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Tuesday, Mar 28, 2017

Altman: Father honors son killed in Afghanistan with restaurant

After more than 25 years of covering those who have lost loved ones, I have learned this much. People cope in many different ways. For Craig Gross, opening a new barbecue restaurant called Frankie’s Patriot BBQ is his way of coming to grips with the death of his son. Frank Gross, an Army corporal, was 25 when he was killed in Afghanistan July 16, 2011 when the vehicle he was in hit an improvised explosive device. “I am doing this to honor Frankie,” says Gross, who gave me a tour of the restaurant, which he is setting up in the old Roe’s Place at 2364 Keystone Rd. in Tarpon Springs. “It’s giving me a tremendous amount of enthusiasm.” Frank Gross was not much of a meat eater, says his dad.
“He was into body building and health,” says Gross. But when he did eat meat, it was barbecue. And Gross, who spent his professional life in the food industry, says he leapt at the opportunity to set up his own ‘cue house. Gross, 58, has partnered with Skip Lehmkuhl, a former St. Louis meat purveyor who found himself in the barbecue biz a few decades ago when a guy set up a smoker in front of his meat shop. The rest, as they say, is history. The centerpiece of Frankie’s Patriot BBQ is the big custom-made smoker outside the restaurant. Gross says he will smoke ribs, Boston Butt, brisket and chicken with a combination of oak and hickory. The ribs will have three sauces – Skip’s Sweet and Smoky, Craig’s Crazy Hot Sauce and Frankie’s Favorite, based on the sauce of his favorite rib joint in Virginia. Inside, Gross will grill burgers and fry up kettle fries and sweet potato fries. The restaurant will be decorated in a military motif, says Gross, including mementos from his son’s service. Outside, on a back portion of the two-acre property, Gross hopes to soon have a stage with live music. Gross is planning for a soft opening sometime this week, with a hard opening set for later in the summer – Aug. 17 – in honor of the second anniversary of his son’s burial in Arlington, Aug. 19, 2011. For more information, call Frankie’s Patriot BBQ at (727) 935-4838. The closest I have come to flying a plane was sitting in the cockpit of a C-130 simulator at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. I managed not to crash and even guided the aircraft underneath the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. But I do know that real pilots need real flying time to stay real good. The automatic budget cuts known as sequestration are making that a challenge for military pilots, as a good part of the combat fleet has been grounded to save money. But those cuts have yet to play havoc with pilots at the 6th Air Mobility Wing, according to wing spokesman Terry Montrose. “Readiness and currency have thus far been maintained at pre-sequester levels, and our crews maintain their world-wide mobility capability,” Montrose tells me via email. That’s the good news. How long that will last is, as they say, up in the air. “Aircrew proficiencies will degrade over time, and it is taking a couple weeks longer to produce qualified aircrew members for their world-wide mission,” Montrose writes. That’s because the wing is seeing a decrease in the number of “training exercises, fighter movements, overwater missions (for both KC-135s and C-37s) and fighter air-to-air refueling missions,” Montrose writes. “Each of these is either a required event or at least a highly desired training experience.” Stay tuned. If you’re reading this column, you probably known someone who has or is deployed, or maybe you are reading this from some FOB somewhere in Afghanistan. So you know better than anyone the difficulties of deployment on those left behind, especially the children. Now the University of Central Florida is studying just how difficult it is and wants the families of deployed to share their experiences. The study, being conducted by UCF professor Deborah Beidel with a $2.7 million Defense Department grant, is designed to help find out how deployments impact family members at home. Beidel’s team will do more than interview families, according to UCF. “They’ll be measuring family members’ levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress,” according to the university. ‘The team also will measure the family members’ sleep patterns by having them wear devices similar to wristwatches that track their movements while in bed.” Beidel’s team is looking for families throughout Central Florida - including the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Lakeland areas. To be eligible, families must have a deployed caregiver in any branch of the military and at least one child 7 to 17 years old. The caregiver at home does not necessarily have to be a mother or father, but does have to be a primary caregiver. For more information, call 407-823-3910 or go to www.ucfmilitaryfamilies.org. A Florida man was among three soldiers who died in Afghanistan last week. Staff Sgt. Jesse L. Thomas Jr., 31, of Pensacola, Fla., died June 10, in Helmand, Afghanistan. The incident is under investigation. He was assigned to the 39th Transportation Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, Kleber Kaserne, Germany. Lt. Col. Todd J. Clark, 40, of Evans Mills, N.Y., and Maj. Jaimie E. Leonard, 39, of Warrick, N.Y., died June 8, in Sharana, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered from small arms fire received at Zarghun Shahr, Afghanistan. The soldiers were assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y. There have now been 2,223 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.


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