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John F. Kelly
John F. Kelly, 2012.jpg
Kelly in November 2012
Born May 11, 1950(1950-05-11) (age 70)
Place of birth Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1970-1972
Rank US-O10 insignia General
Commands held 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
Multi-National Force— West
Battles/wars Persian Gulf War
 • Operation Desert Storm
Iraq War
Awards Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Superior Service Medal
Legion of Merit (2) with Valor V

John Francis Kelly (born 1950) is an United States Marine Corps general, who served as the commanding general of the Multi-National Force—West in Iraq from February 2008 to February 2009. He was promoted to lieutenant general and assumed command of Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North in October 2009. He has been promoted to a four star, and succeeded General Douglas M. Fraser as commander of U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) on November 19, 2012.[1]

Early life and educationEdit

Kelly was born May 11, 1950[2] 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.[3]


Testimony OCPA-2005-11-08-083143

Kelly (left) testifies in front of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee in November 2005.

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.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

John F Kelly promotion to BGen March 2003

Kelly during his March 2003 promotion's ceremony to brigadier general in Iraq.

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.[3] 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[4] in January 1951.[5] In mid-April he took command of the newly formed Task Force Tripoli and drove it north from Baghdad into Samarra and Tikrit.[6] 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." [7]

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,[8] and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on September 11, 2007.[9]

2008 Marine Corps Birthday Cake MNF-West-081110-M-8941H-001

MajGen Kelly cuts the Marine Corps Birthday Cake in Camp Fallujah, Iraq on November 10, 2008.
Photo credit: Sgt. Jim Heuston, USMC.

Kelly's next assignment, in July 2007, was as commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).[10] On February 9, 2008 Kelly assumed command of the Multi-National Force–West in Iraq, replacing Major General Walter E. Gaskin.[11] After a year in Iraq Kelly returned to the States in February 2009.[12]

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.[13][14][15]

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.

Awards and decorationsEdit

Kelly holds several expert rifle badges as well as the sharpshooter pistol badge.

Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge
Defense Distinguished Service ribbon.svg US Defense Superior Service Medal ribbon.svg
Gold star
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg
Gold star
Meritorious Service ribbon.svg
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation ribbon.svg
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement ribbon.svg Combat Action Ribbon.svg US Navy Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon.png
Joint Meritorious Unit Award ribbon.svg Navy Unit Commendation ribbon.svg
Bronze star
Bronze star
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbon.svg
Marine Corps Expeditionary ribbon.svg
Bronze star
Bronze star
National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg
Bronze star
Southwest Asia Service ribbon.svg
Bronze star
Bronze star
Iraq Campaign ribbon.svg
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary ribbon.svg
Global War on Terrorism Service ribbon.svg
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.svg
Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon.svg Us kw-kwlib rib.png
Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge
1st Row Defense Distinguished Service Medal Defense Superior Service Medal Legion of Merit w/ 1 award star and Combat V Meritorious Service Medal w/ 1 award star
2nd Row Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal w/ 3 award stars Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal Combat Action Ribbon Navy Presidential Unit Citation
3rd Row Joint Meritorious Unit Award Navy Unit Commendation Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation w/ 2 service stars Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal
4th Row National Defense Service Medal w/ 2 service stars Southwest Asia Service Medal w/ 1 service star Iraq Campaign Medal w/ 2 service stars Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
5th Row Global War on Terrorism Service Medal Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon w/ 4 service stars Navy & Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait)

Personal lifeEdit

Kelly is married to his wife, Karen whose father in turn was a marine during World War II. Karen helps lead the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, spending 35 years as a supporter of the army and its families. In 2010, Karen and John's son, Robert, tragically passed away. Karen helped establish a scholarship in his memory.[16]


  1. "Marine Lt. Gen Kelly testifies to lead Southern Command". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Multi-National Force–West — Commanding General profile.
  4. "With the 1st Marine Division in Iraq, 2003" (PDF). pp. 173–174.,%202003%20%20PCN%2010600000000_12.pdf. Retrieved November 27, 2008. ""The division accomplished some important tasks during this brief respite. With Secretary of Defense authority, the commanding general frocked Colonel John F. Kelly, the assistant division commander, to the grade of brigadier general at the division forward COC located in the South Rumaylah oil fields. The last known promotion of a Marine Brigadier General in an active combat zone was that of an earlier 1st Marine Division ADC — then Colonel Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller in Korea." 
  5. "Lieutenant General Lewis "Chesty" B. Puller, USMC". Who's Who in Marine Corps History. History Division, United States Marine Corps. Retrieved November 27, 2008. 
  6. Reynolds, Col. Nicholas E. (2007). "Ch. 8. No Small of Salt Water: North to Tikrit, South to Ad Diwaniyah". Basrah, Baghdad, and Beyond:U.S. Marines in Iraq, 2003. Washington, D.C.: History Division, United States Marine Corps. pp. 107–112. PCN 10600000200. 
  7. "Marine General Speaks Out". Blackfive. Retrieved 2013-08-22. 
  8. "Personnel Moves — January 6, 2007". Defense Daily. Retrieved November 27, 2008. 
  9. "Nominations Confirmed (Non-Civilian)". United States Senate. September 11, 2007. Retrieved November 27, 2008. 
  10. "Official Biography: Major General John F. Kelly, I Marine Expeditionary Force". United States Marine Corps. Retrieved November 27, 2008. 
  11. "MNF-W conducts transfer of authority ceremony (Al Anbar)". Public Affairs Office, Camp Victory: Multi-National Force–Iraq. February 9, 2008. Retrieved November 27, 2008. 
  12. "Marine Commander's Iraq Tour Ends With Optimism" (broadcast). Morning Edition. NPR. January 30, 2009. Retrieved January 30, 2009. 
  13. Noonie (2010-11-10). "1st Lt. Robert M. Kelly". Freedom Remembered. Retrieved 2013-08-22. 
  14. Perry, Tony (November 22, 2010). "Marine general's son laid to rest at Arlington". Los Angeles Times.,0,6553576.story. 
  15. Perry, Tony. "Marine general speaks from a broken heart at memorial's dedication — U.S.". Stripes. Retrieved 2013-08-22. 
  16. [1], Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, 2013


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.

External linksEdit

Military offices
Preceded by
Douglas M. Fraser
United States Southern Command
November 19, 2012 – present
Succeeded by

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