Service and sacrifice remembered
By Sam Jack
GODDARD – On Friday, Feb. 22, the family of kidnapped military contractor Russell Frost was honored on the floor of the Kansas House of Representatives. Local Rep. Joe Seiwert (R-Pretty Prairie) presented a proclamation recognizing Frost as “a proud father, husband and American dedicated to his service as a military contractor for 13 years.”
Frost died Nov. 30, 2017, succumbing to health problems linked to abuse he suffered at the hands of Iraqi Shia militants during 31 days in captivity, Jan. 15 to Feb. 16, 2016.
His family has close ties to the Goddard community. Wife Tammie is school secretary at Amelia Earhart Elementary, while daughter Amanda is school secretary at Clark Davidson Elementary. Daughter Crystal is a Goddard High School graduate, and daughter Madison is a senior at GHS this year.
Since his death, all four have been working to honor his memory by highlighting the contributions, and needs, of America’s overseas military contractors. Nearly 32,000 contractors currently serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, working side-by-side with U.S. military members. As Russell
Frost’s ordeal dramatically demonstrates, contractors often work in dangerous regions and risk injury or death to serve America.
Yet public awareness of contractors and what they do is low, Amanda said.
“We didn’t really realize how much of a lack of awareness there was, until they (Frost and two co-workers) were kidnapped, and we read some comments totally mis-categorizing them,” she said. “They’re not mercenaries; they’re there to do a specific job.”
Russell worked in a number of different roles during more than a decade in the Middle East. He worked as a mechanic and helped conduct surveillance. He was never required to carry a gun until his final assignment, helping to train the Iraqi military.
He was only able to come home to Goddard for about two weeks a year, meaning that he had to miss many holidays and special occasions.
“He had been doing it since 2004, which put him right in the middle of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” Amanda said. “He was in places where we would be on the phone with him, and we could hear bombs going off. We could hear the alarms going off for them to take cover.”
Russell’s surveillance work saved lives on at least one occasion, when he spotted someone wearing an IED vest. The would-be suicide bomber was intercepted, and the base where Russell was stationed was kept safe.
Stories like that are part of what motivated the Frost family to send care packages to contractors through the Private Patriots Foundation – and to reach out to their Kansas House representative, Seiwert.
“When I listened to the stories and met with them a couple times, I was really moved by their dad and the sacrifices he made to be in the Middle East. It was really almost emotional for me, when I was doing the tribute to him on the House floor,” Seiwert said.
On the federal level, the family is pushing for Aug. 13, Russell’s birthday, to be recognized as Military Contractor Appreciation Day. Amanda has discussed the idea with a defense policy fellow in Sen. Jerry Moran’s office.
“Sen. Moran has helped us a lot since Dad passed,” Amanda said. “We first reached out to him when we needed help getting my father’s autopsy and toxicology reports released. Then we also had to make a call to have him make an inquiry into my father’s Defense Base Act case.
“Because of him, we were able to expedite the process and complete that just two weeks ago. We were finally able to be done with that nightmare. Now, we can try to change the rules.”
In 1941, the Defense Base Act created a federal workers’ compensation program that covers civilians employed at defense bases overseas. The law needs to be overhauled, the Frosts say, because as it currently stands, injured contractors and their families sometimes have to wait years before receiving compensation.
“My dad was on year two of waiting for the insurance company to pay on his claim,” Amanda said. “For another year and a half (after his death), we fought them. They force people into situations like selling their homes, or giving up and settling for nothing. … We were fortunate that my parents didn’t have to sell their home, but Dad did miss out on potentially life-saving treatments, because he just couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket anymore.”
Amanda said she intends to keep the compensation issue in front of lawmakers until something is done to make things better. Taking action to help other military contractors has helped the Frost family honor Russell’s memory.
“There’s a quote by Terry Pratchett: ‘Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?’ I’ve taken that to heart,” Amanda said. “We don’t sit and wallow; we build. We’re certainly bound together to do this as a team, as a family. … We are making a difference.”