WASHINGTON, DC—Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of American forces in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced plans Monday to step down as U.S. Central Command chief to focus on solo bombing projects.
"The years I've spent with the Army have been amazing, and we did some fantastic bombing," said Franks at a Pentagon press conference. "But at this point, I feel like I've taken it as far as I can. It's time for me to move on and see what I can destroy on my own."
Franks said he is eager to seek out new challenges.
"Obviously, the U.S. Army is a first-rate organization," Franks said. "I mean, when we were on, no one could touch us. The '91 Gulf tour, the '95 Bosnia campaign... we kicked some serious ass. But it's precisely because I love it so much that I want to leave before it starts to get stale."
Franks said he also relishes the notion of having more creative freedom.
"When you're in an army, you pretty much have to bomb the countries they tell you to bomb," Franks said. "Which is fine for a while. But eventually, you get tired of bombing the same old places again and again. The last thing I want is to be 70 years old, still bombing Iraq. It's important to keep things fresh."
Asked to comment on rumors that he plans to launch a tour of the Far East, Franks said he will announce his first solo tour of duty later this month. He did mention, however, that he has "always wanted to bomb China," but that his work with the U.S. Army afforded him little time to do so.
Elaborating on his dissatisfaction with the Army, Franks said that the vast scale of U.S. military operations, while exciting at first, eventually became a turn-off.
"It just got to be so big," Franks said. "You had these massive campaigns, with soldiers and generals and tech crews and medical staffs and reporters and maintenance engineers and all these other people. It was such an elaborate production. I guess I just felt like, somewhere along the way, we got away from what it was all about. We forgot the thing we all got into it for in the first place: the killing."
Franks said he is eager to strip down the warmaking experience to its purest essence.
"I'd really like to get back to my roots," Franks said. "It's exciting to put on a big show with M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, but I got my first combat experience as an artillery officer in Vietnam. Part of me really misses being out there in the swamps, just one man and a howitzer."
"My years with the military have been the best of my life," Franks continued. "But when you're at the head of a group, you're always considering the entire unit's best interests. Even though you're the leader, it can be very stifling. If you get the urge to bomb India or Brazil, you can't just go off and do it."
While he was under contract with the U.S. government, Franks occasionally expressed displeasure over having to seek approval from the president and Congress for nearly every action he performed.
"If I want to send a division of jet fighters to Iran, you'd think, after all the years I've been doing this, that I could simply make that decision," Franks told reporters during a CentCom press briefing in February. "But it's not like that."
In spite of Franks' claim that the decision to leave the army was his, some military insiders suspect otherwise.
"Franks says he quit, but I think that's bullshit," said CNN Pentagon correspondent James Washburn. "He got kicked out. Why else would he be leaving the best military in the entire world right after their triumphant Middle East tour?"
Franks' relationships with certain key Bush Administration figures were "less than perfect," Washburn said.
"You always got the feeling that [Donald] Rumsfeld and Franks never really got along when the cameras were off," Washburn said. "Franks always felt like he was in the shadow of Norman Schwarzkopf, the far more charismatic general who commanded U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf War."
Like Franks, Schwarzkopf left the army with plans to pursue a solo career, though a lackluster raid on a Japanese fishing village and a poorly received attack on the Dominican Republic led to the cancellation of a number of solo bombing dates in the Balkans.
"Schwarzkopf influenced me greatly," Franks said. "I would be honored to work with him in the future, should he care to collaborate with me outside of the confines of the U.S. Army."
Though Franks said he is "excited and energized" by his future prospects as a solo artist, disappointed fans say the U.S. Army will not be the same without him.
"He wasn't flashy, but he was the backbone of that group," said Marty Nevins of Valdosta, GA. "No one will ever forget that moment when he decided to launch a massive ground assault on Baghdad rather than engage in a prolonged air campaign. That's just good old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes invading. None of this fancy shock-and-awe shit. They can bring in somebody else, but I don't think that group's gonna be the same with a new frontman."