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Camp Pendleton general slated for promotion and new command

September 18, 2009 |  7:29 pm

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Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who spent a year as the top Marine in Iraq, has been nominated by President Obama for promotion to lieutenant general and given command of Marine reserve forces.

Kelly is currently at Camp Pendleton as deputy commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. From February 2008 to February 2009, he was commanding general of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) -- overseeing 22,000 Marines, sailors and soldiers in Anbar province west of Baghdad.

Kelly was assistant commander of the 1st Marine Division during the assault on Baghdad in 2003 and personally led a force to Tikrit to confront Saddam Hussein's loyalists in the dictator's ancestral home. In early 2004, he was assistant division commander during the fight in Fallujah.

As commanding general of 1MEF (Forward), his mission was to train the Iraqi security forces, help stabilize the Anbar provincial government, try to heal the rift between that government and the central government in Baghdad, and prepare the Iraqis for the U.S. departure.

He joined the Marine Corps in 1970 in the enlisted ranks and became an officer after graduating from the University of Massachusetts in 1976. An infantry officer by training, he has also worked as the Marine Corps liaison with Congress.

The reserve forces have played a key role in bolstering the active-duty Marine force in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kelly has two sons, both Marines who have served in Iraq.

His nomination for promotion was announced Friday by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and is subject to Senate approval, a formality.

After his return from Iraq this year, Kelly told a civic group in San Diego that he was particularly pleased with the partnership between his Marines and the Iraqis. Some of the Iraqis had initially been enemies.

"What I am very proud of is the number of human beings we did not have to kill because we never stopped extending the hand of friendship even in the darkest days gone by," Kelly said.

Kelly also listed the names of 28 troops in his command killed in 12 months.

"I will think about them for the rest of my life because I failed to bring them home," he said, with a catch in his voice. "I will never forget them or their families...I still  thank God there were so few this time."

-Tony Perry in San Diego

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