Son gets Hollis dad to join National Guard
Christopher Kelly, left, is a student at West Point. His father, Dr. James Kelly, right, joined the National Guard to put his medical skills to use for the military. (COURTESY)
HOLLIS - When his son Christopher joined the Army, Dr. James Kelly saw something happen to his only child that he'd never seen.
"He was not a very good high school student and he ended up going into the military as an enlisted man," said Kelly, a Hollis physician whose son is a student at West Point.
Serving in mortuary affairs during a deployment in Iraq, where it was his job to take care of the remains and belongings of dead soldiers, Christopher found a sense of purpose.
"The Army really straightened him out and really got him on the right path," James Kelly said.
Then Christopher Kelly drafted his dad into service.
Christopher related to James that there weren't enough doctors in the service, that people were dying simply for the lack of medical care. Hearing this, and seeing what good the military had done for his son, James Kelly knew it was his turn to sign up.
"(Christopher) let me know that the military was short of doctors, and they needed them, and that was my inspiration," Kelly said. "I said they did a great job for my son, and we got tons of young kids out there that need health care - I don't have any other children at home, my wife was very supportive - I said 'I can do this.' "
In 2007, Kelly applied for an age waiver through the Army-but to his chagrin it took more than two years to process the application. Finally, he made a move.
"I said you guys have just delayed this so long, and the National Guard got it done in three months," Kelly said.
By the time he'd enlisted with the Guard, the Army finally got back to him, offering him the rank of lieutenant colonel. But he'd already filled out the papers, and he stuck with his rank of major in the Guard.
He would've preferred the higher rank, he said, but that's not why he enlisted.
"I'm not doing this for rank, I'm not doing it for medals, I'm doing it for the soldiers," he said. "I'm never going to be in there long enough to get retirement benefits, and I'm certainly not doing it for the money."
In January, he was deployed to Shindand, a town in the west of Afghanistan some 60 miles from the Iranian border. He was placed with two surgeons right out of residency. And with 30 years in the field, Kelly said he made a perfect fit with the young doctors.
"They had the type of motor skills to do the surgery, which I didn't have, but I had the experience," he said.
Kelly would be deployed in Afghanistan for 90 days, including two weeks of training and two weeks of debriefing. The Guard doesn't keep doctors out of their offices for more than 90 days, he said.
In Afghanistan, Kelly treated soldiers - not just Americans, but also NATO troops and members of the Afghan police and military - and even civilians who would come to the gate.
He plans to be in the Guard for a total of eight years, committed to showing up once a month and for a two-week training each year.
Asked for his most memorable experience, Kelly said it's seeing the people who join because the Army is the "largest humanitarian organization in the world."
"That's not part of what you hear the Army does - you only hear of things getting blown up and guys coming back that are broken," he said.
Kelly said winning hearts and minds is an important part of war, and some join for that reason alone.
Christopher Kelly, who is in the thick of his studies at West Point military academy, was unable to be interviewed for this story.
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