By Michelle EberhartNovember 1, 2016
The Corps of Cadets honored the service of retired Gen. Fred Franks Nov. 1 at Washington Hall. After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 1959, Franks served for 35 and a half years and later became the Chair and visiting scholar of the Simon Center for Professional Military Ethic. On the first of November, Franks' 80th birthday, his career came full circle as he bid a Soldier's farewell to the Corps.
"Gen. Fred Franks has done more to advance the Army profession than anyone I know," Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. said during Franks' farewell dinner. "His drive, his commitment to excellence, and his passion for our Army has never faltered… He is, above all, a Soldier."
Throughout the introduction, Caslen commended Franks' accolades from his early assignments with the 11th Armored Cavalry in Germany as a platoon leader and troop commander to coming back to West Point as an instructor in the Department of English. Franks also served valiantly in Vietnam where he received the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star with the Combat V device, 43 Air medals and two Purple Hearts.
Caslen also spoke of Franks' time in Cambodia where he was severely wounded by a grenade, eventually resulting in the amputation of his left leg.
"When we talk about the character development experience, we understand that character is shaped, in part, by how we respond to adversity," Caslen started. "Rather than his injury stopping him in his tracks, it stoked like a flame a renewed passion for excellence and a renewed commitment to serving his country. That, combined with the strong character already within him, led him to the realization that all he ever wanted to really do was to be a Soldier."
This instance exemplifies Franks' desire to devote his life to serving his country.
"After retiring as a four-star general, he could have gone on to make millions of dollars in the private sector, or just take it easy, play a little golf and enjoy retired life," Caslen suggested. "Instead, he committed his post active duty life toward contributing to the profession and mentoring future leaders."
In 1999, Franks became the visiting Chair at the SCPME where he established the Mission Command Conference and created the Battle Command course which became the basis for MX-400. He also began staff rides in 2005 to Gettysburg as part of his elective and has become an integral part of the Cadet Chain of Command staff rides in Gettysburg.
"Sir, our Academy, our Army and yes, our nation, are better because of your dedicated service and leadership… You epitomize selfless service and you truly embody our ideals of Duty, Honor and Country," Caslen said to Franks before he took the stage.
Throughout his speech, Franks addressed the Corps about their future as Army officers, advising them that fulfilling trust with their Soldiers is one of the most crucial things an officer can do.
He shared personal stories about his experience leading troops. The first, when he was a major in Valley Forge General Hospital after being wounded in Cambodia in the early 1970's. His fellow wounded Warrior Soldiers, discouraged by the media, had asked him why the American people had been insulting them for defending their country, for going and doing what their country had asked them to do.
"It was devastating," Franks said. "I had no real answer and in that moment, for me personally, it lit a hot, blue flame inside of me that burns to this day, see to it that that trust was never fractured again. My own motivation to continue to serve came from there."
Franks lived by his word, to never fracture the trust of his Soldiers again. Years later in 1991, Franks was in Iraq speaking to a group of Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Division. Mid-sentence, a Non-Commissioned Officer, stopped him mid-sentence and said, "Don't worry General, we trust you."
"In an instant, that NCO captured the essence of what we're trying to do as leaders…earning and maintaining that trust," Franks stated. "My throat closed over with emotion as I determined then to redouble my own efforts to do whatever I could do as Corps commander to fulfill that trust."
Franks strongly believes that "to lead is to serve," and after retirement, he continued to serve as a leader. He has treasured his time as a visiting chair for SCPME, noting that he was gratified to give back to his alma mater than had given him so much. In fact, when he was teaching Battle Command, the course that would eventually evolve into MX 400 the Superintendent's Capstone Course on Officership, he would travel to West Point from Virginia or Florida an average of two or three times a month.
"I was thrilled at the opportunity to do my part, within the Academy team, to see to it we did everything possible to help cadets transform to be officers and fulfill the trust of the American people," Franks said.
Upon the completion of his speech, Franks received a standing ovation from the Corps. First Captain Hugh McConnell presented him with a plaque crafted with wood from Pershing Barracks and granite from Davis barracks on behalf of the Corps of Cadets. Finally, the entire hall celebrated Franks' 80th by singing him "Happy Birthday."
What's next for Franks? Be sure he will continue his life of service in other ways.
He will continue to help wounded veterans and those with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. He also plans to look back on his life of service as well as spend some time with Denise, his wife of 57 years whom he married on June 6, 1959 in the Cadet Chapel.
"I'd like to do a little reflecting and maybe do a little writing about the opportunities I've had here, the people I've met, and what West Point means to our nation and our Army, and of course the extraordinary talent and selflessness I've seen in the cadets all these years," Franks suggested. "I plan to continue to serve where I can and occasionally come back here, I will miss this. I love West Point and what it stands for."
As he steps down from his position, Franks feels assured about the state of the Corps and the Army going forward. He told the Corps during his speech that "sometime after graduation and commissioning and I cannot predict when, our nation will look to you to accomplish a mission of extreme difficulty and importance, and one that only you and your Soldiers can do... you will fulfill that trust. I know you will.
"As I now take your leave I want you to go and lead with the confidence and with the boldness that comes from earning the trust of your Soldiers and that comes with having the depth of character to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That you will do that I have every confidence. I trust you," Franks concluded.