President-Elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate Lieutenant General John Kelly to be his nominee for secretary of Homeland Security, according to The New York Times.
John Kelly is a retired Marine Corps general who served as the commander of the United States Southern Command, and he was the commanding general of the Multi-National Force in Iraq from 2008 until 2009. Kelly is also the highest ranking military officer to have lost a child in combat.
Here’s everything you need to know about John Kelly’s son, Robert Michael Kelly.
1. He Was Killed in Afghanistan After Stepping on a Land Mine
1st Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly, John Kelly’s son, was killed on November 9, 2010 at the age of 29. While leading a platoon of Marines in Sangin, Afghanistan, Kelly died instantly when he stepped on a land mine.
Sangin was an area where Robert’s platoon was deployed two months prior, and it’s where British forces had been struggling to fight back against the Taliban. According to The Washington Post, Kelly and his platoon in Sangin took part in some of the most intense fighting of the war, killing dozens of Taliban fighters.
“He went quickly and thank God he did not suffer,” John Kelly said of his son’s death, according to the Los Angeles Times. “In combat that is as good as it gets.”
However, as John Kelly received an outpouring of support, he continued to insist that his son’s death was not any more tragic than that of the thousands of other Americans who have died in Afghanistan while serving their country.
2. He Was From Tallahassee & Was a History Buff
Robert Michael Kelly lived in Tallahassee, Florida, and he graduated from Florida State University. He enlisted in the Marine Corps just a few days after his graduation. After his death, Kelly’s friends remembered him as someone who always intended to serve his country.
“I think he always knew he was going into the military,” Matthew Rowland, a classmate of Kelly, told The Military Times. “When we were in school, he studied a lot of military history — he was a big reader and a history buff.”
Rowland also said that Kelly was quick-witted, intelligent and patriotic, feeling a sense of duty in part because he grew up in a military family. Indeed, his older brother, John, had joined the military two years before him, and his father was serving in the Marines at the time.
3. He Was Married & Preparing to Move to California
At the time of his death, Robert Michael Kelly was married, with the ceremony having taken place three years earlier. His wife was Heather Landry, who he met while attending Florida State University.
Landry was actually the cousin of one of Kelly’s college friends, Matthew Rowland, and Kelly asked his friend if he could introduce them, according to The Military Times.
“He kept saying, ‘Set us up — let’s go out on a double date,’” Rowland said. “Eventually, we went out on a double date. And they did hit it off. They were pretty much inseparable.”
Kelly’s deployment in 2010 was the first that took place during his marriage. Kelly and Landry were preparing to move to Oceanside, California when he died in action. Before the mission on which Kelly would be killed, he was able to send one final email to his wife.
“I always think I do not want to call you because I will be homesick, but I end up doing it and leave the phone tent with a smile on my face,” he wrote, according to The Washington Post. “I love you so much and appreciate you being a great sport in all of this craziness….One month down and a lot of months to go, but I am doing what I want to do with my life.”
4. He Was Worried That Americans Were Forgetting About the War
While he was serving, Kelly became concerned that those back home were letting the war slip into the background, with it no longer getting as much TV coverage or as much discussion among politicians.
According to The Washington Post, two months before his death, Kelly sent an email to his friends in the U.S. reminding them to stay tuned into what was happening in Afghanistan.
“Try to keep your eye on the news,” he wrote. “It will be good to know that people are paying attention to what the 32 Marines with me will be accomplishing.”
After his son’s death, John Kelly gave a memorable Veterans Day speech during which he spoke out against indifference towards the war, being especially critical of the media coverage of it.
“Yes, we are at war, and are winning, but you wouldn’t know it because successes go unreported, and only when something does go sufficiently or is sufficiently controversial, it is highlighted by the media elite that then sets up the ‘know it all’ chattering class to offer their endless criticism,” he said.
5. The Death of Robert Kelly Was Part of the Reason Donald Trump Selected John Kelly
According to The New York Times, the fact that John Kelly lost his son in combat contributed to his decision to select him as secretary of Homeland Security. The president-elect reportedly wanted someone who had firsthand experience with the dangers of sending Americans to war.
Donald Trump received widespread criticism in August when he criticized the family of a fallen U.S. soldier. Khizr Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention about his son, Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq in 2004.
In an interview on ABC News shortly after, Trump said that Khan’s speech was probably written by Hillary Clinton’s speechwriters. He went on to mock Khan’s wife, who stood next to him but did not deliver any remarks because she was too full of grief to do so. Trump implied that Khizr Khan didn’t allow his wife to speak because he is Muslim.
“If you look at his wife, she was standing there,” Trump said. “She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”