On the radio program "Your Turn Meeting Nonsense with Common Sense," the Centers Corporate Counsel, Renee Giachino, interviewed General Tommy Franks about his recently released book, American Soldier.
What follows are excerpts from the interview.
GIACHINO: Good afternoon and welcome to "Your Turn." Alright, you better start dialing now if you want an opportunity to talk with our first guest.
He really needs little introduction, other than to say that he is the embodiment of the American soldier a gentleman who was raised in Midland, Texas, was an enlisted man and then later became an officer, rising through the ranks of our military system, serving for almost forty years, with his last assignment as Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command from July 2000 until he retired in July 2003.
Most recently in fact, I think it was just days ago he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
It is my extreme pleasure to welcome to the program General Tommy Franks who joins us to discuss his new book, American Soldier.
General Franks, thank you for coming on the program and for the many years of service you gave to our Country.
FRANKS: Well, Renee, it is a great pleasure to be with you.
GIACHINO: General Franks, as I read your book, American Soldier, one of the things that amazed me time and again was your ability to recall names and dates. Its as if all of it just happened yesterday. Yet, you mention early in the book that you, like many who served in Vietnam, did not keep a diary of your travels but rather had to rely on your letters to your wife and your awards to retrace your steps. What motivated you to write this book, and do you finally feel like you have your diary?
FRANKS: Actually, Renee, I do feel like I have my diary. The thing that prompted me to write the book was maybe two parts: One, this is a most important time in American history, and I have been privileged over the last several years to observe our country in action, our young people who wear the uniform, and also our political leadership. And, so, with that and thinking about a second reason, which you mentioned the capturing of a diary for my grandkids and generations of my family that follow, it seemed to make it right for us to write this book and so thats why we did it.
GIACHINO: General Franks, I am the wife of a former military officer and I am sure that a lot of our listeners are military spouses, and we can really relate at some level with your wife Cathy and all of her sacrifices throughout your military career. And you note that she did make sacrifices over and over again. You even mention in the book American Soldier that your decision to marry Mrs. Franks, at the time Cathy Jane Carley, was the single best decision you ever made in or out of uniform. I congratulate you for honoring her in this book.
Your daughter, Jacqy, married an Army man, as well. Knowing how difficult military life can be for families, did that give you any pause?
FRANKS: It gave me no pause, but I confess a little bit of surprise. When youre a kid growing up in a military family (which you certainly would appreciate), as our daughter was growing up and as Cathy and I were traveling around the world and going from one school to another throughout her childhood, it surprised me that when it came time for her to get married that she looked around and found a young lieutenant and decided that that was what she wanted to do. And so its been a blessing for our family. We love the military and always have, and we love the kids who serve, and we love our son-in-law and he has been a great husband to our daughter and he has also been a great dad of the worlds two best grandkids.
GIACHINO: Sounds like you enjoy being a grandfather.
FRANKS: (laughing) I really do. We have a granddaughter who is seven and a grandson who is four. And we were blessed to be in Washington with them for the event you mentioned. And they will be here with us in Tampa where we live over the Christmas holidays. And so, life is good for our family.
GIACHINO: That is wonderful, General Franks. We have a call if you dont mind. Go ahead caller.
CALLER: Thank you. First off, thank you so much General Franks for your service. You are a great American hero and we really appreciate all you have done for our nation. And, secondly, my question for you today, sir, is do you feel like the things going on right now with the war on terrorism that we are pursuing is the right course and that we need to continue this war as we are, or there are things that you feel like need to be changed? And, let me ask you this, after 9-11 I tried to sign up at age 39 and was told that I was too old, but yet I know that when you sign up for selective service you sign up from 18 to 45. Why the difference?
FRANKS: Sir, thats a great question. Let me first say thanks a lot for being an American patriot. Secondly, I wish as you are around 40 and trying to sign up I tell a lot of people I wish to heck that I could be 40 years old again. I think next time I would get it right.
I dont know about the age up to which you can volunteer and sign up, but I do applaud the fact that you love this country and you were willing to step as so many other folks have done to wear the uniform of the various other military branches. And so thanks a lot for being who you are for being a patriot and for being willing to serve our country.
With regard to the first question, yes, I do think we are doing the right thing on the war on terrorism. Not long ago I did a little research and I found out that in more than 225 years of American history we have not had a generation, not a single generation, where we did not have Americans involved in hostilities involved in some place. And now that is a heck of a thing, but what that does is remind me of the fact that freedom is not free and from time to time in each of our generations the greatest generation in World War II and those who followed with Korea and Vietnam and so forth Americans have been called on to step up and, at least in my terms, take care of their grandchildren and the children of their grandchildren and generations yet unborn. And so, first off we had to do what we did.
