Catching up with...
Retired Gen. Tommy Franks’ first shot at college was a clean miss. Fresh out of Midland’s Robert E. Lee High School, he headed to The University of Texas at Austin in 1963.
“I had absolutely no sense of any responsibility to study anything,” Franks told UTA Magazine in 2002. “My grades were so abysmal for the two years I was there that I simply left and joined the Army.”
His second college try went better.
He planned to leave the Army after returning from Vietnam and getting married in 1969. Then one of his bosses asked if he’d like to go back to college as part of the Army’s Boot Strap Degree Completion Program. It sounded like a good idea.
“The question was where to go. I had friends who had graduated from Arlington, so I said, ‘Hey, I’d like to go to UTA.’ ”
By the time he arrived in 1970, Franks’ study habits had improved. He earned a 3.83 grade-point average in 90 hours and graduated in 1971 with a bachelor of business administration degree.
In November he received the 2005 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. UT Arlington President James D. Spaniolo nominated Franks for the award and introduced him at the association’s annual meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Franks’ military career reached a pinnacle in 2000 when he was promoted to four-star general and named commander in chief of U.S. Central Command. The post oversees U.S. military operations in 25 nations in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.
Thrust into the national spotlight following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he led American and coalition troops in two campaigns in two years: Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.
“My first thought was that this was going to change America for my grandkids,” Franks said of 9/11. “And I believe I was exactly right.”
His Vietnam service earned him six awards for valor and three Purple Hearts. Other military honors include five Distinguished Service Medals, four Legions of Merit and four Bronze Stars. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire and was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Despite a slow start to his college career, Franks went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. He also graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College and the Army War College. He received UT Arlington’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 2002.
“All of us have great wishes for our children and our grandchildren. Get an education—the key that unlocks the door,” he said. “I am very honored to have been a student at UTA. And I’m honored by the fact that UTA supports great young people who are, through the sacrifices you see every day, willing to work so hard to purchase the next 200-plus years of American history.”
Since his retirement from the military in 2003, Franks has traveled the world speaking on leadership, character and the value of democracy. His autobiography, American Soldier, debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times Best Sellers list in August 2004.
— Mark Permenter