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Face of Defense: Navy Seabee’s Dedication Will Help Iraqis for Decades

Norris Jones Special to American Forces Press Service

Navy Cmdr. Steven Frost chats with families at a newly opened primary health care facility in Iraq. Photo by Norris Jones

BAGHDAD, Jan. 23, 2008 –>/b> Using his skills as a Navy Seabee, Navy Cmdr. Steven Frost successfully managed construction projects in some of Baghdad’s most turbulent neighborhoods. Now he is concluding a yearlong deployment as deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Central District.

His staff oversaw hundreds of construction projects, including a new $50 million water treatment plant for Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood, hospital and school renovations, new courthouses, fire stations, sewer and water line installations, and road paving. But the work Frost found most satisfying was his role in encouraging contractors to finish a three-year effort to build 30 new primary healthcare centers throughout Baghdad.

Frost headed up the assessment team that, in early 2007, started visiting those sites to verify progress. On 70 percent of those visits, the team encountered insurgent activity, ranging from sniper fire to roadside bombs, he said.

At one health clinic west of Baghdad, Frost’s team was involved in a 40-minute firefight, and one of their vehicles was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade while they were trying to exit the facility, he said. On March 27 in eastern Baghdad, Frost’s armored vehicle was hit by an explosively formed penetrator, and he was medically evacuated to Germany for surgery to stop internal bleeding. But he didn’t get discouraged and returned to duty in Iraq. He eventually got those health clinics finished and turned over to the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

“I saw a dramatic change in attitude in many neighborhoods, a historic turning point as the insurgents lost control. And the greatest reward has been the smiles I now see on people’s faces when they walk through the doors of a new clinic,” Frost said. “They’re proud of the expanded capabilities those new facilities offer their community. It’s been a heartwarming experience and definitely worth the effort.”

A number of those health clinics are seeing more than 400 patients a day, considerably more than what was forecast. Each facility provides medical and dental exam and treatment rooms, X-ray capabilities, a testing laboratory and pharmacy, as well as diesel generators for emergency power.

“One of the goals of having those new (primary health clinics) open is to help Iraq reduce its overall infant mortality rate by providing better prenatal and infant care,” Frost noted.

This is Frost’s third deployment to Iraq. He said his current tour is a highlight of his 21-year career as a Navy Seabee. “It’s very satisfying to know our work will help Iraqis for generations to come,” he said.

(Norris Jones works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)

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