea, with milk and sugar if you like, not the same as sweet ice tea, which is also delicious. Various stores do sell PG Tips, which is the right sort of tea for hot black tea with milk.
(As an aside, I recently saw the term ‘Teahadist” coined on FB, as a play on the current labeling of Tea Partiers as “domestic terrorists.” It made me laugh so my cuppa was almost coming out of my nose).
As an introduction, I am consistently amazed by posts that I see that advocate, basically, freezing your ass off in the boonies. For example, just carrying just a ‘woobie’ and not even a rain tarp to keep off the weather. Granted, that is what you will do on a short term patrol with only a patrol pack: “travel light freeze at night”and all that. But not if you are living in the field out of your ruck. You need to have adequate gear to survive comfortably out there. Basic field gear – sleeping bag, bivvy bag, thermal sleeping mat, rain tarp (or better, a thermal poncho: The M.V.T. SHIELD).
The origin of my thoughts on this comes from growing up in the UK, both as a lifetime camper/outdoorsman and also through British Army training. The wilderness and army training areas in the UK are mostly located in upland mountain/fell regions and are either bleak gorse-covered hillsides or damp forestry areas. The weather in the UK, although not extreme by many standards, is a particularity dangerous mixture of driving rain and cold. That cold wetness is what will very rapidly lead to hypothermia. It’s harder to beat than simple arctic cold, or heat. Hence the use of decent gear and items such as the rain tarp, to give you an admin space and shelter out of the rain and weather.
In such circumstances, hot food and drink becomes an important tool not only for morale, but to combat hypothermia. The British ’24 Hour Ration Pack” comes as a single box with breakfast, lunch snacks, and dinner, including a packet of ‘condiments’ including the makings of tea, coffee and hot chocolate. The great thing about this is the specificity of the meals – you get breakfast for breakfast (eggs and bacon boil-in-the-bag, yummy), and hot drinks are available. MREs are great, but rarely do you come across the only breakfast entree, the Maple Sausage menu option. The MRE has the chemical heater and some coffee drinks in it, but it is not really set up well to make hot drinks. In fact, it is often discouraged to heat up your MRE entree at all. That’s all well and good, and we can all eat them cold. but if I have time and operational circumstances allow, I will heat up my food and drink. Morale and quality of life! I’m done trying to pretend to be a tough guy.
The British ‘Rat Pack’ comes with a separately issued ‘hexamine stove’ which is a little metal box stove that opens up to contain solid fuel blocks. You dig a little hole to mask the flame and put your mess tin or metal mug on the stove and light the solid fuel blocks. Some people will carry the micro propane camping stoves for convenience but this relies on not being on operations where you won’t be able to resupply the little propane canisters. There are little wood burning stoves available such as the SOLO STOVE that you can carry and will be infinitely resupplied with small sticks in a collapse situation. Also useful if you run out of filters or water purification tablets and have to boil your water in the field anyway, or even cook rice from scratch etc.
So, if you are going to have hot tea, or coffee, in the field, you need to be able to boil that water and you need the makings of your drink of choice. Either after morning stand to, or prior to evening stand to, you can make a nice cuppa out in your patrol base which will greatly benefit morale and help with the cold. I drink tea in the heat also. If heading out on patrol movement from a FOB or retreat, you can consider carrying a thermos of hot tea, coffee or soup.
Back in the British PARAs, in the Battalions there was always one company that was led by a U.S. Army exchange officer (think about that for your conspiracy theories!) In fact, my memory of 9/11 is being on deployment in the Balkans and seeing it on the TV as the planes flew in, and turning to see the U.S. Army Major in tears. We were in Afghanistan shortly after). We always used to do regular exchanges with the Ranger Battalions and we would take them out with us on FTXs on the British Army training areas. I never saw this in person, but the word always went around that these guys would really suffer out in the weather, the driving wet and cold. I heard about a couple going down with hypothermia. The reason always given by the guys was that they did not have a culture of hot food and drinks, rather relying on the MRE culture. Its not that it does not rain or get cold in the US, I’ve just never really experienced the same nastiness as out on the British Training areas.I’m sure it goes on somewhere, like Alaska, and no doubt I will be enlightened in comments!
So no, this comment is not about how tough Rangers are, because these guys are great. Its a lesson about the use of hot food/drinks for morale and to combat hypothermia. Training needs to focus not only on the ability to suffer conditions and get through them, but also on how to work towards a level of comfort in austere conditions, what measures need to be taken, equipment carried, and what can be done to raise morale and allow more effective operations to continue for longer periods of time.

5 Comments

  1. Agree thoroughly on the value of hot liquid/meals to help avoid hypothermia and keep morale up. Cold chow and water keep you functioning, but nothing is more appreciated when you’re bone tired and cold than a nice, hot drink of coffee, tea, cider, or hot cocoa if and when the situation permits.

    The word we use at DTG when asked for recommendations for cups/stoves is ‘titanium’. Light, tough, and yes, expensive, but it helps keep the weight way, way down.

    A good, double wall titanium cup with a handle and a lid can keep your ‘cuppa’ tea or coffee nice and hot for as long as you are drinking it, and the titanium stove cools quickly after your fire source is extinguished.

    Another neat little tool to help on those cold, wet miserable days when you’re under your shelter are these little jewels: Hand and Toe Warmers by ‘Grabber’ or other manufacturers. Carrying a pack of two in your ruck can make a real difference between being able to continue or not…

  2. Sanders says:

    When I was pounding the ground, I carried a little German Esbit stove. One tab would heat up a canteen cup of water enough to brew a tea bag or make some instant coffee or soup.

    Now, I have a Swiss Army surplus volcano stove and a little alcohol burner.

    Life is too short to be miserable when you don’t need to be miserable.

  3. idahobob says:

    God, I hate MRE’s…..three lies rolled up into one package.

    If I had my druthers, I would take “C’s” over them any day. Since that really is not possible, I make up my own LRRP
    meals using mostly Mountain House products. Use the condiment packet from MRE’s and you can actually eat fairly well.

    Oh yeah, and I also carry a bottle of Frank’s hot sauce. And plenty of freeze dried coffee. You can have your tea with sugar and milk! 🙂

    Bob
    III

  4. FormerSapper says:

    Max – I was going along with the article until you took a shit over it by saying PG tips are the best tea bag when I’m afraid the correct answer is Yorkshire Gold! All jokes aside, people have no idea how soul lifting it is to come in from an ambush or patrol with no results and finish the night with a hot drink.

  5. JC Dodge says:

    MV, I concur, a cup of hot beverage on a cold wet day/night can make a huge difference. Although most “Gear queers” take the high speed equipment stuff too far, there are a few items that are critical to comfort, and more importantly, safety. As you mentioned, a bivy bag is probably one of the most important items for a grunt in an unforgiving environment, most other items can be improvised when it comes to shelter considerations, but to get out of the weather immediately, this is hands down, one of the best options (tarp has more uses though). The micro stoves are great, but as you said, the fuel source can be cut off. I also use a Whisperlite International, which is larger, but will use pretty much about any liquid fuel commonly available. The importance of just a small amount of morale and comfort measures in a harsh environment can not be understood by the uninitiated, except on an academic level. Take the advice of people like Max, who have “Been there, done that.”, and it will help you greatly when you do have to experience it, and who knows, it might just save your life.