It took only a couple of seconds around Gen. Tommy Franks to realize, without any question, that he is a great man. His easy manner and his big smile transformed his powerful presence into an irresistible charisma. There were no airs or pretensions. His Texas drawl and his friendly banter highlighted a man at total ease with where he is in life, ready to enjoy its pleasures and to stand tall about his service to the United States of America.
Franks told me privately that he retired simply to spend more time with his wife, Kathy. He had tried to retire in 1997, and again in 1999, and both times superior officers in the armed forces had prevailed upon him to stay by offering promotions, from two- to three- to four-star general and bigger jobs. He was asked to oversee operations in the Middle East and to help with the ongoing modernization of all the branches of the U.S military into a unified command. Those two separate decisions to stay on put him squarely in the front line of command on 9/11, the day America was attacked and began its war on terror.
In his office, in a nondescript, strip mall office building in Tampa, Florida, the walls and shelves are lined with the memorabilia of a 37-year military career. There are campaign flags from a number of military operations in which he participated over the years. There are hats from U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. There are guitars signed by some of his favorite country music stars, including George Strait. There are Tampa Bay Buccaneers trinkets touting their 2003 Super Bowl win, and a Super Bowl ring given to him by the team's owner. There's a huge picture of him standing next to President Bush in Crawford, Texas, in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. There is a padded velvet tray with his medals from his entire career, among them three Purple Hearts and a dozen other medals, including three Bronze Stars for valor. There are jewel-encrusted swords given to him by kings and presidents of Middle Eastern countries, and some of his old service revolvers. And, there are humidors, at least a dozen of them, filled with cigars, each one a sign of his true love of cigars.
But amid all the regalia of a military life, there is Gen. Tommy Franks, standing tall and convincingly talking about duty, honor, country. As he says, "I'm just a corny guy." But what he describes as corny includes his unwavering belief in the U.S. Constitution, his love of the United States of America and his absolute certainty that he laid his life on the line for the right reasons, to preserve our freedom and liberty.
When asked how a college dropout from Texas could rise to the top of the U.S. military command, he said, "Ain't it a great country." Ain't he a great man.