President Bush calls Tommy Franks a "down-to-earth, no-nonsense guy." And even though this Soldier’s Soldier has faced his own losses to terrorism long before Iraq and Afghanistan, he rises to the occasion today to lead the swiftest-moving assault in world military history.
It hasn’t been an easy road. Just months after Franks took charge of Central Command in July 2000, responsible for U.S. military operations in 25 countries from Egypt to Central Asia, suicide bombers blew a hole in the USS Cole as it refueled in Yemen, killing 17 American sailors. Franks was outspoken about the terrorist threat brewing as he recounted a tragic loss on his watch.
"Our men, women, DoD [Department of Defense] civilians, and Diplomats in the region are under constant observation, and, in some cases, being stalked, everyday, 24-hours-a-day, because the terrorist threat in this region is very real," he told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee after the attack of the USS Cole in 2000.
"The loss of life of any U.S. serviceman or woman in the USCENTCOM AOR is my responsibility, and I take that responsibility very seriously," he added.
The tragic events of the Cole were repeated again, this time on American soil, on September 11, 2001. By Sept. 12, Franks was already acting on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s orders to draw up military options for the president. Less than a month later, on Oct. 7, the air strikes in Afghanistan began, kicking off what has now become his successful prosecution of two wars in two years.
"No one hates war like a soldier hates war," says Franks, who was wounded three times as a junior artillery officer in Vietnam.
His other favorite aphorism: "No plan ever survived the first contact with the enemy" has a larger influence: Brigadier General Vincent Brooks uttered those same words in a recent daily press briefing.
Like President Bush, Tommy Ray Franks grew up in Midland, Texas, attending the same high school as first lady Laura Bush, who was a year behind him. And although he did not finish college, he was more comfortable with a military education, traveling from one world hot spot to another - the DMZ in Korea, a changing Europe, and the Iraqi desert during 1991 Desert Storm.
His commendations have included four Legion of Merit medals, three Bronze Stars with "V" for valor, an Air Medal with "V" and an Army Commendation Medal with "V."
Addressing troops, he’s much more willing to plunge into the ranks to shake hands than give into oratory. On a typical day before war began on March 19, the hard-charging Franks would hop in his pickup truck to CentCom headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, before dawn. He’s already read the overnight intelligence reports while exercising on his treadmill. He meets senior staff by 7 a.m., and locks down his first call of the day, to boss Rumsfeld. Then come video conferences with senior generals across the Centcom region, more refining of the Iraq war plans, briefings, phone calls and e-mail late into the night.
According to one press report, Franks even has the confidence of heads of state, some of whom count him as a friend. King Abdullah II of Jordan gave Franks a Harley-Davidson after discovering their shared interest in motorcycles; Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf calls him often; Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak received Franks on short notice in Cairo when bad weather forced the general to change his route home from his regional command post in Qatar in January.
In the run-up to the war, Franks still managed to follow another special team, NFL Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When the Bucs made it to the Super Bowl in January, the general had the game beamed to his Pakistan hotel at 4 a.m.
Bucs team captain John Lynch, a friend, says the first e-mail he received after the team’s Super Bowl victory was the general’s congratulatory message from Pakistan.
"He’s been in our locker room a lot in the last couple of years," says Lynch. "The guys get fired up when he comes in."
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