Students at Provo's Independence High School and U.S. soldiers entrenched in the Saudi Arabian desert had something in common Thursday - they ate the same mess.

"This is the assignment for today, folks. You gotta eat the hot dog if you want the points," Daniel Bolz, a history teacher, told the class. Independence is an alternative high school in the Provo School District.The hot dogs were part of a military-prepared MRE (meal, ready to eat). Bolz had the students chow down on the stuff to help them better understand what American troops are experiencing. Their next task will be to write to Utahns serving in the Persian Gulf. Bolz said the eating exercise creates a "common denominator" between troops and students and gives the teenagers something to write about.

Judging from the way most students ate, or didn't eat, not many points were scored. Gross was the word students most often used to describe the meals.

The menu contained more than frankfurters packaged in a substance resembling petroleum jelly. It included ham and chicken loaf with a bean component, meatballs and barbecue sauce, au gratin potatoes, and dried peaches. (The students decided the peaches were the best and the wurst was the worst.)

"This stuff is about sick," said Nena Ungricht, 17, staring at a plate of unwarmed spaghetti. After taking a bite, Ungricht said she prefers homemade spaghetti and Pepsi. The dinners didn't come with a beverage.

That left most of the dozen or so students running to the drinking fountain. They also found a way to make the spaghetti more palatable - a microwave oven.

Lance Abbott, 16, said the meal wasn't bad after having been heated up."Not fair," said Bolz. "They don't have microwaves over there."

Richard Bullock, 18, said if he were in the Saudi desert without the modern appliance, he'd improvise by using the hot sun to to warm the food.

"It wouldn't be that bad if it was warm," he said.

All in all, the students decided the meals weren't that bad. And that American troops are probably experiencing other more life-threatening hazards.