The Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI) was the name of canned wet combat rations issued by the United States Armed Forces from 1958 to 1980. The MCI was intended as an improvement over the earlier canned Type C or C ration, with inclusion of additional menu items to reduce monotony and encourage adequate daily feeding and nutrition. Heavy for their content, they were phased out in favor of the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) in 1983. Despite the new name, the MCI was still universally referred to as "C-Rations" (or "Charlie rats"), which it resembled in many respects.
The MCI consisted of a rectangular cardboard carton containing four cans: an "M"-unit can (meat-based entree item), a "B"-unit (bread item) composed of the small Crackers & Candy Can and the flat Spread Can, and a "D"-unit can (dessert item). The M-1, M-3, and D-2 unit cans were small and the D-1, D-3, and M-2 unit cans were large. The ration cans were packed upright, with the flat Spread can over the large can on the left side and the small B-unit can over the small can on the right side; on top was the brown foil Accessory Pack and a plastic spoon wrapped in clear plastic. Each carton contained a complete meal providing approximately 1,200 calories (1200 kcal or 5,000 kJ), weighing 1.63 pounds and having a volume of 0.052 cubic feet.
The label of the ration carton was printed across the lid of the rectangular box in three rows. The first row always read "MEAL, COMBAT, INDIVIDUAL". The second row indicated the name of the meat unit in bold capital block letters (e.g., "TURKEY LOAF") and the third row indicated the "B"-unit number (either B-1, B-2 or B-3 Unit) in bold capital block letters. Sometimes there was a smaller fourth line of type at the very bottom of the cover that either indicated the contractor who made the ration or the manufacturer that made the cardboard box itself.
The ration boxes were shipped in a rectangular cardboard packing case. Each packing case contained 12 ration cartons (containing one of each meal) packed in 2 rows of 6 rations. They were grouped in 3 menus of 4 meals each, organized by their "B"-unit (B-1, B-2, & B-3). It also contained 4 paper-wrapped P-38 can openers to open the cans. Each packing case weighed 25 to 26 pounds and had a volume of 0.8713 cubic feet. Early cases were bound with bailing wire, but late Vietnam War and post-war cases were bound in plastic strapping.
The "B" unit came in three different varieties:
The "D" unit came in three different types:
Each menu was grouped by their unit number (i.e., M-1, B-1 and D-1 items were grouped together). As an example, the jam in the B-3 unit was meant to be spread on the White Bread in the D-3 unit. Alternate items (designated with an "A" suffix) were introduced to provide variety and reduce the monotony. Since their cans were the same size, the M-1/B-1 and M-3/B-3 group items were often switched (i.e., M-1 and D-3 grouped with B-3 or M-3 and D-1 grouped with B-1).
The "B"-unit's Crackers & Candy can was lined with a piece of corrugated cardboard to protect the contents from damage. In the "D"-unit, the white bread came in one solid cylindrical piece, while the pound cake, fruitcake, Orange Nut Roll, and Cinnamon Roll came wrapped in paper wrappers like cupcakes.
The Accessory Pack came with salt, pepper, sugar, instant coffee, non-dairy creamer, 2 pieces of candy-coated chewing gum, a packet of toilet paper, a 4-pack of commercial-grade cigarettes, and a book of 20 cardboard moisture-proof matches.
Typical commercial brands issued in the cigarette ration were: Camel, Chesterfield, Kent, Kool, Lucky Strike, Marlboro, Pall Mall, Salem, or Winston. Due to health concerns, cigarettes were eliminated from the accessory packs in 1975.
The new ration had some curious superstitions attached to it during the Vietnam War. The "Ham & Lima Beans" entree, a perennial unfavorite since World War II and Korea, was detested by U.S. soldiers and marines, who considered even pronouncing the correct name brought bad luck, instead calling it "Ham and Muthas" or "Ham and Motherfuckers". It was so unpopular that it was replaced with "Spaghetti & Meatballs in Tomato Sauce". US Marines and armored vehicle crewmen had a similar superstition about the "Halved Apricots", forcing its replacement by the "Applesauce" dessert.
The Peanut Butter issued in the B-1 unit was unappetizing, tasted like greasy clay, and was often discarded. Soldiers in Special Operations units used to hoard it in empty ration cans to make improvised smoke bombs while on long patrols.
Primarily implemented due to cost concerns, continued standardization on a single heavy canned wet ration also resulted in a severe weight penalty for troops marching on foot and forced to carry a multi-day supply of meals. The overuse of the canned ration culiminated during the Vietnam War, where American troops frequently resorted to the extreme of placing stacked ration cans in empty G.I. socks to save bulk and reduce noise on patrol, while enemy forces improved mobility by carrying lightweight rations of dry rice. The failure of the Quartermaster Command and its Subsistence Branch to develop a suitable postwar lightweight dehydrated or other dry ration for jungle environments led directly to the hurried development of the Long Range Patrol, or LRP ration in 1966.