Franks, Tommy Ray

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Tommy Ray Franks

United States Army General Tommy Franks (born 1945) received his fourth star and became commander of the United States Central Command (CentCom) in July of 2000. In that capacity, he was in charge of America's 2001 military action in Afghanistan and 2003 invasion of Iraq, both of which were in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A "soldier's soldier," Franks avoided the limelight and concentrated on getting the job done. He retired in August of 2003.

Texas Bred

Franks was born on June 17, 1945, in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and his family moved to Texas when he was small. His father was a mechanic and his mother sold homemade cakes. A much–loved only child, Franks was in high school before his parents told him he was adopted, a fact that he had discovered much earlier on his own.

At Robert E. Lee High School in Midland, Texas, the six feet three inch Franks played sports and had a fondness for fast cars, Elvis Presley, and hunting. Just a year behind him in school was future U.S. First Lady Laura Bush. She was something of a social butterfly, but Franks went largely unnoticed.

Franks continued his rather lackluster high school performance at the University of Texas at Austin. After two years of poor grades there, he decided to give himself a jolt by enlisting in the army in 1965. That decision would prove to turn the young Franks' life around and give him a chance to shine.

Career Choice and Marriage

Franks hunting prowess paid off in the army when his shooting skills attracted notice. He was sent to Artillery Officer Candidate School in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, from which he became a distinguished graduate and received a commission as a second lieutenant in 1967. After a brief tour at Fort Sill, Franks was sent to the Republic of Vietnam, where war was raging. In various positions within the 9th Infantry Division, the 60th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery, he further distinguished himself by earning several service awards, including three Purple Hearts.

When Franks returned to Fort Sill in 1968, it was with the intention of getting out of the military. However, his selection as a participant in the army's degree completion program caused him to change his mind and re–enlist. His career choice made, Franks never looked back.

In 1969, Franks began attending the University of Texas at Arlington. This time around, college suited the new war hero better and he graduated with a degree in business administration in 1971. Also in 1969, Franks married his beloved, Cathryn Carley. Thirty–three years later, he explained their successful union to Cal Fussman of Esquire. "Self–respect and mutual respect. Sharing and caring. That's what makes a long, happy marriage."

Military Postings

After receiving his undergraduate degree, Franks attended the army's Artillery Advance Course. He was then sent to West Germany in 1973, where he commanded the 1st Squadron Howitzer Battery and was its operations manager. During that tour, he also headed up the 84th Armored Engineer Company and was regimental assistant of operations. Next, Franks went back to the United States and attended the Armed Forces Staff College. Upon his graduation in 1976, he was assigned to the Pentagon as an inspector general in the Investigative Division. The following year, he was posted to the Office of the Army Chief of Staff, first on the Congressional Activities Committee and then as an executive assistant.

In 1981, Franks returned to West Germany, where he was in charge of the 2nd Battalion, 78th Field Artillery. Three years later, it was back to college for the once–reluctant student. He attended the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and also earned his master's degree in public administration from Shippensburg University in 1985. Then he was off to Fort Hood in Texas, where he served as III Corps deputy assistant operations officer until assuming command of Division Artillery, First Cavalry Division in 1987. Later at Fort Hood, he became chief of staff for the First Cavalry Division.

Franks' first general officer assignment was as assistant division commander (maneuver) of the First Cavalry Division during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In 1991, he became assistant commandant of the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill. 1992 saw his posting to Fort Monroe, Virginia as first director of the Louisiana Maneuvers Task Force, Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army. Two years later, Franks was on the move again—this time to Korea, where he served as the operations officer of Combined Forces Command and United States Forces Korea. From 1995 to 1997, he was in charge of the Second Infantry (Warrior) Division, Korea. In May of 1997, he was back in the states to assume command of the Third U.S. ("Patton's Own") Army, Army Forces Central Command in Atlanta, Georgia. In June of 2000, Franks reached the pinnacle of an army career with his promotion to four–star general and his assignment as commander in chief of the United States Central Command. He held his final post until his retirement on August 1, 2003.

A Soldier's Soldier

Through his long and fruitful career, Franks maintained a reputation for being sharp, practical, and earthy. Often vulgar of speech and fond of pranks, he was especially noted for his rapport with his soldiers. Evan Thomas of Newsweek recounted an instance late in Franks' career when the general held a banquet for his top brass in Qatar. Franks ignored his seat at the head table full of luminaries, choosing instead to sit at a small table with a senior enlisted man. When an aide asked if Franks would not rather join his peers at their table, Franks said, "Nope. I want to talk to the sergeant major." The general explained this attitude to the Associated Press, as cited by Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian Observer. "I remember when I was a private soldier. I remember the days when I was taken care of(,) and when I was not taken care of."

