By Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
Col. Paul Kelly, Virginia, National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va. (1/29/2007) – Col. Paul M. Kelly died in Iraq on
Kelly, 45, of Stafford, Va., was among 10 National Guard and two
active Army Soldiers killed in the crash of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter
near Al Jadidah, northeast of Baghdad.
He is the highest ranking Army National Guard Citizen-Soldier killed
since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A senior Army aviator
with more than 1,500 flying hours, including Black Hawks, he was
not flying the helicopter when it crashed.
"He loved two things," said Robert Godwin, the deputy chief of aviation
safety who had helped the National Guard Bureau lure the young captain
from South Carolina. "He loved the Army, and he loved his family.
He was a great husband and father. He spent a lot of time and effort
with his two sons."
He was buried with full military honors on Feb. 1 at Arlington
National Cemetery following a funeral service at the Old Post Chapel
at Fort Myer, Va.
A memorial service was also held Jan. 31 at St. William of York
Catholic Church in Stafford, Va. That would have been Kelly's 46th
"Paul Kelly was the finest gentleman, from top to toe," said Brian
West, who was a fellow Army National Guard officer when the two met
in 1996 and is now a contractor in the Army Guard’s Operations Division.
"He was admired by everyone. He was one in 10 million."
The crash claimed the highest number of Guardmembers to die in a
single combat incident since at least the Korean War (1950-53), National
Guard Bureau (NGB) officials said.
Nicknamed "the Senator" by colleagues in Iraq for habitually
shaking hands with servicemembers of all ranks – many of whom saw
him as a mentor – Kelly commanded an NGB liaison officer (LNO) team.
Before the August deployment, he was NGB division chief for aviation
and safety on assignment from the Joint Force Headquarters, Virginia
Army National Guard.
Two other members of the LNO team also died in the crash. They were
Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Haller, 49, from Maryland, and Sgt. 1st
Class Floyd Lake, 43, from the Virgin Islands.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of these outstanding National
Guard Soldiers and warriors," said LTG H Steven Blum, chief of the
National Guard Bureau. "I cherish their service, honor their sacrifice
and mourn with their families. These National Guard Soldiers were
bearers of the torch of freedom carried from one generation of Americans
to the next since 1636. We will remember them in honor and gratitude."
The LNO team was conducting a liaison mission with National Guard
Affairs, Multi-National Corps – Iraq. The Black Hawk was returning
to Baghdad after site visits.
The Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington where Kelly
was a fixture for a decade was a community ";buttressed between pride
and grief," Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, director of the Army National
Guard, wrote in a Jan. 24 letter to the National Guard family.
"They were our family," Vaughn said. "They were the leaders that
guided us as a team, the mentors who grew us as Soldiers, the friends
we shared our lives with and the smiling faces we still see so clearly
in the halls."
Kelly was a four-year letterman on the Carroll High School wrestling
team in Ohio. He was in ROTC at the University of Dayton. He was
commissioned in the Army National Guard in 1982. Kelly earned two
masters degrees, from Catholic University of America and from the
National Defense University.
"Growing up, he was my idol," Patrick Kelly, one of his
three brothers, told the Fredericksburg, Va., Freelance-Star.
"; He was, without a doubt, the type of person one would look to
not only for advice but for friendship."
Commissioned as an engineer officer, Kelly served in numerous assignments
in the Ohio Guard and the South Carolina Guard before joining the
NGB in 1996. The years since included an 18-month Pentagon stint,
command of the Virginia National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation
Regiment (Assault) and a rotation as the aviation task force commander,
Stabilization Force-10 (SFOR-10) in Bosnia-Herzogovina.
He inspired the Soldiers he led, and he cherished them. He once
told a monthly luncheon for senior citizens at his church that the
strength of today’s military comes from the sacrifice of generations
of veterans – a tradition he will now be remembered for continuing.
"Every time we communicated with him, he’d ask us to pray for all
the Soldiers doing a great job out there," his brother, John Kelly,
told The Washington Post. ";He was extremely caring and dedicated
both to the profession and his family and friends. He loved what
he did, and he loved his country."
He was due to come home in March, and his 10th wedding anniversary
would have been in July. His widow is the former Maria Binondo, a
former Air Force nurse who is a teacher’s aid and nurse. The couple
met after Kelly came to Virginia about 15 years ago. They had two
young sons, Paul David and John Joseph, nicknamed J.J.
Arlington Hall colleagues recalled his enthusiasm, knowledge,willingness
to learn and ability to get things done.
"People do what their commanders do," Godwin said. "If the commander’s
chin is out and his shoulders are back and his chest is squared,
that’s what they’re going to do. Col. Kelly always had a smile, even
when he was under great stress. He never had anyone that wasn’t not
only willing but also eager to work with him."
To inspire students, Kelly once brought a helicopter to the St.
William of York Catholic School where his wife works, and he planned
to do that again after he returned from Iraq in March, The Freelance-Star reported.
The school has established a college fund for his children.
"He wanted to see his sons attend the University of Notre Dame,"
The two, who shared Irish heritage and faithfully celebrated St.
Patrick’s Day together, made a promise: If anything happened to either
officer, the other would look out for his friend’s children. ";I would
have rather seen it the other way around," West said. ";I would trade
places in a heartbeat."
Kelly’s father, of Beavercreek, Ohio, is a retired Air Force pilot
and a Vietnam veteran; three brothers and two sisters also survive
On Jan. 23, members of the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment
gathered in a chapel at Al Asad, Iraq, west of Baghdad, to mourn
Kelly and Staff Sgt. Darryl D. Booker, a 37-year-old Virginia man
also killed in the crash, The Washington Post reported.
"I can’t help but imagine they are viewing this ceremony, watching
over us and praying for our safe return," Lt. Col. Robert E. McMillin
II told the nearly 200 Guardmembers.
It was the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment who nicknamed
Kelly ";Senator." The deployment had become something of a reunion
for Kelly, who visited with men and women he had commanded in Bosnia
in the mess hall in Iraq, Citizen-Soldiers with whom he shared strong
National Guard LNOs serve in Afghanistan and Iraq and are assigned
to Operation Jump Start, the Guard’s support for the U.S. Border
Patrol along this country’s border with Mexico, among other places
Team members tell ground component commanders how the NGB can
support the war fight, and they tell the NGB and Vaughn about anticipated
requirements. Liaison officers also inform the Army Guard director
about the needs, welfare, equipment issues and morale of Citizen-Soldiers
and coordinate site visits.
"Every task this team handled, every mission they entered into was
to ensure our National Guard personnel could effectively fight for
a fledgling freedom in a land few would dare to enter," Vaughn said.