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John F. Kelly
John Kelly official DHS portrait.jpg
Kelly in 2017
28th White House Chief of Staff
In office
July 31, 2017 – January 2, 2019
President Donald Trump
Preceded by Reince Priebus
Succeeded by Mick Mulvaney (acting)
5th United States Secretary of Homeland Security
In office
January 20, 2017 – July 31, 2017
President Donald Trump
Deputy Elaine Duke
Preceded by Jeh Johnson
Succeeded by Kirstjen Nielsen
Commander of the United States Southern Command
In office
November 19, 2012 – January 16, 2016
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Douglas M. Fraser
Succeeded by Kurt W. Tidd
Personal details
John Francis Kelly

(1950-05-11) May 11, 1950 (age 74)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political party Independent (2023–present)
Karen Hernest
(m. 1976)
Children 3
Education University of Massachusetts Boston (BA)
Georgetown University (MA)
National Defense University (MS)
Military service
Branch/service United States Maritime Service
United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1969 (USMS)
1970–1972 (USMC)
1972–1975 (inactive reserves)
1975–2016 (USMC)
Rank General
Commands United States Southern Command
1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
Multinational Force West
  • Defense Distinguished Service Medal
  • Defense Superior Service Medal
  • Legion of Merit (2) with Combat "V"

John Francis Kelly (born May 11, 1950) is an American former political advisor and retired U.S. Marine Corps general who served as White House chief of staff for President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2019. He had previously served as Secretary of Homeland Security in the Trump administration and was commander of United States Southern Command. He is now a board member at Caliburn International.

Kelly enlisted in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and was commissioned as an officer near the end of college. He rose through the ranks, eventually serving in his last military post from 2012 to 2016 as a four-star general leading United States Southern Command, the unified combatant command responsible for American military operations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

Prior to joining the Trump administration in January 2017, Kelly had been on the board of advisors of DC Capital Partners, an investment firm that now owns Caliburn International.

Kelly was selected as the first Secretary of Homeland Security in the Trump administration. Kelly earned a reputation for being an aggressive enforcer of immigration law. After six months, he was selected to replace Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff in an attempt to bring more stability to the White House. He was the first career military officer to serve in the position since Alexander Haig during the Nixon and Ford Administrations.

Early life and education

Kelly was born on May 11, 1950, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Josephine "Honey" (Pedalino) and John F. Kelly. His family was Catholic, his father of Irish ancestry and his mother of Italian descent. His father was a postal worker in Brighton. He grew up in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston. Before he reached the age of 16, he hitchhiked to Washington state and rode the trains back, including a freight-hop from Seattle to Chicago. He then served for one year in the United States Merchant Marine, where he says "my first time overseas was taking 10,000 tons of beer to Vietnam".

In 1970, when his mother told him that his draft number was coming up, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in an infantry company with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and was discharged to the inactive reserve as a sergeant in 1972 so that he could attend college. He returned to active duty with the Marines in 1975, completed Officer Candidates School, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on December 27, 1975. In 1976, he graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston and in 1984, he received a Master of Arts degree in National Security Affairs from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. In 1995, Kelly graduated from the National Defense University in Washington, DC with a Master of Science in Strategic Studies.

Military career

Kelly returned to the Second Marine Division where he served as a rifle platoon and weapons platoon commander, company executive officer, assistant operations officer, and rifle 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 company and weapons company. Promoted to major in 1987, he then served as a battalion operations officer.

John F. Kelly, 2012
Kelly's official U.S. Southern Command portrait
John Warner and John Kelly
Kelly and U.S. Senator John Warner hold a briefing regarding the status of investigations into the Haditha incident on May 25, 2006

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 LAR), 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California. During his tenure, 1st LAR was called in to provide augmentation support for police in the city of Long Beach, California during the Los Angeles riots of 1992. 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 April 2003, Kelly took command of the newly formed Task Force Tripoli and drove it north from Baghdad into Samarra and Tikrit.

Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, discusses the latest developments in his command's efforts to stem the flow of drugs from South and Central America while briefing reporters 140313-D-NI589-035c
Kelly briefing reporters at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia

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 United States in February 2009.

Kelly was nominated for lieutenant general on March 9, 2011, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 16, 2011.

Kelly was the senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense and personally greeted Secretary Leon Panetta at the entrance to the Pentagon on July 1, 2011, Panetta's first day as secretary. Kelly was nominated for General on January 31, 2012, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 26, 2012. He succeeded General Douglas M. Fraser as commander of U.S. Southern Command on November 19, 2012.

Kelly was succeeded as commander by Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd on January 14, 2016.

Secretary of Homeland Security

POTUS visits DHS (32431456701)
Kelly is ceremonially sworn in prior to President Trump's speech at DHS Headquarters on January 25, 2017. Kelly was actually sworn in five days prior.

On December 7, 2016, then President-elect Donald Trump nominated Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a cabinet-level position. People familiar with the transition said that Trump's team was drawn to Kelly because of his southwest border expertise. On January 20, 2017, Kelly was confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security by the United States Senate with a vote of 88–11. On that evening, he was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence.

