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Alumnus Tommy Franks

Alumnus Tommy FranksRetired Gen. Tommy Franks (í71 BBA) is often asked if heíd change anything about his life. ďYes,Ē he answers, but with some notable exceptions. Heíd marry the same woman. Heíd still join the U.S. Army. And heíd always treasure the time he spent at UT Arlington. Franks, a four-star general who led the countryís military actions following Sept. 11, urged students at the spring Graduation Celebration to heed the advice that a friend gave him: ďIf youíre not living on the edge, youíre taking up too much room.Ē He recently spoke with Danny Woodward following a campus luncheon in his honor.

You began your college career at UT Austin. What led you to enroll at UT Arlington?
I had just come back from Vietnam. Cathy and I had just gotten married. I was going to leave the military to go back to school because I didnít have a degree. The Army made an offer we couldnít refuse, which was to send us back to school. They asked me where I wanted to go to school. I had known several people who had graduated from UTA. So I said, ďWell, I think Iíll apply to UTA.Ē I was accepted and came down here and loved it.

What was your typical day like as a UT Arlington student?
I knew I had to finish 90 hours in two years. My academic prowess in Austin was not top of the stack. I had focus back in those days, but it didnít have anything to do with books or grades or classes. I was bound and determined to get it done and get it done right this time. So Iíd get up in the morning around 5:30, sit around the house and study for an hour or an hour and a half. Then, depending on what my class load might be, Iíd spend the day in the library. I literally spent days in the library here. It taught me, or I taught myself, how to focus and how to study. It was a good time for me.

President Spaniolo with Cathy Franks and Gen. Tommy Franks
President James D. Spaniolo presents a letter jacket with the new institutional logo to Gen. Franks and his wife, Cathy. Franks says the most important event of his life was the day he got married.

Do you have a favorite memory of UT Arlington?
Academic recognition is a favorite memory. After my dismal performance in Austin, I came up here, and I was enlisted in Alpha Chi honor society and Omicron Delta Epsilon economics honor society. Cathy and I had our first and, in fact, only child, who was born while we were in school here. We were not out partying. We were here to study and have the baby and get the work done.

Were there faculty and staff members who had a big impact on you?
George Fortenberry is always the one I mention by name because he is most vivid in my memory. The reason is because of his passion for the language. He was an English professor, and I just had such respect for him and still do. George Fortenberry wouldnít remember me in a crowd of two. I was just a student in his class. But he had a great effect on me and on my appreciation of the English language.

In what ways did UT Arlington prepare you for your career?
UT Arlington did a lot to teach me how to think. I donít recall a single professor ever trying to tell me what to think. It was about how to think, how to process information, how to gain an education. I had great respect for it, and I still do.

What lessons did you learn that werenít in textbooks?
I learned some here and I learned quite a few in a military context, mostly after I attended UTA and formed an opinion about how to learn. A thought that pops into my mind is from my childhood. My dad asked me if I knew the difference between being smart and being wise. I told him I had no idea. He said it was experience. That really sticks with me as one of the most valuable constructs of my life. You can have great intellectual acuity, but if you have no appreciation of effect, then you really will not be a wise person.

Alumnus Tommy FranksDescribe your emotions on Sept. 11, 2001.
My emotions ran the range from fear to a sense of impending doom. When I got the word, I was in Greece headed for Pakistan. I took the air crew out to eat the night of 9-11. We went to a Greek restaurant. When we walked in, the demeanor of all the Greeks in the restaurant, the sense of concern and sympathy that they had, affected me in a way that I suspect many Americans were affected. I worried about my family. I was not at all confused about the source of the problem. I had a conversation with [Defense] Secretary Rumsfeld. He asked me what I thought and I told him Bin Laden, al-Queda, Afghanistan.

What were your emotions like when the campaigns started in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Any leader recognizes responsibility for the lives of the people around him. In both places, I never doubted that the enterprise would be successful. But one always worries about how to keep as many people alive as possible while getting the job done. The weight of responsibility to others is what was on my mind as we initiated both campaigns.

What do you consider to be the most memorable experience of your career?
The most important event of my career is also the most important event of my life, and thatís getting married to the lady across the table. There are those who would say that Iíve never grown up. But I didnít start to grow up until I got married. I would not tell you that the most significant time in my life was time spent with a president or some very senior person or a king or an emir, because there have been many of those occasions. The thing thatís most important to me started out with getting married in 1969 to the woman who is still my wife after 37 years.

How do you describe the road to becoming a four-star general?
Every leader in the military works with some talented and gifted young people. Itís a bright leader who recognizes that fact. Young people in our armed services will make the general look better than the general ever is. That was the case with me. I respected them, and I still do. I trusted them, and I still do. I went to them for counsel and advice, and I still do. As the mascot of this university implies, I am a maverick and have always been a maverick. I never had a grand design of how to do something well in the military. I was worried about doing the job at hand today in the best possible way. I am not politically astute and never have been. Iíve never been interested in what my bosses thought of me, but Iíve always been interested in what the troops thought of me. At the end of the day, if you will let the troops make you look good, they will.

Now that youíre retired, what things are you involved with?
I sit on a couple of public boards. I sit on a bunch of nonprofit boards of directors. Iím interested in the education of military children. My wife sits on the board of MCEC (Military Child Education Coalition). I work with her on that. The idea there is to make sure that military children are not disadvantaged by the fact that their moms and dads are constantly moving through school systems all over the country. Iím interested in philanthropic work that recognizes the contributions of Americans like those on Flight 93. I co-chair along with Gov. Tom Ridge the Flight 93 Memorial Foundation. Weíre working to build a memorial in Pennsylvania to those heroes who lost their lives on 9-11. We have to be sure theyíre never forgotten. Iím also working on a memorial for Central Command in Tampa, Fla., and a variety of things like that.

Do you want to stay in the public eye?
No. I have a speaking agent, the Washington Speakers Bureau, and we do speaking for pay. Iím interested in visibility at that level. Iím not interested in political visibility. I donít shy away from stating my opinion. But I donít seek out American media in order to make myself something Iím not.

Whatís the secret to your success?
I learned from a loving family 50-plus years ago that the things important in this country are family, faith and the flag. I believe that weíre a nation founded on values. And I believe that when people get hokey and self-serving, at the end of the day it shows. I donít think that those people turn out to be as successful as they would like to be. Iíve been blessed to live in a country that deserves respect. The United States of America, thereís none other. Iíve been blessed by the Lord, and Iíve been blessed by a family that has loved me, nurtured me and in some cases tolerated me. So at the bottom end of all of it, I guess youíd say that thereís been a degree of luck.

How would you like to be remembered in history books?
As a corny guy who meant what he said, did what he said he would do, treasured his family and his faith and recognized the importance of a country where weíre all free to be everything we want to be. But it doesnít come either cheap or free. As a guy who was concerned about those with whom he worked and those for whom he was responsible.

What advice would you give UT Arlington students?
Take advantage of your ability to learn, not only from the book or the professor, but from those around you. Donít try to grow up too fast. The world will wait for you. Grow up solid. Grow up with strong roots. Donít waver with the wind. Be proud of your family. Be proud of who you are as an individual, and always know that you are among the greatest blessings of this country.

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