Second Lt. Robert Kelly, the son of Lt. Gen. John Kelly, was killed Tuesday in a roadside bomb blast during a foot patrol in Helmand Province.
John Kelly served as the top Marine commander in Iraq in 2008 when he commanded the Marine force based in Anbar province. He now oversees all reserve units in the Marine Corps as head of Marine Forces Reserve.
Robert Kelly, 29, was serving with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, which has seen 14 of its troops killed during its short five- to six-week combat deployment in Afghanistan. If its casualty rate continues at this pace, it will be the combat battalion with the highest number of casualties ever in the war in Afghanistan. The current top number is 27 killed during a 15-month span.
The battalion is operating in Sangin District in northern Helmand province, which until recently was controlled by British troops. Since the Marines took over responsibility for the area in September, they have seen heavy combat as they have pushed out of the town to outer areas that have been long controlled by the Taliban. With most areas of Helmand now under coalition control, Sangin is seen as one of the last Taliban holdouts in the province.
Sangin has always been known as a tough fight for units based there. The last three British battle groups that operated in Sangin each had 17, 30 and 22 killed over each of their six-month deployments.
Robert Kelly was on his third combat deployment, having served two tours in Iraq as an enlisted Marine. He was commissioned as an officer in late 2008. Kelly's brother, John, is also a Marine officer who has served in Iraq.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, expressed his condolences to the Kelly family. In a statement, he said he was "deeply saddened" by "the news of the loss of Lt. Gen. Kelly's son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly. ... The Corps will always remember 2nd Lt. Kelly and all of our fallen heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country."
That the Kelly brothers would follow their father into military service is not uncommon in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the sons of many general officers are serving in combat.
Defense Secretary Gates recently noted this reality in a speech at Duke University, where he said he was struck "by the large number of our senior officers whose children are in uniform, including the recent commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq whose son was seriously wounded in the war."
Gates was referring to Gen. Ray Odierno, whose son, Tony, lost an arm during a combat tour in Iraq as an Army lieutenant.