With respect to how it is going right now, it is tough. Iraq is tough, Afghanistan is tough. You see glimmers of hope every day. You dont see them in our national media, and Im sad about that. But there are glimmers I see every day, and I get them in my mail and that I hear on the telephone from people I know who are serving in Iraq during this tough period. And so what we have to do is stay with it, and I assure you that it is for us, it is not for them. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. It wont be easy and it wont be convenient and many times we will not meet our own expectations. But thats the way it goes in America. Our liberties are not free. And so I applaud those men and women who serve us every day.
Sorry for the long answer but you asked a very good question.
CALLER: General Franks, I have a question for you about the military strategy that was used in Iraq. And I am certainly not Monday morning quarterbacking you, okay?
CALLER: OK, but I do have this question. Do you think that our victory in Iraq was so swift that, to put it bluntly, we did not kill enough of the enemy and we allowed them to live to come back now to fight our troops?
FRANKS: You know, its interesting, that is a good question and it is a fair question. It is fair for us to think about that and talk about it. I guess the short answer is that I dont know for a certainty, but I have said for a while and said before we went into Iraq, beginning on the 19th of March in 2003, that we were at risk of what I called catastrophic success or catastrophic victory.
You have, my friend, just described it. Because what that means is that the enemys military is overtaken so quickly that while we have our troopers standing around on street corners in Baghdad, Mozul, Tikrit, Falujah, we have not yet had time to bring the full power of our bureaucracy that is those people I call the wing tips, into play. We had not yet, at that time, early following major combat operations, we had not had time to put together all the funding and all the necessary things that are born out of the power of our bureaucracy in order to give the Iraqis the civil action help that they needed and wanted and provide them security at the same time.
And so, yes, I have referred to that as catastrophic success as a direct answer to your question.
GIACHINO: I will confess, General Franks, that I do not know a lot about our military weaponry and tactics, and so I was fascinated while reading American Soldier and following your career, which essentially began as an artillery officer in Vietnam. For the gun enthusiasts out there, I think they will particularly enjoy all of the detail in the book about our military weaponry and how it has advanced over the last 30 or 40 years. While you were writing American Soldier, did it ever occur to you that you were in part writing the history of our military from the inside looking out?
FRANKS: Well, Renee, thats kind the way you put it. Actually, it didnt occur to me. We have so many people who are gifted and talented and committed to writing our militarys history. My purpose in the book was actually to more talk about the blessings of being born an American and being able to leave high school and head off to university and flunk out after 2 years and join the Army as a private and grow up and have a chance to live the American dream than it was intended to be about the evolution of military forces. Ill tell you this, from the time I came in the door as a young private and then a couple years later as a young lieutenant serving in Vietnam, up until where we sit today, the evolution not only in military hardware, the guns, the tanks, the weaponry and all that but we have seen a remarkable evolution in the quality of the young people in this volunteer force which I personally believe is one of the greatest success stories of our last 100 years. And it is also a comment on the training of those young people as they have proven their motivation to stand between America and great harm.
And I did write about that. My intent was not so much to talk about the evolution of all of that, but it has been so remarkable to me that I suspect there is a fair dose of that in the book.
GIACHINO: Well, General Franks, you mention hardware, and recently Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was publicly questioned by some military members about the number of troops on the ground in Iraq and whether they were adequately supplied. I understand that you have been out of the situation for some time now, having retired in July 2003, but can you comment on this situation?
FRANKS: You bet. It is maybe a two part answer. The first part is I think it is just terrific that a young person in uniform is number one is willing to, and number two is permitted to, stand up and say "hey, Mr. Secretary, Ive got a little problem I would like you to help me with. We do not have all the gear we need in order to handle the situation in Iraq." And I think thats a very good news story. For the old timers who listen to your show, they would recognize, as is I did, that there was a time not so many years ago where a youngster would have been pretty fearful to do so. And so I applaud the fact that we have, not only that young man who asked a very hard question, but number two we have an institution in our military that says its okay to ask that kind of hard question.
Secondly, the answer to his question is a tough answer. The good news is that out of about 19,000 or 20,000 trucks that we have operating inside Iraq right now which need additional armor protection, about 15,000 of them have it. Thats the good news. The bad news is that about 4,000 of them do not yet have it. And so it is a good question and it is all fair. And I have said this to many people: in order to be fair to Don Rumsfeld and our armed services, its a pretty tough thing to turn out thousands and thousands of these armor kits as quickly as I and Americas moms and dads would like to have it done. I have also told people that if you believe that armor protection is the only big problem that our kids face beginning in 2003 when they went into Iraq, well then you just would not be fully informed. We found lots and lots of things that needed to be fixed.
