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General (Ret) John Kelly’s Balancing Act

JD Lock, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

21 October 2017


There are no reservations that General (Retired) John Kelly is an honorable man who’s served with distinction, and who is entitled the empathy offered for having lost a son in service to this Nation.


Many of us can also agree that the General’s in a very tough position attempting to maintain his integrity, dignity and credibility while serving as Chief of Staff to a “moron,” per the alleged, but not repudiated, moniker of President Donald Trump’s own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.


However, while Kelly’s meeting with the press in the White House briefing room on 19 October was “stirring,” there are two fundamental points of contention that must be addressed.



Kelly recalled what his best friend Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commandant of the Marine Corps, had told him when Kelly's own son was killed: "He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed," Kelly said Dunford told him. "He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were because we were at war. And when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. That's what the President tried to say to the four families the other day."


First, by Kelly’s own admission, the president asked him for advice of what to say during the calls to Gold Star families/widows. Kelly’s guidance was to convey something along the lines of “He knew what he was getting into by joining.”  I’m sorry but really?  “He knew what he was getting into by joining?”  While such a comment may be appropriate between those of us who have served, who have lived such sacrifice, and between friends who know each other, such a comment is not appropriate between a president, especially one who received five draft deferments during Vietnam, and a young, pregnant widow, mother of two, who just lost her husband and still does not know the true circumstances of her husband’s death. To make such a comment to her is devoid of any sensitivity, lacking in compassion and appallingly unforgivable.



Trump met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece, and held a bilateral news conference with him. 9:56 a.m. Trump, in a radio interview, suggests reporters ask his chief of staff whether President Barack Obama called him after his son was killed in action.


Second, Kelly has publicly lamented the ‘politicization’ of Gold Star families and their loss, yet, he has failed to acknowledge that it is Donald Trump who has drug his son’s death into the limelight and, now, through the political mud. Kelly’s hesitancy to publicly speak of or note his own personal loss stems as far back as November 2010, when, just four days after his son’s death and moments before addressing a crowd of Marines and business men that had assembled in the St. Louis Hyatt Regency ballroom, Lieutenant General Kelly had one request of the individual prepared to introduce him. “Please don’t mention my son.”  Yet, here’s Kelly’s boss, the President of the United States, not only exploiting the general’s loss for his own political manipulation but doing so by making that loss front page, international news that necessitated a public response by Kelly, himself.


Words that never should have been conveyed to a war widow; words that never should have been said about a son’s loss. The common denominator? Trump. There is no one else to blame but the president, himself, and that is something General John Kelly’s stirring and heartfelt attempt at clarification did not and cannot defend.

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