A non-game related post, bear with me for a moment if you will.

Some of you that have been following the blog for a while may be aware that I was laid off from my previous position back in, what, January of this year.

I was fortunate enough to find, not only a new job, but a position doing what I love, for a company that is really moving forward and kicking ass.

In my position managing a maintenance department, I spend a lot of time dealing directly with suppliers and contractors on projects I’m sourcing. And one of the most common questions I get, that I never heard before this year, is “So, how’s business for you guys? You busy?”

And I can truthfully answer, “If I have a machine go down, I’ve got trouble, because we’ve almost got more work than we can handle… and as soon as we find more capacity, we get more work. We’re busier than heck, and going strong.”

Realistically… we don’t have more work than we can handle, because we’re expanding capacity at a rate that feels just right. We are carefully analyzing requirements and sales and improving our processes. In some places, saying that would be a snow job, but yes, we really are. It’s crazy, I’m not used to working with management teams that really DO care to improve and get things right the first time. Usually, you deal with people that say they are commited to process improvement and quality improvement… but really stopped thinking the day they got their MBA, because they knew it all at that point.

It’s not like that here. It’s kinda wierd, actually. You’re not supposed to look forward to getting to work to get cracking on the days projects.

The company I am with is in the flexible materials industry. What that means, is that we work with raw flexible materials and create beautiful, functional containers for the end user to fill with their product for the consumer market.

Okay, pushing aside the sales-speak… we buy huge rolls of plastic and foil films, print them using a roto-gravure press method that is capable of beautiful color graphics, laminate those layers of film to form complex combinations of materials with varying color and pliability indexes and UV resistance, then slice/chop, cut and seal them to form… pouches. With or without zippers, pull open tops, spouts to pour or drink from, you name it.

You ever see Spam in the supermarket these days? Well, if you look, you’ll see they sell Spam by the Slice, and it comes in a sealed foil pouch rather than a metal can.

Yeah, we make those. Those exact ones. You buy Spam by the Slice, you bought our pouch.

You know Friskies cat food in the stand up pouches, and Mighty Dog dog food?

Yeah, we make those pouches, too.

We also make the sealed pouches that the 2pam chloride/atropine injectors come in for the military.

This isn’t a small time operation, is what I’m saying. We run strictly by AIB food procedures as well as medical standards in all areas of production, which means we are very, very clean and careful. We’ve got HVAC clean room requirements and food grade materials requirements that add interesting challenges to maintenance. We just had our AIB plant wide audit a month ago or so (which I had a massive share in pre-auditing) and passed with flying colors.

I’m in charge of the maintenance and facilities engineering department.

I couldn’t be happier.

I don’t mind saying, when I see the trend in the commerical products industry to move from cans to pouches, it fills me with a warm, contented glow of job security. :)

But nothing, nothing could compare to the feeling of awesome I had this morning.

I was walking through the plant, checking on areas of maintenance responsibility, making sure that assigned work was being done, and I saw our latest customer’s product in the assembly line for the sealing stage.

I just stopped dead in my tracks.

I knew that color. Anyone that had ever been in the military would know that color.

And the material we work with, that this particular product comes in… omigod. No, it couldn’t be…

I moved closer, and looked at the printing…

Granola.

Granola pouches.

US Armed Forces MRE Granola pouches.

We’ve started making pouches to hold MRE food for our armed forces.

OMIGOD.

I swear, I couldn’t be happier. The thought that we’re going to be contributing to something that so fundamentally affects the folks in the service is just freaking awesome.

I just HAD to go find the production manager, an old Navy dog that I get along with very, very well… and just point to the rolls, and make “Wha” noises.

He nodded and said, “How freaking awesome is that.”

Yep, that really says it all. How freaking awesome is that.

There is a potential downside, though, that only occured to me later.

Please… please don’t make us print pouches for Chicken A La King. I don’t think I could stand knowing that I was the cause of that much pain and suffering.

29 Responses to “Unexpected moments of awesome”
  1. Juggy says:

    AHHHHHHHH NO Chicken a la King!
    You just gave me a flash back to 90′ boots in the sand.

    Good read as allways

  2. Kirk says:

    If I recall (yep, just checked) that was removed from the menu in 1993. Which means it quit being served somewhere around 1997, of course.

