National Guard General visits Blue Earth
The number two ranking Minnesota National Guard officer was in Blue Earth last Tuesday and spoke to several groups.
Brigadier General Joseph P. Kelly is the Assistant Adjutant General – Joint Staff for the guard. He spoke on Tuesday both to a group of high school juniors, and to the Blue Earth Kiwanis Club.
General Kelly is married to the former Jean Detke of Blue Earth. They now live in Plymouth with their two daughters, Megan and Maura.
General Kelly told the Kiwanis Club that there are currently 13,800 people serving in the Minnesota National Guard, and about 20 percent of those are women. There are 100 National Guard units and they are located in 63 cities around the state. The closest ones to Blue Earth are in Jackson, Fairmont, Albert Lea, Austin and Mankato.
“We have a very high quality of young people willing to serve our country,” General Kelly said. He praised this young generation and said that he is constantly impressed with the soldiers serving in the guard these days.
He said recruitment is up, despite the fact that these citizen-soldiers can be called up to active duty. A year ago there were 3,000 Minnesota guardsmen deployed out of the U.S. Today there are 1,100 deployed, he said. Some of the members of the Mankato unit are currently deployed in Kosovo, he added.
“We are part of the U.S. Army and are detached with them,” Kelly said. He recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. “We are also under the authority of the governor of Minnesota, and if there is a disaster somewhere in the state, we will be there.”
Kelly said that current enlistment contracts call for six years of duty. The first four are active, where the soldier goes to training, and then serves on weekends and summers. The last two years are on reserve. Every four to five years the guard unit can be called up to serve up to a year overseas.
People enlisting at this time can earn from $10,000 to $40,000 bonuses, as well as college education paid for. “That is one reason we are getting some high quality people to enlist, they are future college students,”General Kelly said. He added that he thinks that it is important that service to country be rewarded, and called it a good investment in the future of the country.
The Minnesota National Guard has an annual budget of $375 million, of which $355 million comes from the federal government, the other $20 million from the state. The guard also operates two air bases in the state, one in the Twin Cities and one in Duluth. About 2,300 of the National Guard are in the Air National Guard, Kelly said. They also operate Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, which is one of the largest National Guard training centers in the country.
General Kelly is a native of Olivia and joined the guard in 1980. He served as a field artilleryman and also in an armor division. He graduated from St. John’s University and has served as a full-time officer in the National Guard for 22 years, rising through the ranks.
He has numerous awards and citations, and has served in numerous posts with the guard. His current position is supervising the joint staff, and his responsibilities include recruiting and retention, facilities management, international affairs, emergency response operations, government relations, and strategic planning.
His wife Jean is a registered nurse and works as the Director of Surgical Services at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.