In an April 2017 speech at George Washington University, Kelly said, "If lawmakers do not like the laws they've passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws. Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines."

Kelly indicated days into the administration his interest in having the U.S.–Mexico border wall completed within two years. On April 21, 2017, Kelly said the U.S.–Mexico border wall would begin construction "by the end of the summer." On May 2, Kelly stated his surprise in office holders "rejoicing in the fact that the wall will be slower to be built and, consequently, the southwest border under less control than it could be."

In May 2017, Kelly said of terrorism, "It's everywhere. It's constant. It's nonstop. The good news for us in America is we have amazing people protecting us every day. But it can happen here almost anytime." He said that the threat from terrorism was so severe that some people would "never leave the house" if they knew the truth. In July, Kelly allegedly blocked Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke from taking a position in the DHS, though it was never confirmed.

White House Chief of Staff

Munich Security Conference (32187823044)
Kelly during the MSC 2017

Trump appointed Kelly to the post of White House Chief of Staff on July 28, 2017, replacing Reince Priebus. Priebus's ousting and Kelly's appointment followed an internal power struggle within the White House. Kelly took office on July 31, 2017. That same day, with Trump's approval, Kelly removed Anthony Scaramucci from his role as communications director, just ten days after Scaramucci was appointed to that role. Reportedly, Kelly had requested permission to remove Scaramucci after "Scaramucci had boasted about reporting directly to the president, not the chief of staff." On August 18, 2017, Kelly removed Steve Bannon from his role as White House Chief Strategist, on behalf of President Trump.

Early into his tenure, media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and FiveThirtyEight speculated that Kelly would bring moderation and discipline to the White House. In August 2017, early into Kelly's tenure, The Washington Post wrote that Kelly had "left no discernible imprint on the White House's philosophy" and that it was unclear if he would bring calm and rigor to the White House. In a lengthy article on Kelly's tenure, the New York Times in October 2017 wrote that "for all of the talk of Mr. Kelly as a moderating force and the so-called grown-up in the room, it turns out that he harbors strong feelings on patriotism, national security and immigration that mirror the hard-line views of his outspoken boss." By February 2018, Kelly had emerged as a hardliner on several issues (immigration, in particular) and been embroiled in a number of controversies, and there were reports of pressure on Kelly to resign.

When Trump arrived in Singapore in June 2018 for the North Korea–United States summit, the New York Times reported that Kelly had told a recent group of visiting senators the White House was "a miserable place to work." The reported comment renewed months-long speculation that Kelly would resign from his job of White House Chief of Staff.

According to several news outlets in early 2018, Kelly's influence in the White House had been diminished and Trump made several key decisions without his presence. On December 7, 2018, CNN and others reported that Kelly and Trump were no longer on speaking terms and that Kelly was expected to resign in the coming days. On December 8, Trump announced that Kelly would be leaving at the end of the year. On December 14, 2018, the White House announced that Mick Mulvaney would replace John Kelly as the White House Chief of Staff.

On the day after the 2021 United States Capitol attack, Kelly said he supported Trump's removal from office by use of the 25th Amendment, adding, "What happened on Capitol Hill yesterday is a direct result of his poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the frauds."

Kelly released a statement in October 2023 confirming much of the 2020 reporting by Jeffrey Goldberg that Trump had expressed disdain for veterans and the war dead. Kelly harshly condemned Trump in several respects, characterizing him as "a person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law."

Personal life

Kelly married Karen Hernest in 1976. They raised three children together: Robert, John Jr., and Kathleen.

On November 9, 2010, Kelly's 29-year-old son, First Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly, was killed in action when he stepped on a land mine while leading a platoon of Marines on a patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan.

The younger Kelly was a former enlisted Marine and was on his third combat tour, his first combat tour as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer. At the time of his death, Robert Kelly was with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. Robert Kelly's death made John Kelly the highest-ranking American military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan. Kelly's other son is a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel.

Military awards

Kelly's military decorations and awards:

"V" device, gold.svg1 golden star.svg
Gold star
1 golden star.svg1 golden star.svg1 golden star.svg
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze-service-star-3d.svgBronze-service-star-3d.svg Bronze-service-star-3d.svgBronze-service-star-3d.svg
Bronze star
Bronze-service-star-3d.svgBronze-service-star-3d.svgBronze-service-star-3d.svgBronze-service-star-3d.svg Order of San Carlos - Grand Officer (Colombia).png
Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge.png
Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Superior Service Medal Legion of Merit w/ Gold Star and Combat "V" Meritorious Service Medal w/ Gold Star Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal w/ 3 Gold Stars
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal Navy Combat Action Ribbon Navy Presidential Unit Citation Joint Meritorious Unit Award w/ Oak Leaf Cluster
Navy Unit Commendation Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation w/ 2 Bronze Stars Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal National Defense Service Medal w/ 2 Bronze Stars
Southwest Asia Service Medal w/ Bronze Star Iraq Campaign Medal w/ 3 Bronze Stars Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon w/ 4 Bronze Stars Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon Grand Officer of the Order of San Carlos (Colombia) Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait)
Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: John Kelly para niños

  • List of people who have held multiple United States Cabinet-level positions
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