A Glimpse of Military Nutrition

As an Army Registered Dietitian, I had the pleasure of attending the 10-day Joint Field Nutrition Operations Course (JFNOC) in San Antonio, TX.

BLUF (bottom line up front, for my non-military folks coming across this): This was an amazing experience for Registered Dietitians like myself, as well as Nutrition Care Specialists, to get a better understanding of what nutrition care looks like in a (simulated) deployed environment.

What is JFNOC?

The Joint Field Nutrition Operations Course is a 10-day field training course at Camp Bullis. The goal of this course is to provide hands-on training for potential deployment scenarios for our military nutrition professionals.

When you hear deployment, maybe your mind goes to global conflict or hostile environments. While nutrition care and feeding our troops is extremely important in those settings, JFNOC also provided further education on what deployment can entail in humanitarian settings, and, for my Navy personnel, sailing through the seas.


We had two pre-deployment days, which included mainly classroom learning. During those days, we were split into two teams to prepare for our deployment. My team was the Savage Sloths. We then did a 5-mile ruck to our deployment site, which we were at for the next seven days. We cooked our meals in containerized kitchens (CK) and slept in tents (pro tip: fully zip your bags and put socks over your boots because there are definitely mice and scorpions out there). Finally, on day nine, we closed up our deployment site and had our post-deployment pizza celebration before heading back home.



JFNOC Activities

  • Classroom learning (some topics included nutrition screening, malnutrition, nutrition in humanitarian and detainee settings, altering rations for different dietary needs, supplements, military body composition programs)
  • Setting up and operating a CK (pictured to the right) and food sanitation center (FSC)
  • Cooking and serving Unitized Group Rations (UGR-A)
  • UGR-A cooking battle between the two teams
  • Sifting through the Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) boxes for the “best” ones
  • Patient play scenarios
  • Making high energy milk, tube feeds, and oral rehydration solutions (yes, we tried them)
  • Hydration testing via urine specific gravity (don’t sleep on hydration in Texas!)
  • Land navigation, including transportation of the one and only, Rescue Randy
  • Combat Casualty Care practice
  • 5-mile ruck
  • Convoy operations


What was my favorite part about JFNOC?

Although the Texas heat, sleeping on a cot, and using Porta-Johns aren’t the most exhilarating experiences, I would absolutely go back in time and do JFNOC again. While I enjoyed all the learning experiences throughout the course, my favorite part was being able to meet and collaborate with other nutrition professionals.

About one-third of my JFNOC class came from the same hospital that I work in. Even though we work in the same building, we rarely actually work together. Most of them have been in the Army for longer than I have, so I really enjoyed learning their tips and tricks for running the CK, as well as hearing about their previous experiences throughout their military career.

In addition to Army, this course is also open to Navy and Air Force nutrition personnel. It’s not often that we get to do nutrition training with our sister services, so I was excited to hear about what their day-to-day entails, as well as what their potential deployment opportunities look like. But, don’t worry, even though they had great things to share, I’m forever #GoArmy… hooah 🙂 .

What was my biggest takeaway?

Weight and body composition changes in the field are real! I had heard and read about these changes, but for some reason, I thought I would defy the odds.

While at our deployment site, I ate UGR-As for breakfast and dinner, usually cereal with fruit and other snacks available for lunch, and plenty of snacks between meals. Snacks included trail mix, Nutrigrain bars, Special K protein bars, fruit, and pastries.

Even with being on my feet all day, my Apple Watch was only tracking an average of ~500 calories expended from movement each day. As a reference, this is ~200-700 calories below what my watch usually captures on a typical weekday at home.

What my watch wasn’t tracking was the energy my body was using to carry pots and pans between the CK and FSC, carry jugs of water and coffee to our DFAC, transport a box of MREs and Rescue Randy during land navigation, or just cool down all day while being in 95 degree weather.

As someone who has been doing body composition research, I thought it would be interesting to assess my own body composition before and after JFNOC. I know that I’m only one person, but for any of my body composition and data nerds, here were my findings (InBody 770):

  • Body weight: -4.3lbs (-9.5kg)
  • Muscle mass: -1.3lbs (-2.9kg)
  • Fat mass: -1.2lbs (-2.6kg)
  • Body fat percentage: -0.2%

(It would be interesting to see what this looked like for the group as a whole. Future research perhaps 😉 )

Naturally, I couldn’t just stick with one takeaway, so I’m giving you a second one- you can never stop learning and growing. You can be a dietitian for 40 years and still learn something from this course, whether it be related to your patient counseling skills, how you act as a leader, being creative with UGR-As, or, if you’re like me, learning that your body composition will most likely change while you’re out there.

Next steps?

My goal for this post was to share information on this one piece of what it’s like to be an Army Registered Dietitian. I am by no means a recruiter, but if this post sparked your interest and you want to learn more, here are two places to start:

  • If you’re interested in learning more about the Army-Baylor Master’s Program in Nutrition, click here.
  • If you are already a Registered Dietitian, contact your local Army Medical Department (AMEDD) recruiter for more information.


  1. Nutrition During Deployment and Field Operations. Performance Triad. Accessed September 30, 2023. https://p3.amedd.army.mil/performance-learning-center/nutrition/nutrition-in-the-field
  2. Tassone EC, Baker BA. Body weight and body composition changes during military training and deployment involving the use of combat rations: a systematic literature review. BJN. 2017;117(6):897-910.

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