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First Name: John

Last Name: Kelly

Birthplace: Boston, MA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Middle Name: Francis

Date of Birth: 1950

Rank: General

Years Served: 1970 - 1972, 1976 - 2016
John Francis Kelly

•  Gulf War (1990 - 1991)
•  Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) (2003 - 2011)


John Francis Kelly
General, U.S. Marine Corps
Commander, U.S. Southern Command

John Francis Kelly was born (1950) and raised in Boston, MA. 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, NC. 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, FL, 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, GA. After graduation, he was assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, DC, 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, VA, serving first as 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, CA. Holding this command position for two years, Kelly returned to the East Coast in 1994, to attend the National War College in Washington, DC. 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 Special Assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, in Mons, Belgium. He returned to the U.S. 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 Commandant of the Marine Corps Michael Hagee. In January 2007, Kelly was nominated for Major General and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on 11 September 2007.

Kelly's next assignment, in July 2007, was as Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). On 9 February 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. He was promoted to Lieutenant General and assumed Command of Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North in October 2009.

Kelly next served as Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense and personally greeted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the entrance to the Pentagon on 1 July 2011; Panetta's first day as secretary.

On 19 November 2012, John F. Kelly was promoted to the rank of four-star General and became Commander of U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM).

Medals, Awards and Badge

Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Superior Service Medal
Legion of Merit with Gold Star and Combat Valor Device
Meritorious Service Medal with Gold Star
Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Medal with 3 Gold Stars
Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal
Combat Action Ribbon
Navy Presidential Unit Citation
Joint Meritorious Unit Award with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Navy Unit Commendation
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation with 2 Bronze Stars
Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal
National Defense Service Medal with 2 Bronze Stars
Southwest Asia Service Medal with Bronze Service Star
Iraq Campaign Medal with 3 Bronze Stars
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with 4 Bronze Stars
Navy & Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon
Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait)
Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge

He was also awarded the Grand Officer of the Order of San Carlos by Columbia.

General Kelly also holds several Expert Rifle Badges, as well as the Sharpshooter Pistol Badge.

Family Information

John Kelly's son, First Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly, was killed in action in Sangin, Afghanistan on 9 November 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 Captain.

Remarks from General Kelly

On 13 November 2010, then-Lieutenant General Kelly gave a speech to the Semper Fi Society of St. Louis, MO. This was 4 days after his son, Lt Robert Kelly, USMC, was killed by an IED while on his 3rd Combat tour in Iraq.

"We Marines believe that God gave America the greatest gift he could bestow to man while he lived on this earth - freedom. We also believe he gave us another gift nearly as precious - our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines - to safeguard that gift and guarantee no force on this earth can every steal it away. It has been my distinct honor to have been with you here today. Rest assured our America, this experiment in democracy started over two centuries ago, will forever remain the “land of the free and home of the brave” so long as we never run out of tough young Americans who are willing to look beyond their own self-interest and comfortable lives, and go into the darkest and most dangerous places on earth to hunt down, and kill, those who would do us harm.

God Bless America, and Semper Fidelis!”

Honoree ID: 402   Created by: MHOH




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