Third Generation Iowan, Three Star Admiral and Principled Leader
Mike Franken was born and raised in rural Northwest Iowa. His mother Ruth was a one-room schoolhouse teacher, a beautiful person, and the hardworking role model for all nine children. Mike came along last, trailing immediately behind six sisters. He spent his formative years working on farm equipment and trucks in Lebanon Farm Shop alongside his dad, Big Joe. Life in western Sioux County consisted of chores, school, sports, church, and the goodness of a rural existence.
Work formed the backbone of rural life. Mike was a hired farm hand, welder, construction worker, truck driver, and Dad’s right-hand man in the machine shop. At age 17, he began a three-year stint working at Sioux Preme Packing Company to pay for college. Those early years included many other jobs—from bar manager to math tutor, from a bouncer to a law firm’s civil engineer.
Mike’s mother placed a strong emphasis on education, which inspired him to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a master’s degree from the College of Physics at the Naval Postgraduate School and professional studies at MIT, UVA’s Darden School of Business, and the Brookings Institute. His academic background in science has aided him greatly over the years in the many complex and technical projects he has led.
When military service called it was just supposed to be a short hitch, but it lasted over 36 years. Military service goes back to Franken’s immigrant grandparents, one of whom was a combat veteran of World War I. Big Joe enlisted soon after Pearl Harbor, participated in many major combat operations in the Pacific, including his ship’s sinking at Savo Island. Mike’s brother enlisted for service in Vietnam and retired a high-ranking officer 35 years later. There was an expectation in Franken’s family and in his community to serve, volunteer, and to do well.
A military career introduced the world to Mike. He lived on four continents as a naval officer, visited most of the world’s nations, and worked the full spectrum of defense, diplomacy, and development. He commissioned the USS Winston S Churchill, commanded a squadron of ships, an international task force at sea, and served as the ground task force commander for the 4,000 personnel on the continent of Africa. He was the first director of the POW/MIA defense agency tasked to find and identify fallen servicemembers worldwide.
Years of military service in Washington, DC, taught Mike how government should work. He began working in think tanks, then served as the first military officer on Senator Ted Kennedy’s staff. In a variety of postings, he worked on highly technical matters, oversaw infrastructure and environmental compliance issues, and drafted budgets. He spent years in senior policymaking, strategy, and planning roles for the Defense Department. As chief of legislative affairs for the Navy, he oversaw the authorization of a $150 billion budget. He retired from military service as a three-star admiral in 2017.
Even while serving on the other side of the world, Iowa has always been on Mike’s mind and in his heart. Shortly after his retirement from the military, Mike moved back home to Iowa and lives in Sioux City. In August 2019, Mike announced his campaign for the US Senate to continue serving his home state. In the Senate, Mike will bring the same bold, principled leadership he learned growing up in Sioux County and in the Navy to fight for a better future for this nation and all Iowans.
Mike and Jordan, his wife of 30 years, have two children.
Michael Franken was a member of the United States Navy. Use of his military rank, job titles, and photographs in uniform does not imply endorsement by the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.