About halfway through operation Internal Look--the military's just-completed practice run for a real war in Iraq--Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall combatant commander, held a banquet for his senior officers. Some 50 flag-rank officers, generals and admirals gathered at Central Command headquarters in Qatar. Franks was supposed to preside at the head table with the other top brass, but instead he sat over at a small table in the corner, chatting with his top sergeant. An aide approached Franks and asked, a little uncertainly, "Don't you want to sit at the head table?" "Nope," said Franks. "I want to talk to the sergeant major." While the generals wined and dined, Franks went back to amiably jawing with a senior enlisted man.
In the sweep of his command, General Franks is the modern equivalent of a proconsul in the Roman Empire. As the head of Centcom, he is responsible for U.S. military operations in 25 countries from Egypt to Central Asia, and he will direct any invasion of Iraq. But if Franks is Caesar, you could never tell it from his public presence.
When he appears before troops, he does not launch into orations about the glory, duty or higher meaning of it all. He usually cracks a few jokes and plunges into the ranks to shake hands. Franks is known to dislike showboaters and phonies and rarely grants interviews. The standard media rap on Franks is that he is unimaginative and overcautious. But among many top military men, Franks has won a kind of grudging respect for standing up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on war plans for Iraq. While Rumsfeld wanted to emphasize razzle-dazzle--Special Forces, laser-guided bombs--Franks held out for a more conventional invasion, massing hundreds of thousands of troops.
Unlike some top generals in the Pentagon, Franks has not resisted President Bush's push toward war in Iraq. But like most modern generals, he wants to keep casualties to a minimum. "No one hates war like a soldier hates war," says Franks, who was wounded three times as a junior artillery officer in Vietnam. His other favorite aphorism: "No plan ever survived the first contact with the enemy." Franks is a relentless detail man who expects his aides to be just as fastidious (his staff generally rises at 4 a.m.). He dislikes whining, but he is a patient listener who knows when to show respect.
Based in Tampa, Fla., he flies around the world in a 40-year-old windowless converted Boeing 707 with some of the most sophisticated communications gear ever built. In between grinding out war plans with his senior battle staff, he watches movies on a tiny DVD player (a recent favorite: "Analyze This") and relishes practical jokes. An officer who dozes off on the plane can be awakened by General Franks's pouring a bottle of water over his head. Franks often travels with Cathy, his wife of more than 30 years. (He has four stars sewn on the back of his seat; his wife has four hearts sewn on the back of hers.) A college dropout, Franks can seem like a raw country boy. But he has won his stars--as well as his command of the most powerful military force in the world--by combining a sharp eye with a strong will.
In our year-end double issue, we mistakenly credited the photo of Gen. Tommy Franks ("Bulking Up for Baghdad") as "Photograph by Karen Ballard for NEWSWEEK." The credit instead should have read "Photograph by Karen Ballard, courtesy of Warner Bros. Television." NEWSWEEK regrets the error.