News | Nov. 24, 2021

Navy Reserve Law Program Captain Retires

By Navy JAG Corps Public Affairs

Capt. Kevin Kelly, an accomplished and esteemed member of the Navy Reserve Law Program (NRLP), retired on Nov. 1, 2021 after 32 years of military service.

Reflecting on this milestone, Kelly said he is grateful to many people.  However, first and foremost, he thanked his wife of 29 years, Kim, and their five children – George, Clare, Frances, John, and Tom.

“When the Navy called, they were ever-supportive!” said Kelly, who most recently served as a member of the NRLP’s National Security Law team.  “The first three children, especially, were wonderfully patient when I was mobilized in 2003 and left on year-long orders.  The children were very young and doubtless wondered why precisely I was going away.  And my wife was stalwart – despite the fact that I was mobilized just when we had broken ground on a large addition to the house!”

Kelly hails from Sun Prairie, Wisc.  In his civilian capacity, he is the associate dean for Academics and Students at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he received his juris doctor degree in 1991 and served as editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Law Review.  While he was completing law school, Kelly joined the JAG Corps Student Program and was commissioned in 1989.

Kelly’s commanding officer on the National Security Law team, Capt. Ping Wang, described him as a consummate professional, a stellar performer, and a “grandfather” to young operational law practitioners. 

“He is the ultimate ‘officer and gentleman,’ who has been very supportive of junior officers and of mission accomplishment with a boots-on-the-ground mentality,” said Wang.

While on active duty, Kelly completed numerous assignments, including a tour at Naval Legal Service Office San Francisco from 1992 to 1993.  He also served as staff judge advocate of Naval Security Group Activity in Edzell, Scotland until 1997.  He left active duty and affiliated with the Navy Reserves in 1999.

One of Kelly’s first assignments was a project connected to the 1989 explosion of turret two aboard USS Iowa (BB 61).  One afternoon, Kelly and some fellow team members on that project attended a small event related to settlement negotiations with Iraq over its 1987 missile attack on the USS Stark (FFG 31).

Rear Adm. Ted Gordon, who then was serving as the 33rd Navy JAG, was hosting the event, and he spotted Kelly’s ensign shoulder boards among the assembling attendees.  He quipped. “Hey, who brought the ensign?”  It was a relative rarity for a junior officer to attend such an event.

Interestingly, Kelly had accompanied a young Lt. Jim Houck to the event – and Houck, himself, would later become the 41st Navy JAG.  Kelly calls this recollection a “pleasant early memory … [but one] infused with solemn undercurrents.”  The tragic events related to the Iowa and the Stark had cost the lives of 84 Sailors.

“The memory also demonstrates what quickly became apparent to me:  It’s a relatively small Navy, and an even smaller JAG Corps,” Kelly said.

As a member of the NRLP, Kelly held many different positions, such as an operational law attorney with the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Asia Joint Task Force Contingency Unit at Great Lakes, Ill.; the executive officer and later the commanding officer of the Navy Reserve Naval War College Law unit in Newport, R.I.; and the commanding officer of the Navy Reserve Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe/Africa/6th Fleet Legal unit.

In 2003, Kelly mobilized in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, serving as an operational law attorney at U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.  During that tour, he also deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina to serve as a NATO legal advisor at Headquarters, Stabilization Force, Camp Butmir, Sarajevo. 

“Fellow officers from my first active-duty assignment, NLSO San Francisco, became career-long friends, including Captains Carrie Stephens, Jill James, and Bob Porzeinski, all of whose mentorship and good cheer were measureless over the years,” said Kelly. 

“And soon I also had the opportunity to learn – as any new judge advocate had better do – to appreciate and value line officers.  Captains Larry Schaffer and Bruce Drake, cryptologic warfare officers and two of my commanding officers at Naval Security Group Activity Edzell, Scotland – I will always remember them fondly and be indebted them.  I also am indebted to Cmdr. John Knowles, another Royal Air Force Station wardroom member who remains a steadfast friend to this day,” Kelly added.

In 2007, Kelly was awarded the Rear Admiral Hugh H. Howell, Jr., Award of Excellence (Senior Officer) by the Deputy JAG for Reserve Affairs and Operations.  He also has been awarded the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal (second award), Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal (third award), Joint Service Achievement Medal, and Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal (second award).
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