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Guardsmen explain MRE-style emergency meals to NYC residents

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The thousands of meals being handed out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to New York City residents following Hurricane Sandy are pretty familiar to the New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen distributing the meals.

Inside the boxes being handed out are Meals, Ready to Eat, or MRE-style entrees and the chemical heater pouches like Soldiers are used to eating in combat and during training exercises.

However, for the residents of New York's ethnic communities who can't read the English language instructions, and who have never seen an MRE, the heater packages are a mystery, said Lt. Col. Jim Gonyo, commander of the New York National Guard's 1st Battalion 69th Infantry.

The 385 Soldiers of the 1-69th Infantry and the 204th Engineer Battalion working out of the Lexington Avenue Armory in Manhattan, have been distributing the emergency rations to New Yorkers since Nov. 1, after Hurricane Sandy swept over the city. They are among 3,300 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen called to respond to the hurricane since Oct. 29.

"They just didn't know what to do with them, "Gonyo said. "They'd never seen anything like it before."

So Gonyo's men decided it was time for "show-and-tell."

They called together volunteers and community leaders in the Chinatown section of the city and demonstrated how the heaters worked. They demonstrated the basics of ripping open the top, inserting the entrée package, and putting in just the right amount of water, then folding the packet and giving the chemicals time to heat the meal.

These volunteers took videos of the food demonstrations so they could show others how it works.

Now his men are working to get some posters printed up so they can display them in the lines for folks to see as they wait, Gonyo said.

Across New York City, New York National Guardsmen were distributing rations at 13 Point-of-Distribution Sites, known as PODS, in the language of disaster relief. Other Guardsmen were going door-to-door in hard-hit parts of the city to check and see if people are OK or needed food brought to them.

Guardsmen have distributed more than 208,000 meals and 55,000 liters of water to New Yorkers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised that the Guard will pass out one million of the FEMA meals to those who need them.

Still other Guardsmen were conducting patrols with local police and fire officials in the hard hit areas, and conducting presence patrols as directed.

In Westchester and Rockland counties, in the Hudson River Valley, the 42nd Infantry Division began deploying 500 Soldiers to assist utilities in repairing the power grid.

The Soldiers will be trained to identify downed power lines and properly mark them so that members of the public are not endangered as the repair process goes forward. Allocating Soldiers to this mission will free up utility employees to do the important technical work.

The Soldiers will work with line crews from Consolidated Edison, New York State Electric and Gas, and Orange and Rockland Utilities.

Article by Eric Durr, New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs