American Soldier

Article excerpt

American Soldier by Gen Tommy Franks with Malcolm McConnell. ReganBooks/HarperCollins Publishers (http://www.harpercollins.com), 10 East 53d Street, New York, New York 10022, 2004, 608 pages, $27.95 (hardcover).

As the combatant commander in charge of US military operations during one of the most turbulent times in one of the most turbulent parts of the world, Gen Tommy Franks's autobiography is a fascinating read and an important addition to the collection of military biographies. He commanded US Central Command (USCENTCOM) during Operadon Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in Iraq. Anyone interested in command and control at the highest strategic and operational levels, the art of planning and executing large-scale military operations, and the relationships between military and political leaders at various levels will appreciate this book.

American Soldier begins in the early 1950s with Tommy Franks growing up in a middle-class family trying to capture "the American dream"-descriptions that captivated this European reviewer. He was commissioned through the Army's Artillery Officer Candidate School in February 1967 and soon sent to Vietnam where, although wounded, he finished his tour and gained valuable experience. This was the first of four wars he would participate in during his career, which made me realize how much closer war is to the average American than for most West Europeans. It might also explain why the US military is so much more respected at home when compared to the Europeans' respect for their forces and perhaps why we seldom see books written by European generals.

Franks's next Cold War assignment took him to Bavaria, Germany, where he commanded troops defending Europe from die Soviet threat and faced issues of low morale, alcohol and drug abuse, inadequate training, and poor equipment maintenance. I was unaware-and to be honest, now find it somewhat scary-dial these problems were as serious as Franks describes. Nevertheless, he dealt with them, learning the value of motivated noncommissionedofficer leadership. When a Chinook helicopter accident killed several of General Franks's artillerybattery officers, it drove home his sense of responsibility for the people in his command. This accountability trait complemented his "people-person" approach to commanding troops.

Brig Gen Tommy Franks entered Desert Storm as an assistant division commander for operations and maneuver-an assignment that required him to interact with die press and juggle political and military responsibilities. Although he freely admits mistakes, the reader will also note his ability to learn from experience and seldom make the same mistake twice. Speed, Franks believed, has the same effect as mass, and combining the two reveals the importance of time. That personal perspective helps clarify some of his strategic choices and gives extra attention to information-a factor that might be of even greater importance than time. This is good stuff for those interested in joint-warfare development and details the lessons to be applied when another war occurs. …