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US General Tommy Franks:  Well Known, Well Liked - 2003-03-22

For the first time Saturday U.S. Army General Tommy Franks, the commander of coalition forces involved in the war with Iraq, briefed reporters and spoke to a worldwide television audience about the conflict in the Persian Gulf. While General Franks may soon become a familiar face as he holds regular briefings on the war, he is well known, and well liked, at the U.S. Defense Department.

General Tommy Ray Franks is the leader of the U.S. military's Central Command and along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is the author of the war plan for Iraq.

The 57-year-old general is described by President Bush as a "down-to-earth, no nonsense guy" who, according to the president, believes in the U.S. military's "blue collar workers."

Those workers, of course, are the frontline soldiers in the war with Iraq, and General Franks opened his first briefing at his headquarters in Qatar by expressing sympathy for the families of coalition soldiers who have been killed during the campaign.

When asked to assess the progress of the war, General Franks said the time to celebrate is when the mission is accomplished. "I think what this is a coalition force that is designed to take down this regime and control weapons of mass destruction which for certain, sure, exist within Iraq," he said. "The approaches and the amount of time that it will take to identify those weapons and control them remains to be seen, very candidly."

Standing nearly two meters tall, General Franks is described by friends as a towering Texan and a hard charging soldier with a soft southern drawl.

While the general dropped out of college and joined the Army at the age of 20, he is an avid student of military history and counts among his friends some of the leaders in the Middle East.

King Abdullah of Jordan gave General Franks a Harley-Davidson after discovering their shared interest in motorcycles.

He also has a close relationship with the presidents of Egypt and Pakistan.

In addition to commanding forces in the war with Iraq, General Franks is also responsible for trying to keep order in post-war Afghanistan and coordinating U.S. military operations in more than 20 other nations stretching from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia.

The general's five-year-old granddaughter, who nicknamed him "Pooh," pesters him about why he hasn't found Osama bin Laden.

But General Frank's current focus is on the leadership in Baghdad, although he told reporters he does not know if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is dead or alive. "Actually I don't know," admitted Tommy Franks. "I don't know if he is alive or not. But interestingly, the way we are undertaking this military operation it would not be changed irrespective of the location or the life of this one man. That is why we talk about the regime."

General Franks has served in a number of hot spots, including Korea and in the Iraqi desert during operation Desert Storm.

His military commendations include four Legion of Merit medals and three Bronze Stars.

He received three Purple Hearts after being wounded repeatedly during combat in Vietnam.

While General Franks is a striking figure in his desert uniform, black beret and sunglasses, he has been reluctant to invite public attention.

As he puts it, "Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf," referring to the media-savvy commander of the 1991 Gulf war.

Still, military comrades speak of General Franks as a straight-shooting leader attuned to his soldiers and willing to share credit for success.

They also say he is a cigar-smoking fan of country music with a self-effacing humor who has a colorful vocabulary.

As the commander of coalition soldiers in Iraq, General Tommy Franks will no doubt become well known as he regularly informs the world about the progress of the war.