November 18, 2018

General John Kelly, the Future Secretary of Homeland Security

President-elect Donald Trump and U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly emerge from the clubhouse following their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, November 20, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey.

President-elect Donald Trump and retired U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly

On December 12, 2016, President-elect Donald J. Trump nominated retired U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. John Kelly is a highly respected Marine Corps general, who served three tours in Iraq, and lost a son in combat in Afghanistan. Among his many assignments, General John Kelly served as the top Marine commander in Iraq in 2008 when he commanded the Marine force based in Anbar province.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly and his wife are a Gold Star family

General Kelly’s son, Marine First Lieutenant Robert Kelly, was killed in combat in Afghanistan at the age of 29. The military calls a Gold Star family to those unfortunate parents who lose a son or a daughter in combat.

Kelly Family PHOTO

General John Kelly’s two sons, Marine Lieutenant Robert Kelly and Captain John Kelly Junior, standing next to their father.

General Kelly’s son, Marine First Lieutenant Robert Kelly, age 29, was killed on November 9, 2010 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The military calls a Gold Star family those unfortunate parents who lose a son or a daughter in combat. Lieutenant Robert Kelly was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California. First Lieutenant Robert Kelly was a graduate of the Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

General John Kelly wrote this letter to family and friends after the death of his brave son:

“As I think you all know by now our Robert was killed in action protecting our country, its people, and its values from a terrible and relentless enemy, on 9 November, in Sangin, Afghanistan. He was leading his Grunts on a dismounted patrol when he was taken. They are shaken, but will recover quickly and already back at it. He went quickly and thank God he did not suffer. In combat that is as good as it gets, and we are thankful. We are a broken hearted – but proud family. He was a wonderful and precious boy living a meaningful life. He was in exactly the place he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do, surrounded by the best men on this earth – his Marines and Navy Doc.

The nation he served has honored us with promoting him posthumously to First Lieutenant of Marines. We will bury our son, now First Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly USMC, in Arlington National Cemetery on 22 November. Services will commence at 1245 at Fort Myer. We will likely have a memorial receiving at a yet to be designated funeral home on 21 November. The coffin will be closed. Our son Captain John Kelly USMC, himself a multi-tour combat veteran and the best big brother on this earth, will escort the body from Dover Air Force Base to Arlington. From the moment he was killed he has never been alone and will remain under the protection of a Marine to his final resting place.

Many have offered prayers for us and we thank you, but his wonderful wife Heather and the rest of the clan ask that you direct the majority of your prayers to his platoon of Marines, still in contact and in “harm’s way,” and at greater risk without his steady leadership. Thank you all for the many kindnesses we could not get through this without you all. Thank you all for being there for us. The pain in unimaginable, and we could not do this without you.

John Kelly

In his final Pentagon news conference, he spoke about the loss of his son — a topic he did not often discuss publicly. General Kelly stated the following: “To lose a child is — I can’t imagine anything worse than that. I used to think, when I’d go to all of my trips up to Bethesda, Walter Reed, I’ll go to the funerals with the secretaries of defense that I could somehow imagine what it would be like. When you lose one in combat, there’s a — in my opinion — there’s a pride that goes with it, that he didn’t have to be there doing what he was doing. He wanted to be there. He volunteered.”

General Kelly receives occasional letters from Gold Star families who are asking, ‘Was it worth it?’ He responds as follows: “And I always go back with this: It doesn’t matter. That’s not our question to ask as parents. That young person thought it was worth it, and that’s the only opinion that counts.”

General John Kelly military career

The Department of Defense published General Kelly biography:

Commander, U.S. Southern Command “General Kelly was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the 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 his graduation from the University of Massachusetts in 1976, he was commissioned and returned to the 2nd 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 and USS Independence. In 1980, then Captain Kelly transferred to the U.S. Army’s Infantry Officer Advanced Course in Fort Benning, Georgia. After graduation, he was assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, DC, serving there from 1981 through 1984, as an assignment monitor. Captain Kelly returned to the 2nd Marine Division in 1984 to command a rifle and weapons company. Promoted to the rank of Major in 1987, he served as the battalion’s operations officer.

In 1987, Major Kelly transferred to the Basic School, Quantico, Virginia, serving first as the head of the Offensive Tactics Section, Tactics Group, and later 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.

After, completing duty under instruction and being selected as 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, Lieutenant Colonel 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 the rank of Colonel.

In 1999, Colonel 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 2nd Marine Division.

