"Mr. President, I'm finer than the hair on a frog's back," the 57-year-old Texan once responded when Mr. Bush inquired about his welfare.
His ties to the White House go even deeper than Texas, though. Franks went to high school with First Lady Laura Bush in Midland, Texas. Friends and colleagues say Franks is still true to those small-town, working-class roots and would rather hang out with enlisted men and NCOs than dine with the top brass.
His affinity for the rank and file probably comes naturally. A University of Texas dropout, Franks joined the Army in 1965. Unlike many of his peers whpo graduated as officers from the service academies, he started at the bottom and rose through the ranks.
He was singled out for Officer Candidate School in 1967, just before deploying to Vietnam, where he would became a decorated combat veteran, earning, among other medals, three Purple Hearts and three Bronze Stars with a "V" for valor.
"Tommy Franks just comes across like a good old boy. It's almost deceptive how he comes across," Franks' friend Joe House told the Tampa Tribune last year. "Then he suddenly transforms into a very knowledgeable tactician and politician, or just the ideal person you'd want in charge. He makes troops want to follow him. He relates to them extremely well, which goes back to when he was one of them."
Friends often say that Franks loves his soldiers like family.
"One thing I'm sure of is that the kids who are doing this are a damn sight better than I was when I was that age," Franks said to war reporter Joe Galloway in January. "You don't have to hang out under too many jets or in too many helicopters or around the turret of a tank for too long until you appreciate that these people have something that we simply didn't have when I was young... they have a sense of what they are all about and what they are trying to do."
After Vietnam, Franks, like most commanders in the upper echelon of the U.S. military, spent his career moving between high-level staff assignments, training/education sabbaticals, and field commands.
Franks earned his bachelor's and master's degrees by taking advantage of a program designed to give officers educational opportunities. He enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington in 1969 and graduated summa cum laude with a business degree in 1971.
After stints in West Germany and a post in the Army chief of staff's office, Franks in 1981 was given command of the 2nd Battalion, 78th Field Artillery, based in West Germany. He returned to the U.S. in 1984 to begin studies at the Army War College at Carlisle, Penn., where he earned a master of science degree in public administration from Shippensburg University.
From there, Franks served in Fort Hood, Texas and as commander of artillery and chief of staff for the First Cavalry Division. Shortly before the 1991 Gulf War, Franks was promoted to general and became the First Cavalry's assistant division commander.
During the war, the division executed a deceptive maneuver that drew Iraqi forces toward the Saudi Arabian border, allowing them to be flanked and captured or destroyed. The First Cavalry was later sent deep into Iraq on a mission to destroy the Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. According to the division's official history, the ceasefire ordered by President George H.W. Bush kept them from destroying a Republican Guard division.
From 1991 to 1992, Franks was the assistant commandant of the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. In 1992, he was assigned to a task force in the Office of Chief of Staff of the Army. In 1994, he was sent to South Korea to serve on the command staff of U.S. and Combined Forces there.
From 1995 to 1997, Franks commanded the Second Infantry Division in Korea. He was appointed commander of the Third Army/Army Forces Central Command in Atlanta, Ga. in May 1997. In 2000, Franks reached his current post as the United States Central Command's Commander in Chief.
Some have argued that "CentCom," as the command is known, is the most important post in the U.S. military. With its jurisdiction over 25 countries in the Near East and North Africa, Franks spends much of his time visiting with military counterparts and heads of states in those countries.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Franks was thrust into the middle of a new "war on terrorism." He commanded the forces that won a quick victory over the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and has been credited with adapting conventional forces to an unconventional role by coordinating with special forces personnel and CIA paramilitaries.
Still, Franks took criticism in the beginning of the conflict for being too conventional-warfare minded, too attached to the philosophy of an artillery officer.
Reports have contrasted Franks' leadership and communication style with one of his predecessors at CentCom, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf -- a household name and Gulf War hero. However, where "Stormin' Norman" loved to talk to the press, Franks "had to be dragged into a press conference by the defense secretary," reported London's Guardian newspaper.
CentCom's chief, Franks oversaw a massive buildup in the Middle East in preparation
for a possible war with Iraq. Franks and his staff are said to have prepared for
multiple contingencies in Iraq. CentCom has dropped leaflets warning Iraqi troops
of dire consequences if they use chemical or biological weapons against coalition
troops, and commanders are reportedly drawing up plans to neutralize Saddam Hussein's
capability for using such weapons.
Friends and observers say Franks is extremely loyal and close to his family, which includes his wife and daughter Jaqy, who is married to an Army officer. Cathy Franks reportedly often accompanies her husband on trips oversees. The chair on his personal military plane has four stars embroidered on the back, while hers reportedly has four hearts.
Rumsfeld took the unusual step of commenting on the ongoing investigation in early February. He pledged his full support of Franks and said such complaints against senior commanders are not uncommon.
"There isn't a chance in the world that it will have any possible interference with his role as the combatant commander in the Central Command. Tom Franks is doing a superb job for this country. And we are lucky to have him there. He is a man of great talent and skill. And he has my complete confidence and the complete confidence of the president of the United States," Rumsfeld said.
Franks has said that he knows of no malfeasance that may have been committed and is focused on his command responsibilities.
"The ability of a guy in my position to focus on his work is very, very important to getting the job done. This ongoing investigation has had no impact on my focus at all, because I'm comfortable with the way I do my business. And I'm comfortable that at the end of the day, everyone will understand why I am comfortable," he told the Associated Press.
Franks usually defers to Rumsfeld or the president when asked about the U.S. position on Iraq, but he gave this statement to the AP on Feb. 25:
"We have a firm conviction that Saddam Hussein rapes, murders and abuses his own people, that he threatens the Western world and a great many nations in the international community -- and we're one of them -- that he has the capability to bring his threats to reality. And it seems to us this should not stand," the general said.
-- By Jason Manning, Online NewsHour
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