And I applaud Don Rumsfeld and Dick Meyers, the Chairman, and many, many others for having responded and fixed lots of problems. Make no mistake about it, we have thousands of trucks over there that need to have armor put on them in order to protect our kids, and I think it was pretty fair notice for this young man to say on behalf of all of his comrades, "hey, Secretary, we dont have yet everything that we need."
GIACHINO: Thank you for that answer. As I am sure you are aware, another Osama Bin Laden video tape has just surfaced. If he is still out there, why is it that we have not captured him yet, and do you think we can?
FRANKS: Yes, we will either capture him or kill him and, to be blunt with you and your audience, either way works fine for me. The reason we have not done it, just to give you a straight heads-up short answer, is because he is what the intelligence community calls a hard target. The reason he is a hard target is because of the ideology of terrorism not the religion of Muslim, but the ideology of terrorism. That guy is supported by millions of households in the Middle East who believe he is a hero in every sense of the word. They are willing to protect him, and they are willing to do everything they can to keep us from capturing or killing him. The reason we will get it done and when I say "we," I mean America and our allies I dont know that it will be the military, but we will eventually capture or kill this guy because he deserves to die. Pardon me for a rather direct answer. I dont hate the guy, as a matter of fact, I respect him. He is a worthy enemy and we have to hunt him on his terms, and I am satisfied that our country is working that with great diligence and we will eventually catch him. Maybe tonight, maybe five years from now, but he will be caught.
GIACHINO: We all can only hope so. General Franks, in the book, American Soldier, you describe at length the efforts that you personally undertook to establish relationships with neighboring countries around Afghanistan and Iraq during the planning stages for those invasions. And you were successful in many instances, which resulted in our ability to use foreign airspace or territory for our operations. Obviously this required you to hone your diplomacy skills probably learned and earned so well in the military. Would you ever consider an ambassador appointment, and, if so, would you consider one in the Middle East?
FRANKS: Many of my friends ask me questions like that, Renee, and I always give them a west Texas grin and say "well, no, actually I gave at the office." I dont think that there is any form of politics or government service at that level in our future. Cathy and I are going to spend some time bouncing the grandbabies on our knees. I have great respect for those who serve our ambassadors who work the diplomacy and our senior military leaders, as well as people in Washington those are just things that we will not do in our future.
GIACHINO: Let me move off a little onto the idea of respect. Throughout the book American Soldier there seems to be no love lost between you and the media press. Frankly, this is a position I probably share very strongly with you. One of your greatest criticisms, perhaps, is that despite the extreme media presence in our current conflicts, they dont always get the story right. I think that is part of what makes this book, American Soldier, required reading for all Americans who want to know the truth about our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, being out of the military for over a year, and being a member of the media, sort of, what do you think? How is the media doing?
FRANKS: My difficulty with our national media does not have actually anything to do with what they report, it has to do with what they do not report. Not so long ago I was in Philadelphia and I opened a Philadelphia magazine, a local publication in the hotel I was staying in, and I read a story about a youngster, a 42-year-old youngster, named Patrick Duggin who was a very successful Philadelphia lawyer. And to just give the short version of the story, this young lawyer decided there was something he could do to help the Iraqi people with building their constitution. And so he went down and persuaded the Army to let him in as an attorney, and he is in Iraq today. I did not read that any place in The New York Times or the Washington Post and I did not see that on CNN. My frustration is in the lack of balance from what we get from the media. I grow weary from listening to so many in our national media offer condemnation of America for having not done something well during the war on terrorism. My view is that the war on terrorism was started by the terrorists. It is now our job to finish it. I dont blame our country for having done something wrong, I simply blame the terrorists. And I think our media has that way out of whack and so it is the lack of balance that I find fault with.
GIACHINO: General Franks, your military career is extremely decorated you earned three Purple Hearts for combat wounds and three Bronze Stars for valor. I suspect, however, that what you may be most proud of is the repeated references to you as a "soldiers general." After having read your book American Soldier I can understand why they have labeled you as a "soldiers general." What do you think is meant by that?
FRANKS: I think that is about the greatest compliment that senior leader in our military can get, and I am probably more proud of that than anything else. To put it in frightful terms, what it means to me is that most of the lessons and things that I learned that helped me do my job I did not learn from my boss. I learned an awful lot from young privates walking around in rice paddies up to their hips in Vietnam; I learned a lot from young non-commissioned officers and junior officers in every step along the way. And I have just always taken pride in recognizing that I was not the sharpest knife in the drawer and so I worked awfully hard to surround myself by people who worked. And in the process of doing that I got the reputation for being a guy who worked with people rather than being just terribly directive of people. And, so I guess that may be where it came from.
