Retired Major General Was Highest Ranking Female Maj. Gen. Kathy Frost was the highest-ranking woman on active duty when she retired from the Army last year after 31 years in the service. She died Friday of breast cancer in her hometown of Latta, S.C. She was 57.
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Retired Major General Was Highest Ranking Female

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Retired Major General Was Highest Ranking Female

Retired Major General Was Highest Ranking Female

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Today, we take a few minutes to remember Major General Katherine Frost, the highest-ranking woman on active duty when she retired from the Army last year. She died on Friday after a battle with breast cancer. She was 57 years old.

Gen. Frost believed strongly in a woman's right to serve in all areas of the military.

Major General KATHERINE FROST (U.S. Army, Retired): Women soldiers have proven in Iraq and in Afghanistan that some of the myths about women in a combat environment are just that - myths. That they can do anything the nation asks them to do.

And those commanders in whom we've placed the trust to make life and death decisions and to defend our freedom should be given that same level of trust in determining what people they use and what jobs to perform the mission. And women have done this.

And they're not using women today in Iraq as a social experiment. They are using them because they can do the job. And they are filling positions that, quite frankly, we don't have sufficient forces to fill.

CONAN: Maj. Gen. Kathy Frost speaking with us after the House Armed Services Committee approved legislation to keep women out of direct ground combat last spring.

To help us remember Gen. Frost, we turn now to Gina Farrissi, an Army brigadier general who joins us from her office in Columbia, South Carolina. And I know that Gen. Frost was a friend of yours. And we're sorry for your loss.

Brigadier General GINA FARRISSI (U.S. Army): Thank you, Neal. Yes, she was a friend and a mentor.

CONAN: Tell us a little bit about her as a person.

Brig. Gen. FARRISSI: Gen. Frost was probably one of the most passionate and compassionate people that I ever knew. She threw herself into any mission she was ever given and into any position she ever held. And she gave it her all, and she always did a superb job.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. I know that she joined the Army just at the time as the old women's army corps was being phased out and women were just being integrated into the ranks.

Brig. Gen. FARRISSI: Yes. That is correct. She was in one of the last WAC basic courses, and in fact was first in her WAC basic course and advanced course training.

CONAN: Would she have considered herself a feminist?

Brig. Gen. FARRISSI: I don't think so. I think she would have just said she was for equality.

CONAN: For equality. Unusual, though, for this kind of career choice at that time in this army?

Brig. Gen. FARRISSI: Yes. I would say that it was. But I think that she was passionate about the fact that women could do many things in many roles in many capacities, and that they ought to have the ability and the chance to do that. And I think she proved that in many of the positions that she held.

CONAN: You described her as a mentor of yours. How did she help you?

Brig. Gen. FARRISSI: I worked for her for two years when I was a commander underneath her command while she was the adjutant general of the Army. And I certainly learned a lot from her about being passionate and compassionate about those that she served.

Soldiers, their families, the civilians that worked for her were the most important thing to her. And when she held a torch, she held it until the end. And she fought to the end. And I learned a lot from her.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. By the time she retired, as we mentioned, she was quite senior. What would you list as some of her major accomplishments?

Brig. Gen. FARRISSI: Well, obviously, I think that the last position that she held as the commander of AAFES - she was the first female to be the commander of AAFES, which was an $8 billion retail entity.

And she had 48,000 employees who worked around the world. And it was the equivalent of being a CEO. She did fabulous things for those folks that fighting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan with the programs that she brought to them to try to bring them just a little taste of home. And her support to them was just tremendous.

And also during that time, she was - as you mentioned - fighting breast cancer. Yet she made numerous trips to the theater to ensure that the support that was being provided to those service members was the absolute best that AAFES could do.

She also served as the adjutant general of the Army for four years, which is quite a long time. If you look through the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and before, there are not many people who held the position for that long.

And that job constitutes working the Department of the Army policies and execution for casualties and mortuary affairs, awards, and an abundance of other things. It's truly a jack-of-all-trades position. And she did absolutely wonderful with programs and education and many other areas while she held that position.

CONAN: A memorial service was held yesterday in Latta, South Carolina. She's to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

We just have a few seconds left with you. Can you think of an appropriate epitaph?

Brig. Gen. FARRISSI: She used to say, sing like you can and dance like no one is watching. And that's how she lived her life. And she had the most compassionate smile that never left her face no matter what was going on in the toughest and in the best of times.

CONAN: Gen. Farrissi, thank you very much for your time today.

Brig. Gen. FARRISSI: Thank you.

CONAN: Gina Farrissi is a brigadier general with the U.S. Army. She spoke with us today from her office in Columbia, South Carolina. We were remembering Gen. Kathy Frost, who retired as a major general last year from the United States Army and died last Friday from complications of breast cancer.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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