Blinded Army Ranger sharpens his skills during culinary class
Stars and Stripes March 17, 2012
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Jeremy Feldbusch knows his way around the kitchen.
During a recent course at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., the former Army Ranger was put through long, arduous days of study and hands-on training by top-notch instructors.
One day, he was tasked with cutting green beans to a precise length for the purpose of presentation, and seasoning his group’s main course of pork tenderloins glazed with molasses and sherry. The next day, he battered and fried chicken strips.
Over and over, the uncompromising instructors at the institute emphasized presentation.
This pursuit of aesthetic excellence is difficult for any chef to master. But Feldbusch — a former sergeant who was blinded by a 155 millimeter artillery round in Iraq in 2003 — was undaunted by the challenge.
His mother, Charlene, became his eyes and described to him what lay at his fingertips: colors, position of the foods. Feldbusch added his input on what he would like to see and went from preparing the meal all the way to completion.
Jeremy Feldbusch, 32, a co-founder of the Wounded Warrior Project, is the first blind participant in the Healthy Cooking Boot Camp, a new program run by the institute and the nonprofit. The former special operations soldier is testing the waters for other disabled veterans who could follow and join the institute’s distinguished rolls, which include television personality Anthony Bourdain.
“I’m the guinea pig as the first blind student to go through,” he said. “The purpose is to be good in the kitchen and to make things very healthy and very delicious.”
The six-day camp is a regimented blend of instruction and hands-on application in making nutritiously balanced gourmet-quality meals. It is designed to honor veterans for their service, empower them and bring them together with other wounded veterans.
“This current project follows proudly in our treasured tradition of working with servicemen and women to provide important culinary skills for professional growth,” said Chef Brad Barnes, the institute’s senior director of continuing education.
The first camp session was held in February and featured 16 wounded officers and enlisted veterans together, according to Bill Hannigan, the Wounded Warrior Project Physical Health & Wellness program coordinator. The second camp session was for wounded veterans and their spouses — Charlene Feldbusch stepped in for her son’s fiancee, who was working, while a third course at the end of March will be for caregivers only.
Once slight modifications are made following the initial run, the program will be expanded to institute campuses around the country, Hannigan said.
“It’s been impressive to see warriors helping warriors,” Hannigan said. “They take the military mentality in here [with them], where you’re part of a team.”
In high school, Feldbusch pushed himself and his body, wrestling and playing football and baseball. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in biology, he decided to do it once more, this time pursuing his lifelong dream of serving in the military.
He joined the Army in August of 2001, and became an elite infantry soldier, graduating from airborne school and joining the Army Rangers.
The avid outdoorsman’s life was changed forever April 3, 2003, when an artillery round landed 10 meters away from him while he and members of his unit — 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning, Ga. — were working to seize the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River in Iraq.
The members of his squad had good cover. He was the only one hit.
Jeremy Feldbusch lost his right eye and the shrapnel severed the optic nerve of the other. Shrapnel embedded in the left frontal lobe of his brain and he spent six weeks in a medically induced coma.
Charlene Feldbusch, Jeremy’s full-time caregiver, quit her job to tend to him. His doctors worked to remove the shrapnel and insert a titanium plate. When he awoke, he was blind and suffered some lingering brain damage in addition to occasional seizures.
Yet he considers himself lucky to be alive.
Each day following instruction, the seven wounded servicemembers and their companions in the class were split into teams. They whipped up everything from fish tacos to southwestern coleslaw and Feldbusch’s favorite, sweet potato fries.
Reminders of the war are never too far from him. One day last week, he was in too much pain to attend class.
“I hurt like hell yesterday,” Feldbusch said during a recent telephone interview. Then it was back to cracking jokes and speaking in a Scottish accent like one of the chef instructors.
“We’re having a good time,” his mother said. “It’s a feeling of belonging and accomplishing something. He wants to be a part of it.”