Kelly was born May 11, 1950 and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1970, and was discharged as a sergeant in 1972, after serving in an infantry company with the 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Following graduation from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 1976, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
Kelly returned to the Second Marine Division where he served as a rifle and weapons platoon commander, company executive officer, assistant operations officer, and infantry company commander. Sea duty in Mayport, Florida, followed, at which time he served aboard aircraft carriers USS Forrestal (CV-59) and USS Independence (CV-62). In 1980, then-Captain Kelly attended the U.S. Army's Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. After graduation, he was assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, D.C., serving there from 1981 through 1984, as an assignment monitor. Kelly returned to the Second Marine Division in 1984, to command a rifle and weapons company. Promoted to major in 1987, he served as the battalion's operations officer.
In 1987 Kelly transferred to the Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, serving first as the head of the Offensive Tactics Section, Tactics Group, and later assuming the duties of the Director of the Infantry Officer Course. After three years of instructing young officers, he attended the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and the School for Advanced Warfare, both located at Quantico.
Completing duty under instruction and selected for lieutenant colonel, he was assigned as commanding officer, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California. Holding this command position for two years, Kelly returned to the East Coast in 1994, to attend the National War College in Washington, D.C. He graduated in 1995 and was selected to serve as the Commandant's Liaison Officer to the U.S. House of Representatives, Capitol Hill, where he was promoted to colonel.
In 1999 Kelly transferred to joint duty and served as the special assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, in Mons, Belgium. He returned to the United States in 2001 and was assigned to a third tour of duty at Camp Lejeune, now as the assistant chief of staff G-3 with the Second Marine Division. In 2002, Kelly again served with the 1st Marine Division, this time as the assistant division commander. Much of Kelly's two-year assignment was spent deployed in Iraq. In March 2003, while in Iraq, Kelly was promoted to brigadier general, which was the first known promotion of a Marine Corps colonel in an active combat zone since that of another First Marine Division assistant division commander, Chesty Puller in January 1951. In mid-April he took command of the newly formed Task Force Tripoli and drove it north from Baghdad into Samarra and Tikrit. During the initial assault on Baghdad, Kelly was asked by a reporter of the Los Angeles Times if (considering the size of the Iraqi Army and the vast supplies of tanks, artillery and chemical weapons available to Saddam's forces) he would ever consider defeat. Kelly's archetypal response was, "Hell these are Marines. Men like them held Guadalcanal and took Iwo Jima. Baghdad ain't shit."
His next assignment was as legislative assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Michael Hagee In January 2007 Kelly was nominated for major general, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on September 11, 2007.
Kelly's next assignment, in July 2007, was as commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). On February 9, 2008 Kelly assumed command of the Multi-National Force–West in Iraq, replacing Major General Walter E. Gaskin. After a year in Iraq Kelly returned to the States in February 2009.
His son, 1st Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly, was killed in action in Sangin, Afghanistan on November 9, 2010. He was on his third combat tour, but his first as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. Robert's brother, John's eldest child, is a Marine Corps major.
Kelly was the senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense and personally greeted Secretary Panetta at the entrance to the Pentagon on July 1, 2011, Panetta's first day as secretary.
Read more about this topic: John F. Kelly (Marine)
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