In 2002, he was selected to the rank of Brigadier General, Colonel Kelly again served with the 1st Marine Division, this time as the Assistant Division Commander. Much of Brigadier General Kelly’s two-year assignment was spent deployed in Iraq. He then returned to the Headquarters Marine Corps as the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant from 2004 to 2007.

Promoted to major general, he returned to Camp Pendleton as the Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). He was deployed to Iraq in early 2008 for a year-long mission, replacing II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) as Multinational Force-West in Al Anbar and western Ninewa provinces. Lt Gen Kelly commanded Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North from October 2009 to March 2011. General Kelly comes to United States Southern Command from his previous position as the Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense from March 2011 to October 2012.”

Seal of the United States Southern Command.svgGeneral Kelly served as Combatant Commander of the United States Southern Command from November 19, 2012 to January 16, 2016 and soon after that assignment he retired. The United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) is located in the city of Doral in Miami-Dade County. It is one of nine Unified Combatant Commands in the United States Department of Defense. According to Wikipedia, the Southern Command is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for Central and South America, the Caribbean, their territorial waters, and for the force protection of U.S. military resources at these locations. USSOUTHCOM is also responsible for ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal and the canal area.

At Southern Command, General Kelly spoke bluntly about his need for more resources to fight the drug trade. During a 2014 hearing, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he did not have the ships or surveillance assets to get more than 20% of the drugs leaving Colombia for the United States.

Immigration enforcement is a familiar issue for General John Kelly. As a former head of the Southern Command, General Kelly worked with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to dismantle migrant smuggling networks. General Kelly also worked closely with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

General John Kelly’s opening statement during his confirmation hearing in the Senate

“Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member McCaskill, and distinguished Senators of the Committee, please accept my thanks and appreciation for considering my nomination to lead the men and women of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Senator McCain and Secretary Gates – I am grateful that each of you took the time to be here on my behalf, and for your kind words.

Please allow me to introduce my family. My wife, Karen, is here, as are my daughter and son-in-law. Anyone who has answered the call to serve our country knows that the personal sacrifices of public service are often felt most acutely by their families. As the wife and mother to three strong-willed Marines and one determined FBI agent, Karen has been my anchor and I’m grateful for her love and partnership.

Over the past 45 years, I have been privileged to serve my nation as both an enlisted Marine and an officer. I have led platoons and divisions. I have held senior command positions in Iraq and served as the Combatant Commander of the U.S. Southern Command and as the Senior Military Assistant to two Secretaries of Defense—Secretaries Gates and Panetta. I have worked with our allies, across agencies, the private sector, and with independent experts to identify innovative, comprehensive solutions to current and emerging threats.

These assignments—while varied—shared the common characteristics of working within and leading large, complex, and diverse mission-focused organizations, while under great pressure to produce results. I am humbled to once again be called to serve, this time with the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security. As I solemnly swore before God when I entered the Marine Corps, if confirmed, I will faithfully support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic—every second of every day.

I believe in America and the principles upon which our country and way of life are guaranteed. I believe in respect, tolerance, and diversity of opinion. I have a profound respect for the rule of law and will always strive to uphold it.

I have never had a problem speaking truth to power, and I firmly believe that those in power deserve full candor and my honest assessment and recommendations. I love my country, and I will do everything within my power to preserve our liberty, enforce our laws, and protect our citizens. I recognize the many challenges facing the Department of Homeland Security—and should I be confirmed—I look forward to partnering with you all to protect the homeland.

I look forward to discussing the future of this Department and answering the Committee’s questions. Thank you for this opportunity.


President-elect Donald J. Trump has made a superb selection with General John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security. As General Kelly said, “If confirmed, I will faithfully support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic—every second of every day.” The fact is that General Kelly is a great patriot and he has defended America everywhere every second of every day for 45 years.

Frank de Varona is an educator, historian, journalist, and internationally known expert on politics, economics, foreign affairs and national security issues. He was born in Cuba and, at the age of 17, he participated on the Bay of Pigs invasion in an effort to eradicate communism in Cuba. After spending two years in prison, he returned to the United States, where he earned three college degrees. He is married to Dr. Haydée Prado, a clinical psychologist, and has a daughter Irene and a grandson Danny.  Professor de Varona had a 36-year career in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools as a social studies teacher, principal, region director, region superintendent, associate superintendent of instruction and interim deputy superintedent of schools. He also was an associate professor of social studies in the College of Education at Florida International Education for seven years.  Professor de Varona has written 22 books and over 400 hundred articles in newspapers and magazines. His most recent book is entitled – The Gathering Threat of Russia, China, and Their Allies to America (2016) –  Frank de Varona is a Director of Bear Witness Central in the Miami-Dade area.