Thursday, February 16, 2012

Southcom's New Commander - Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly

On January 27th, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced that President Obama has nominated Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, currently a senior military advisor to the secretary of defense, to be the next commander of U.S. Southern Command, commonly known as SOUTHCOM.

As the Miami Herald notes, “Kelly, over six feet tall and in his 60s, comes to the job with an impressive résumé: He’s currently senior military advisor to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, has served multiple deployments in Iraq and also worked as a Defense Department representative on Capitol Hill.” However, there is no indication that Kelly has experience with Latin America, or facility with Spanish or Portuguese.

Kelly has been spent the majority of his decades-long career in the Marine Corps. A 1976 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, he served on multiple aircraft carriers in the second half of that decade. He attended the U.S. Army’s Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Fort Benning, GA between 1981 and 1984 and was promoted to major in 1987. After a series of subsequent promotions, Kelly became the Commandant’s Liaison Officer to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995 and then the Special Assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe in Mons, Belgium in 2001.

Promoted to Brigadier General in 2002, Kelly was assigned to the 1st Marine Division as Assistant Division Commander, returning to Capitol Hill to be the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant in 2004. In 2008, Kelly led the First Marine Expeditionary Force in western Iraq, reaching his current rank of Lieutenant General in October 2009. During his time in areas like Fallujah, Kelly had tens of thousands of soldiers under his command, according to a Pentagon official.

In 2010, Kelly’s son, Lt. Robert M. Kelly, himself a Marine, was killed in combat in Afghanistan, making Kelly one of the highest-ranking military officers to lose a child in the conflict. If Kelly’s appointment is confirmed by the Senate, he will replace current SOUTHCOM commander, Douglas M. Fraser, who took the position in 2009. Fraser also had minimal prior career experience in Latin America.

This post was written by CIP intern Michael Kane.