Person of the Week: Gen. Tommy Franks

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General Tommy Franks, commander in chief, U.S. Central Command

There are plenty of war heroes on the screen these days — Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, even Josh Hartnett is killing bad guys in a theater near you. The Gulf War brought you Norman Schwarzkopf, talking a good war for the news cameras; in this war your media hero is steely-eyed, clench-jawed Donald Rumsfeld.

But for being the commander — the man quietly placing and arranging American combat boots on the ground in Afghanistan with a mission to herd, trap and finish off thousands of hardened Al-Qaeda fighters — Army Gen. Tommy Franks is's Person of the Week. You just don't see him much on TV.

Franks started out in 1967 as a second lieutenant out of Artillery Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma; he got his first combat experience as an artillery officer in Vietnam, where he was wounded three times. Now, as the commander in chief of Central Command, Franks is in charge of U.S. military operations for 25 nations in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East — including Afghanistan, where Franks told TIME, "we have a lot of snow or a lot of sand, and on some days we have both."

Now, the tip of Franks' spear is lodged in Paktia province, where lots of sand and snow as well as rain storms and fog are making air support impossible. There are also plenty of what Franks calls "bad guys" who have nothing left to lose. Eight U.S. soldiers have been killed this past week in vicious firefights, some 70 others wounded; America has been reminded that war, besides being hell, is war, and when you put boots on the ground some of them are not going to walk away.

One big reason America seems to accept this in Afghanistan — why the first handful of real, hostile-fire, helicopter-down U.S. military casualties in a decade hasn't come close to derailing public support for the fight they died in — is the attitude of men like Tommy Franks. Franks has mostly steered clear of the news media and stuck to the inside of his war room at CENTCOM headquarters at Fort MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, letting Rumsfeld be his front man and press-jouster.

When he has gone public, Franks has been exactly what this war effort has required: Insistently realistic, never gloating, understated about victory and reassuringly honest about its inevitable costs. Throw in a touch of folksiness, some of the aw-shucks collar-tugging of an old artillery man blinking in the spotlight's white glare, and you have a fine war hero indeed. A real general, with real American soldiers on the ground under his command, — who realizes how fragile and precious a cargo that is.