  3. Firecroch says:

    That is so cool. I had many of those during our 30 day camping trips. I’m super psyched that I work for the company that not only creates the transponders in every single satellite that is launched into space, but we also create ships and subs for the Navy, the Stryker vehicles for the Army, and those wonderful exploding contraptions that help discipline some of our misbehaving Arab brothers and are delivered via aircraft.

  4. Thomanan says:

    I know what you mean, Bear. I work in the machine tool industry. I was brought a blueprint of a receiver for a rifle and asked the most efficient way to make it. So we discussed it a bit and then i asked what it was going to be used in. It would be used in a well known .50cal sniper rifle. I got the biggest grin on my face knowing I was helping to our boys, “reach out and touch someone.”

  5. Ridjeckgron says:

    Hehehehehe. Chicken a la King. How many bottles of Tabasco sauce (and I don’t mean the .003 ounce ones that came with the MRE, I mean the big ones you humped in your pack to make up the difference) did we go through in the late 80’s/early 90’s to choke that mess down? Wow – memories!

  6. Kirk says:

    By the way, if you’re brave enough to dare the memories….
    http://www.mreinfo.com/us/mre/mre-menus.html

  7. Keilia says:

    Mmmmm granola—why didn’t I get any of that?

  8. Foreman says:

    I got a laugh when I read about “that color”. It brought me back to the days of sittin in all the gear and trying to trade away the Chicken.

  9. bigbearbutt says:

    Well, since I left the Marines in 1994, thanks to Kirk’s link, I am able to see that, in fact, they retired Chicken A La King with me.

    I feel bad for the troops… Chicken A La King was the REASON for hot sauce bottles in those damn MRE bags.

    And Ridjeckgron nailed it… I swear, I knew Marines that carried more condiments into the field than underwear.

    And how about those tubes of soft cheese and peanut butter?

    Look, why not just stick a tube called “Binding diet, one each” in the box? It’s okay, we understand.

    I looked up our head sales engineer here, and found out that we’ve actually been making MRE pouches for a long time, at a different facility. I’m seeing these pouches coming here today because we’re testing a new innovation before approval for rolling out…

    Making the tear off opening go on the long side of the pouch instead of the short side.

    We ended up having a long conversation about the various means I’ve seen used for heating an MRE.

    Including, but not limited to; tossing the MRE on the engine block of a running 5 ton, shoving it directly in the coals of a fire, tilting a high wattage flat glass halogen lamp to point directly overhead and throwing the pouches on the glass as a cooking surface (that was in Norway, in an aviation hanger at Bardufoss, I think), and of course boiling in a canteen cup full of water over a heat tab (heat tabs? LUXURY!).

    Of course… 95% of the time, as I recall, you just ate it cold while hunched under a poncho in the rain, but what the heck. Sometimes you could have a fire.

    Cold Chicken A La King. Seriously, how could they remove this bonding aspect from the Armed Forces?

    Ahhh…. good times. Good times.

  10. Ben says:

    “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” It’s always cool to learn your company is involved in something interesting like that. I was disappointed the website Kirk linked above didn’t give the ingredients and nutritional information on all the different types of MREs. Inquiring minds want to know what’s really in the Sloppy Joes :-)

  11. Dechion says:

    Ok, apparently I am an odd duck.

    I actually liked the Chicken a’la king. Well, after I doused in lowerys season salt at least. It was not my favorite that goes to the chili mac, but it wasn’t that bad.

    Oh, and another odd place to heat up your grub. I worked in an engine room aboard a destroyer. We would lift up an insulating pad that was around a steam pipe, put them on, and come back in about 10 minutes.

    Yum… Just like mom used to make.
    .-= Dechion´s last blog ..Grouping with others =-.

  12. Sarabian says:

    Wow, you guys are bringing back the memories. I keep reading and then nodding and saying “Oh yes! We did that!” and making co-workers wonder if I’m sane. Oh how many times did I eat Chicken a-la sh1t while hunched under a poncho in a foxhole wishing I had brought more Kikoman’s (yes, that’s how to make that stuff edible). I also remember the first time someone opened a new MRE (I think it was the spaghetti one) and shouting “I got M&Ms!”. And the peanut butter packets? Like freaking gold in my unit. You could get more with the peanut butter and crackers than you could with a spare pack of smokes.

    Damn, that crap was over 20 years ago now. I feel so old right now.

  13. jealouspirate says:

    I’ve been reading and enjoying this blog for a while now, but have never posted before.

    Being interested in environmental issues, I’d like to ask you if you are at all concerned about the environmental impact that disposable plastic containers (such as pouches) are having?

