U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice for White House chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, was one of the military’s longest-serving commanders before Trump named him secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.
Kelly, 67, is known for his blunt-spoken style and is popular with military personnel. Trump described him in a tweet Friday as “a Great American and a Great Leader.” Kelly will replace Reince Priebus on July 31.
He described the job Kelly has done as Homeland Security secretary as “spectacular” and said “he has been a true star of my administration.”
Kelly has worked to carry out Trump’s election promises, including plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, deport undocumented immigrants and tighten visa screening efforts to thwart potential terrorists. Kelly had described his top priority as Homeland Security secretary as closing the border to the “illegal movement of people and things.”
Lost a child to combat
Kelly has had a long career in the military and is the most senior U.S. military officer since 9/11 to lose a child in combat. His youngest son, 1st Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. The younger Kelly was a Marine and was on his third combat tour when he died.
Since his son’s death, Kelly has talked in stark terms about the threats the United States faces in the Middle East and beyond.
“Given the opportunity to do another 9/11, our vicious enemy would do it today, tomorrow and everyday thereafter,” Kelly said in a 2013 Memorial Day address in Texas. “I don’t know why they hate us, and I frankly don’t care, but they do hate us and are driven irrationally to our destruction.”
Rise up the ranks
Kelly was born and raised in Boston and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1970. He left two years later to go to college but returned in 1976 after graduating from the University of Massachusetts.
Kelly rose through the ranks to serve as the commanding general of the Multi-National Force West in Iraq from February 2008 to February 2009, and as the commander of Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North in October 2009.
He capped his military career as head of the U.S. Southern Command, an assignment that exposed him to border-security issues, immigration and drug trafficking.
His area of responsibility in that post encompassed 32 countries in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. It also included the military jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and led to a clash with the Obama administration over plans to close Guantanamo.
Kelly also sparred with the previous administration’s order to open all jobs in combat units to women, including the most elite forces like the Navy SEALs.
Kelly is close to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, also a retired Marine general, and is generally well-liked and respected by both Democrats and Republicans in politically divided Washington.