— -- As commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command since July 6, 2000, Army Gen. Tommy Franks is responsible for U.S. security interests in a region that stretches from North Africa across the Arabian peninsula to Central Asia and Afghanistan — 25 countries in all.
A four-star general, Franks is the ranking officer in charge of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and one of three men running the Bush administration's military campaign against Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization. Franks is responsible for briefing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Early in the Afghanistan campaign, Franks, known for his quiet but forceful leadership qualities, was unfavorably compared to the man who commanded American forces during the Gulf War, Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Critics, recalling the loquacious Schwarzkopf, said Franks was nearly invisible — too conservative with his air attacks and keeping too low a profile with the media.
At first, Franks met the criticism with humor: "Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf," Franks said during a session with reporters. Rumsfeld quickly added, "Nor vice versa."
As Taliban control of Afghanistan rapidly crumbled under the Franks-led attacks, and his public profile increased, many critics were forced to see the wisdom of Franks' method. And as the victories piled up, Schwarzkopf himself publicly declared Franks "a great soldier."
"You always have the people who are second-guessing and the military experts who aren't," Schwarzkopf said in the second month of the military action. "Remember four weeks ago? Everyone was saying things weren't going well and Tommy Franks was in trouble. … Look at things now. What are they saying?"
Dropping Out and Signing Up
Franks was born in Wynnewood, Okla., on June 17, 1945. Dropping out of the University of Texas in 1965, after his sophomore year, Franks joined the Army, got a commission as an artillery lieutenant and shipped out for Vietnam.
While in Vietnam, he spent most of his time directing fire on the enemy. He was wounded three times and received three Purple Hearts. Upon his return, he finished college, receiving a business degree from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Franks married Cathryn Carley in 1969, and they have a daughter, Jacqy.
After Vietnam, Franks began a rapid rise through the military ranks. In the early 1970s, he commanded an armored engineer company in West Germany. He completed tours at the Pentagon in the Army Inspector General's Office and later as an Army liaison with Congressional leaders. During Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, he served with the First Cavalry Division.
Franks took over U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), one of nine unified commands in the Department of Defense, four months before the attack in Yemen on the USS Cole in October 2000. He worked at Central Command's headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.
Colleagues say Franks is widely respected among his peers and troops — who see not the reserved man some of the media observe, but a soldier frequently in battle dress, with a dynamic sense of humor and vocabulary frequently laced with profanity.
"I think the troops look at him as a soldier's soldier, as a commander that they can look up to and a guy who will lead them to victory," said Gen. Gordon Sullivan, who was Army chief of staff from 1991 to 1995.
No doubt, Franks family sees a softer side. His two granddaughters, consider him a big cuddly teddy bear and call him "Pooh," after Winnie the Pooh.
"He's very colorful," said his daughter, Jacqy Matlock, in an interview with ABCNEWS in October 2001. "So his terminology is very colorful. He's the entertainer of our family."
The general is known to invent his own words from time to time, Matlock said. His favorite made-up term? "Unteroberdingas." His daughter did not offer a definition.
"My father is all about family," she said. "And there are two very distinct families in his life — the first of which is the military."