    I’m not trying to attack a job you clearly love, I’m just genuinely curious. Products like the pouched cat food, for example, go to the grocery store, to the home, right into the garbage. One pouch per meal, per cat… well, that adds up pretty fast. As I’m sure you know, while the food is consumed the garbage stays around for a very, very long time, and plastic packaging waste has done a great deal of harm around the world.

    Again, I don’t want to offend, I’m just interested in your thoughts on the matter. If you’re interested, there’s a great documentary called “Addicted to Plastic”, which goes into great detail about it’s history and impact world-wide. http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/atp.html

  14. Iron says:

    I give you ‘Eggs & Ham’ – the breakfast that made you skip the meal altogether. = )
    .-= Iron´s last blog ..Examples of WoW IRL…!! =-.

  15. Kirk says:

    While infantry, I don’t think I ever carried (or ate) a whole MRE longer than necessary to get past pre-op inspection. Then it was breakdown, try to trade various portions, and pack the little pouches all over me – fitting around the hot sauce, of course. And of course, everything was eaten cold – on the march, or in a hole, or, well, as the moment provided.

    (By the way. Was it only in my unit that the instant coffee was saved till sleep started being a problem, then poured into the mouth and swallowed?)

    When I became a tanker, MREs became luxury meals. Sure, everything picked up the taint of diesel, but heating the darn things behind an Abrams became, well, not a significant problem. (Exhaust in the “Holy Crap that’s HOT” range.)

  16. Kirk says:

    @jealouspirate,

    I’d like to direct your attention to this report provided to the Board of San Francisco by ULS report in response to the Board’s decision to ban plastic garbage bags at supermarkets. It is a review of studies of environmental degradation control and litter control of various types of bags (plastic, paper, and compostable plastic).

    To put it simply, what you think you know is wrong. In modern landfills, all three degrade equally (ie, they don’t). Plastic bags use less energy and water to manufacture. (A finding I believe spurious is that paper bags contribute more greenhouse gases than plastic. They do when only considering production and composting. Add in the trees from which they come and I think the equation shifts.) For quantity carried, plastic takes up less space in landfills and other waste than paper.

    Now, you specifically addressed plastic pouches – food containers. I will point out that in this case the competition is not paper but metal cans. The metal costs more in both dollars and greenhouse gas output and raw energy to produce. They also occupy significantly greater volume in landfills. Finally, the physical threat of an opened can lid is much greater than a strip of plastic – I have seen serious wounds that required multiple stitches on animals that found the lids and tried to eat the food on them, as well as on people who gashed fingers and hands merely moving the lids to the trash.

  17. jealouspirate says:

    Informative reply, Kirk. I live in Canada, so some of the policies are different. For example, we provide the option of cloth grocery bags. You buy two or three and use those same bags for potentially years. I don’t want to turn this thread into something that it isn’t, but I’ll offer a brief reply.

    I was speaking a little more broadly, perhaps I should have specified. I meant all forms of plastic. Hard plastics, softer plastics, etc. The point that I was trying to make, which I think we can both agree on, is that we rely on plastic as a resource much more than is healthy. This is stated pretty clearly in the conclusions of the report you provided.

    I don’t know what the alernative is- you’re right that metal is worse, and apparently so is paper at this time, but I still think our considerable use of plastic is a problem.

    …anyway, still enjoying your blog BBB!

  18. Alaron says:

    Ah yes, good times. Been in a strategic unit for the past couple years, so haven’t seen an MRE in a while, but remember them well. My favorite was always Beef Teriyaki…it was HORRIBLE cold, but heated, with the egg noodles, was really good.

    I never understood why they didn’t just toss out everything else and keep only the popular ones (ChiliMac/Ravioli/Spaghetti/Chicken Noodle). I guess they have to rotate something in for people to hate on. Also, pouch shakes were horrible. :)
    .-= Alaron´s last blog ..The Feral Tanking Guide, Part 2: Talent Overview, Builds, Leveling =-.

  19. bigbearbutt says:

    Lol Kirk…

    I can make it simpler.

    Jealouspirate (I like that name, btw… conjures images of a certain pirate rumored to keep the heads of all his ex-wives in a cupboard aboard ship) I have absolutely no problem with environmental issues regarding the pouches we make.

