Nation & World

Mentor to young soldiers killed in Iraq

As a 36-year-old enlisted man surrounded by soldiers little more than half his age, Spc. Michael Frank's nickname was inevitable. "Grandpa," they called him.

Then they'd quietly take him aside and ask advice or marvel at how he beat nearly all of them at physical training.

"If anyone ever had personal problems, Frank was always the guy to sit down and talk things over with," said Spc. Andrew Baker, his roommate at Fort Bragg.

The young soldiers will need a new mentor. The Pentagon announced Monday that Frank, a combat engineer with the Fort Bragg-based 82nd Airborne Division, was killed in Iraq Thursday.

He was the 50th U.S. service member from North Carolina or a base here to be killed in Iraq since the beginning of March, according to an Associated Press database.

Frank, who was from Cincinnati, Ohio, was in the fourth Humvee in a convoy of five when a bomb exploded nearby, said his father, Tim Frank of Great Falls, Mont. He was badly wounded and died shortly afterward at a nearby aid station.

"There are no good ways to lose a child, but there are a lot worse ways," said his father, a former Navy aviator and an Air Force veteran, adding that his son was doing exactly what he wanted.

Two other soldiers were wounded in the attack, one of them apparently suffering burns while trying to save Frank.

The bomb, Tim Frank was told, was one of the relatively new type called explosively formed penetrators. U.S. officials have said that they are much more deadly than their haphazardly-assembled cousins and accused the Iranian government of smuggling them into Iraq.

Frank had a good explanation for his age and rank: It was his second stint in the Army.

At Stevens High School in Rapid City, S.D., the quick-minded Frank had twice been on the school's team at the South Dakota Knowledge Bowl. He also was on the track team, running the 440 and 880.

Not long after graduating, he joined the Army and stayed in four years that time, then left to attend college at the University of Cincinnati, where he graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice.

He worked for a large private investigations company awhile, but didn't like that, his father said. Then he ran an Italian restaurant. But when the Iraq war started, he began to get restless, and decided that his place was back in the Army

"I've got this training, and I've got to do my part," he told his father. So, a little more than a year ago, he enlisted again.

To make up for his age, he had to stay diligent about working out, his father said.

He was happy with his decision, both parents said, thriving on the chance to serve and to help the younger troops, and to help rebuild Iraqi infrastructure, like the market his unit was working on recently.

"I don't think he wanted to be anywhere else," said his mother, Diane Frank. "He was happy and gratified to be with his guys and helping people who needed it."

His brother, Brian, a civilian contractor working in Afghanistan, was flying home, she said.

It was a harsh Mother's Day weekend, but she tried to look for something positive.

"It's probably the best gift a mom can have to know that even when he was done with his work that he would take someone under his wing who was having trouble and help them out," she said. "He felt responsible for everyone because that's who he was."