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OEF Vet Takes on Master Chef TV Show

OEF veteran Howard Simpson on "Master Chef"

When celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay chews him out a former Army specialist who is a contestant on Fox's "Master Chef" reality cooking competition said he reverts back to his military training to endure the heat in the kitchen.

Howard Simpson left the Army in 2011. He is competing in the current season of "Master Chef" against 19 other home cooks.

Simpson was deployed to Afghanistan's Kandahar Province in 2009 and 2010 with the 1-17 Infantry Battalion, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Now he faces a national televised cooking competition for amateur home cooks with no formal culinary training. Contestants are judged by two professional chefs and a restaurateur. The winner will receive $250,000 and the "Master Chef" title.

"It's a training that you don't know you have until you're out of your element," he said in an interview with Military.com "I didn't realize how much of an effect it had on me until I was out of the Army and out of my element and around people without that training."

Master Chef, in its fourth season, presents cooks with a series of culinary tests, including group activities and individual challenges. Each contestant is then judged by the chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, star of Hell's Kitchen, who has built his TV persona around his abrasive criticism of contestants.

Simpson said it was when he started taking heat from the judges that his Army training really kicked in.

"Gordon Ramsay is like a four-star general, and I was like a private ... I can respect leadership very well. A lot of other people don't. They just have no idea how the rank system works," Simpson said. "When [Ramsay] is grilling me about what I made, I just shut my mouth and look at him. ... If a private is standing in front of a general, he shouldn't have anything to say."

 Simpson, who is currently using his Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend the Art Institute of California in Orange County, is working towards a degree in Hospitality Food and Beverage Management. He said he does not plan to go into cooking full time and instead wants to work in front of the house hospitality operations.
 
Getting out of the Army and doing something with his life was important to Simpson because so many of his buddies were not given the opportunity to even come home from Afghanistan, he said. Twenty-two soldiers in Simpson's battalion were killed during his deployment, most by IEDs.

"It wasn't that I want to be a professional chef or that I wanted to be on TV," he said "It was that … after my deployment in Afghanistan there were a lot of guys that didn't get to come back. One guy, Sgt. Dale Griffin, was six months from getting his [bachelor of arts]. He didn't get to come back, he didn't get to finish that."

Simpson said he is also a living example of the opportunities veterans can have if they choose to get out of the service thanks to benefits such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

"A lot of people told me when I ETSed 'you'll be back, you'll be back, there's no jobs out there, no one is going to want to hire you," he said. "It was proving it to others and proving it myself -- you don't have to stay in the military your whole life. It's a good stepping stone.

"I loved the military, I loved the Army, I'm so glad I went. But it was a stepping stone for me and there's a lot more opportunity out there for Howard Simpson."

Master Chef airs Wednesdays on Fox at 8:00 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. CT.

Follow Simpson's progress on his Master Chef Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Army Afghanistan Amy Bushatz
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