    First, the processes themselves. We obtain the rolls of pliable films at the plant. In the process of printing and laminating them, fumes are given off from curing ink and adhesive. These fumes are drawn into an oxidizer to remove the VOCs from the processes. http://www.megtec.com/regenerative-thermal-oxidizers.html

    Once past that processing point, there are no environmental issues, except for the power consumption in the machinery itself. But the equipment used is actually very lightweight compared to the foundry and canning processes for normal canned goods.

    Now, if your argument is that it would be nice to eliminate packaged goods entirely; cans, pouches, boxes, paper, etc… well, I don’t ever see that happening. The act of using cans and pouches also provides a storage method that is conducive to long term preervation and transportation of normally perishable goods.

    I used Friskies and Mighty Dog as flashy, upscale uses for the packaging medium, but the size of the pouches are not limited to small single serving containers. We’ve made containers large enough for water softener salt, and interesting pouches that hold bulk quantities of tobacco for pipes (when sold in bulk like this in some states, taxes are severely reduced for the consumer… har har).

    It is my personal belief that, from my knowledge of the various technologies involved, the environmental impact of flexible material pouches for perishable goods is far, far lower than that for cans. And i feel good about that.

  20. jealouspirate says:

    Thanks for the reply BBB!

    I’ve never heard anyone “on the inside” talk about these processes before, so that’s very interesting!

    If I have the choice to buy something in a can or a pouch, I’ll support you (and the planet) by buying a pouch!

  21. nitromoose says:

    The chicken a la king wasn’t the worst thing you could have pulled out of the pouch. Like Iron I offer up the eggs and ham pouch, it had no redeeming qualities.

    Another upswing to the chicken pouch…..making little MRE bombs with the hot sauce bottles and a bit of the chemical heater…..or even bigger MRE bombs is you had a private dumb enough to walk too far away from a canteen. Hell, after one bad day on KP we had a running bet on how many heaters it would take to blow up a water buffalo. I just wish we could have scrounged up that many heaters, just to see what would have happened.

  22. Bigguss says:

    Interesting read as usual BBB, I am curious though, Is Chicken A La King really that bad? The name conjours up images of a Chicken in a cream sauce, which to me sounds rather nice. Could you or one of your readers let me know what was actually in the pouch?

  23. Trogius says:

    Pretty cool. I miss the ham slice and beef steak meals. Yeah, they pretty much sucked, but they were I always thought it was the best one to eat cold at breakfast, but maybe that is just me.

  24. Dirz says:

    Qbigguss The chicken a la king was hella bland- and if you couldnt heat it it was hell on earth0 hence the bottles of tabasco:)

  25. Mannyac says:

    I’m of the Beanie-Weenie rocked generation!

  26. Dave says:

    Also it seemed that there were two Chicken-ala-kings, to every one of everything else, so you ended up eating it alot. My personal favorites were the Spaghetti, and Corned beef hash.

  27. Nazric says:

    chicken ala king wasn’t so bad…if you emptied 3 bottles of hotsauce into it!

    Not as bad as the potatoes all rotten (au gratin) though!

  28. Adamaeldar says:

    Heh, I could usually gulp down the Chicken ala King (hot sauce helped as mentioned). Whoever thought up Omelet with Ham should be hit with a large blunt object repeatedly. I just remember the smell and texture of it (smelly, oily, but somehow rubbery at the same time). Big-guss, from what I remember, the “chicken” in Chicken ala King closely resembled what my cats eat. And the sauce was somewhat similar. Kind of a creamy – noodly sauce.

    Good job on the packaging though. I remember going through ranger school in ’97 and opening up an MRE. I was excited to find a package of M & M’s inside with the Olympic logo. “Cool must be from last year”, I thought to myself. Wrong, it was from the 1988 Olympics. M & M’s (and the rest of the meal) were still good.

    As an aside, there was an article recently about some aviation warrant who had saved a can of C-Rat poundcake for his retirement. Apparently it was still good. That actually scares me.

  29. CT says:

    The chicken a la king wasn’t the worst thing you could have pulled out of the pouch. Like Iron I offer up the eggs and ham pouch, it had no redeeming qualities.

    Another upswing to the chicken pouch…..making little MRE bombs with the hot sauce bottles and a bit of the chemical heater…..or even bigger MRE bombs is you had a private dumb enough to walk too far away from a canteen. Hell, after one bad day on KP we had a running bet on how many heaters it would take to blow up a water buffalo. I just wish we could have scrounged up that many heaters, just to see what would have happened.

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