Franks was also famous for his lack of interest in the spotlight, and he had no patience for show–offs. Even when involved in such high profile undertakings as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 21st century, the general rarely gave interviews. With characteristic wry humor, he clarified these views by telling a press conference about the first book he had ever read. The BBC quoted Franks as saying, "It was a book about Julius Caesar. I remember parts of it. The book said Julius Caesar was a general. He made long speeches. They killed him."

For all Franks' self–effacing mannerisms and "good old boy" affect, however, friends and colleagues cautioned against underestimating him. Retired Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, who worked under Franks, told Nancy Benac of the Pocono Record, "Anybody who mistakes that slow, Texas drawl for anything other than the sharpest of minds is making an incredibly bad mistake." Indeed, the general was also a seasoned diplomat of sorts, counting among his admirers King Abdullah II of Jordan (at whose seaside home he once vacationed), Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek. This multi–faceted intellect and talent would be indispensable in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001.

Afghanistan and Iraq

Franks was already a four–star general and the commander of CentCom, responsible for military operations in 25 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, when al–Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. The following day, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered Franks to produce military options for President George W. Bush. Within a week, the general had a plan to attack the terrorists and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and less than a month later, the air strikes there had begun. Relying primarily on special operations forces, local militia, CIA operations, and air support, Franks' successfully routed the Taliban in fairly short order. His strategy in Afghanistan was not without critics, including Rumsfeld at times, but the defeat of the Taliban and support of the administration soon quieted those voices.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 thrust Franks back into the hated spotlight, but his Afghanistan victory had lent him sufficient credibility to be able to employ an innovative and effective approach to the new war. First, he dismissed administration officials who supported the idea of amassing huge ground forces. Instead, he used small forces that moved quickly. This provided agility and the element of surprise. Another new concept, begun in Afghanistan, was integration of the four branches of the armed services. "This time," Franks told Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard, "we had reliant operations, where one service is reliant on the performance of another service. I believe that is transformational." Also as in Afghanistan, Franks took full advantage of the distinctive talents of special operations forces in order to keep abreast of information and targets. Finally, and not incidentally, Franks had access to technological advances from precision bombs to real time computer tracking that no general before him had ever had. A combination of these factors, along with the more prosaic contributions of the soldiers' hard work and sacrifice, led to the taking of Baghdad in just three weeks.

Franks' successes in Afghanistan and Iraq led many to hail him as perhaps the greatest military leader of the 21st century. Franks, however, had not forgotten being wounded three times in Vietnam and thus was not one to glorify or romanticize the price of battle. As Vulliamy noted, one of the general's stock comments was, "No one hates war like a soldier hates war."

Out of the Army

Franks retired from the army on August 1, 2003. Far from slowing down, however, he promptly filled his schedule with speaking engagements and began to write his memoirs. The book, American Soldier, was published in August of 2004. He also managed to find a moment that year to add the honor of being named Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In his spare time, Franks indulged in such favorite pursuits as golf, antiques, and spoiling the two children (one of whom dubbed the general "Pooh") of his only child, Jacqy.

While the campaign Franks led in Iraq was unequivocally effective in ousting Saddam Hussein, the ongoing violence and turmoil after victory was declared led to varied views on what his legacy would be. In hindsight, Franks maintained that he would still use the "small and fast" attack strategy, but allowed that other things (not necessarily under his control) might have been handled differently. In any event, he remained convinced that the world was much safer without Hussein in power and hoped the United States would continue to combat terrorism away from home. "If you want your grandchildren to grow up in an open society," he told Lyric Wallwork Winik of Parade, "we'd better deal with the problem as far away from here as possible, even though that's not easy or easily affordable. The blessings of this country are not by accident."


"About General Franks," Franks & Associates, (November 16, 2004).

"A Modern Major General," Guardian Observer, December 29, 2002,,3858,4574210-110878,00.html (December 4, 2004).

"Gen. Tom Franks: A Silent Partner in Operation Enduring Freedom, October 24, 2001, CNN, (November 16, 2004).

"General Tommy Franks," Book Reporter, (December 4, 2004).

"General Tommy Franks," Guardian Observer, November 9, 2001,,3858,4296031-108952,00.html (December 4, 2004).

"Our Man of War: Gen. Tommy Franks," Pocono Record, March 19, 2003, (December 4, 2004).

"Person of the Week: Gen. Tommy Franks," Time, March 8, 2002,,8816,216117,00.html (November 16, 2004).

"Profile: General Tommy Franks," BBC News, May 22, 2003, (December 4, 2004).

"The Commander," Weekly Standard, June 2, 2003, (December 4, 2004).

"The General Has His Say," Parade, August 1, 2004,–tommy–franks.html (November 16, 2004).

"Tommy Franks," Esquire, August 2002,–mwi–franks.html (December 4, 2004).

"Tommy Franks," Washington Speakers Bureau, August 2004, (December 4, 2004).

"Tommy Franks: Bulking Up For Baghdad," Newsweek, (December 4, 2004).