That is not to say that I am not a hard guy. I was plenty hard when I wore the uniform and I was never ashamed of that. But I was also plenty appreciative of the young people who do the work. Look, every war we have ever had in this country has had the young people doing the work and the generals getting the credit. And the last three years is no exception to that.
GIACHINO: I think that American Soldier should be on every listeners Christmas list this year. In fact, I think it is so well written that I am going to encourage my 9- and 11-year-olds to read the book, first to better help them understand our military history and recent conflicts that the United States is involved in, but I think even more so because you write about accountability. You talk and write about accountability how were held accountable for your actions and decisions throughout your military career and how our President, as Commander-in-Chief, is accountable. Do you think this message flows down through the military and, more generally, is it a message that you think the folks in America hear?
FRANKS: I believe that the most important three words you know having read the book that I talk a lot about my dad in there but the most important three words my dad ever taught me were "Its my fault." I just sort of had that engrained in me. A lot of people have asked me, "well, Franks, if youre really an independent, why did you support George W. Bush in the most recent Presidential election?" And I have tried to be very honest and say, look one of the things that caused me to support him is that I thought our very left-leaning national media had very much out of whack what had gone on during the three years of a global war on terrorism, and I thought that they were laying at the Presidents feet a lot of things that were, no kidding, my fault. If people in this country dont like what went on in the Iraq operation, it is my fault, it is not his. I was a military leader that the President of the United States had a lot of confidence in, and he let me do it my way. If its wrong, it is my fault. Lets give him credit for having done his job during very difficult and uncertain times for the United States of America, and lets blame the General. And there is a whole list of things like that that I thought I would try to square away as I supported him as he ran for re-election. I am glad he has been re-elected. I have been very honest with people about that.
That is accountability. Its a willingness not to say "hey, everything is my fault" if you dont believe it is, but being willing to stand up and say "dont blame somebody else, blame me." Yes, I believe that America would be better served if all of our politicians would be able to stand up and say "okay, its my fault and now how are we going to fix the problem?" I think there is a precious shortage of people in our government over the last 100 years who actually are willing to say that.
CALLER: Historically, can you make comparisons with our effort to transition Iraq and, for that matter, even Afghanistan, into a democracy as they would pertain to our efforts in the 40s and 50s transforming Germany and Japan into democracies. Both of those nations had fanatics, we had plenty of deaths during the occupation, and we were still successful into turning them into not just tremendous economic democracies but allies.
FRANKS: You bet, I think that is a valid observation. The characteristic that we will see in Iraq, that I believe we will look like what we saw in both Japan and Germany, will be the length of time that is necessary for an entire population to modify its behavior, to begin to recognize the incredible benefits of liberty and democracy and I believe we will see similar results. It sort of goes back to the comment that I made about the media and the imbalance in the reporting that we see. I bet that many, many Americans believe because its what they are told by our national media that there is nothing going on that is good Iraq, that none of the Iraqis want to help, and so forth. That simply isnt true. The vast majority of Iraqis really would like to have a paying job, have their kids go to school, have their wives be able to get medical attention, have the power come on and so forth. Its called freedom.
But it wont happen overnight. I have characterized it much more like a rheostat on the wall that throws a light fixture than an on-and-off switch. We develop expectations in our country that we as a superpower can step in any place in the world and fix a huge problem. I agree with that. We can do that. But we cannot do it on an overnight basis. It is going to take years for the Iraqis to be able to do the things that they need to do for the sake of their own freedom.
GIACHINO: General Franks, thank you so much for so graciously giving us so much of your time. I have two things that I want to let the listeners know, I know that they have lots more questions for you. My response to that is they should buy the book. American Soldier has 590 pages worth of answers, and it is well worth buying and even more worth reading and so if you cant afford a copy right now, pick one up at the local library. I think you will enjoy it tremendously. I am sure it is available, as well, at Amazon.com.
The second thing that I would like to mention is that you will also have an opportunity to see General Franks in person as he will be here in Pensacola at the Pensacola Civic Center in mid-January to give what I hope will be an extremely motivational speech. Is that right?
FRANKS: I am going to be there speaking with a seminar group called "Get Motivated" in January. I love the people in and around Pensacola, and I am looking forward to it and I hope I get a chance to meet a bunch of them.
GIACHINO: Well, thank you very much. We greatly appreciate your time this afternoon and, even more so, all of your great service to our country.
FRANKS: Thank you very much, and Happy Holidays to you and your listeners.
GIACHINO: Thank you General Tommy Franks, author of American Soldier. You can pick up the book at local bookstores, and it is also available online at Amazon.com.January 6, 2005