by Countable | 1.10.17
On December 12, President-elect Donald Trump nominated retired General John Kelly to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security. Trump said that Kelly "is the right person to spearhead the urgent mission of stopping illegal immigration and securing our borders, streamlining TSA and improving coordination between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies."
Kelly, 66, was born in Boston, Massachusetts and was raised there in an Irish-Catholic family. During his youth he hitchhiked across the country multiple times before serving one year at sea in the Merchant Marine, where his first time overseas "was taking 10,000 tons of beer to Vietnam."
In 1970, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in an infantry company for two years in North Carolina before being discharged as a sergeant. He then spent four years in the inactive Marine reserves before graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Boston in 1976, at which point rejoined the active duty Marines as a newly commissioned lieutenant. He later earned two master’s degrees during his military service.
During his career as a Marine, Kelly spent time leading rifle companies, armored battalions, and serving as a special assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Kelly led Marines in their assault on Tikrit and Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when he became the first Marine Corps officer to be promoted to general in an active combat zone since Chesty Puller over 50 years earlier.
After his final tour in Iraq commanding a multinational force that included Marines in the Anbar province — where there was intense fighting in Ar Ramadi and Fallujah — Kelly got a fourth star when he was picked to lead the Southern Command. Based out of Florida, Southern Command is responsible for Dept. of Defense activities in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the surrounding waterways.
Kelly and his wife Karen established a scholarship in the name of their youngest son, First Lieutenant Robert Kelly, who was killed in Afghanistan while leading a platoon of Marines in 2010. They have two other children, including their eldest son who is a major in the Marines.
Kelly may have a smoother path to confirmation than many of his potential colleagues in the Trump Cabinet. His work while in charge of the Southern Command earned him praise from an Obama administration official in the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), who called him an "extraordinary partner" in fostering interagency cooperation.
That experience could bolster his chances of a smooth confirmation, as Southern Command works regularly with Customs and Border Protection and the Coast Guard (two DHS agencies) in battling human trafficking, drug smuggling and illegal immigration along the southern border and on nearby waterways. Retired Admiral James Stavridis — himself a former leader of Southern Command — called the role "perfect preparation to be secretary of Homeland Security because it overlaps with many of the missions of DHS."
But he can expect questions about his views and plans for the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo), which is under the control of Southern Command. He has a nuanced view of the facility, and downplayed suggestions that it is a propaganda tool by telling Defense One just before his retirement that "Bombing the living shit out of ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria, that would maybe irritate them more than the fact that we have Guantanamo open." Kelly added that if detainees were held in the U.S. “they’re not going to escape,” but legal issues around that haven’t been resolved. He also defended detainee transfers against recidivism arguments, saying that “If they go back to the fight, we’ll probably kill them. So that’s good.”
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DHS is responsible for counterterrorism, border security, cybersecurity, enforcing immigration and customs laws, and preventing and managing disasters. It is the newest of the Cabinet agencies, having been created in 2002 following the September 11 attacks.
Among the more recognizable DHS agencies are Customs and Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Secret Service. In fiscal year 2016, DHS had a budget of more than $41 billion it and employs over 240,000 employees.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Glenn Fawcett - DOD / Public Domain)
Written by Countable