One day in December of 1996 a vibrant, beautiful woman dressed in green walked into my Congressional office in Washington.
Brigadier General Kathy Carlson had just been assigned as Deputy Commander of the Army, Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) which is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and she was paying a courtesy call on her Congressman.
I was so struck by her that I directed my staff to look for opportunities for me to see her again. She agreed to serve on my military review board to recommend students for our nation’s service academies. She was the keynote speaker at the annual small business procurement seminar I sponsored each year at the University of Texas at Arlington, and she was the luncheon speaker at my local Lions Club. My staff was being very creative.
Twenty months after we first met, Kathy and I were married in a small family ceremony conducted by the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Over the years, I learned a lot about this very special woman. She had entered the Army in 1974 on a direct commission to the Women’s Army Corps (WACS). A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of South Carolina, Kathy was ranked first in her WAC basic course and first in her WAC advanced training class.
Kathy served two tours of duty in Berlin, spent several years as a White House social aide and worked as a Congressional liaison for Gen. Colin Powell when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She was passed over for selection for the Army War College and for the Command and General Staff School – both prerequisites for appointment to general officer – but completed both courses by correspondence.
She steadily rose through the ranks of the Army (the WACS had been merged into the regular Army a year after she was commissioned) until she was named to be a one-star general in 1996.
After serving two years as deputy commander of AAFES, Kathy was named the adjutant general (TAG) of the Army in the summer of 1998, a post she held for four years. During that time, she was, among other things, responsible for casualty notifications following the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. While serving as the TAG, Kathy was promoted to major general and given her second star.
And then in July of 2002, one month before she was to assume command of AAFES, Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. She waged a courageous battle against this disease for more than four years, undergoing various forms of chemotherapy and radiation… a battle she lost on Friday, Aug. 18.
Kathy assumed command of AAFES in August of 2002, one month after undergoing a mastectomy. While ill from the effects of chemotherapy, she rarely missed a day of work and provided extraordinary leadership to this $8 billion business with 48,000 employees worldwide.
Kathy was commander of AAFES when we entered Iraq and immediately set about providing temporary PX’s for our troops. She liked to remind people that AAFES was on the ground in Iraq before our forces got to Baghdad and months before Brown and Root had mess halls functioning.
Ultimately there were 31 PX’s in Iraq, selling everything from snack food to sophisticated electronic equipment to our soldiers, airmen and marines. Also, AAFES ran a number of fast-food operations for the troops. Its Burger King at Baghdad International Airport sold more whoppers than any Burger King anywhere in the world. AAFES’s presence there was vital to maintaining troop morale.
Kathy and AAFES were presented a special award from the National Retail Federation for what they did for our troops in Iraq and she happily traveled to New York City to accept the award. True to form, Kathy wrote and produced a video about AAFES’s work in Iraq, which was shown at the awards ceremony.
Kathy retired from the Army in April of 2005 after 31 years of service. She accompanied me to Boston last Fall where I was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. While there, she audited classes with great enthusiasm. Kathy’s mother was widowed when Kathy was very young and the family had little money. They could not afford to send her anywhere but to the State University in South Carolina. There is no question Kathy would have excelled at an Ivy League school if she had been given the chance.
During our eight years of marriage, she made me a better Congressman and a better person every single day. She critiqued my speeches, made sure I dressed more fashionably and that I was more considerate of other people. She will be missed by all who knew her, especially her husband.
Major General Kathy Frost will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.