General John F Kelly, reporting for duty as the new White House Chief of Staff on Monday, 31 July 2017 and nothing will be the same thereafter. Semper Fi!
Big Red Car here on a scorching Texas day with the temp set at 104F. Ahhh, on Earth as it is in Texas. Taking a break from floating in the pool to discuss the implications of the naming of John F Kelly as the new White House Chief of Staff.
It is a brilliant pick for a number of reasons which civilians don’t understand. Let a Big Red Car ‘splain it to y’all. Listen up, Chowderheads (Kelly is an Irish Catholic from Boston, hence the “chowderheads” sobriquet.)
So, this General Kelly was a United States Marine for more than forty years. It is through that training, education, and leadership experience that he is so ably appointed to the position of CoS to the POTUS.
This is a guy with skin in the game. His son, a Marine Lieutenant, was killed in Afghanistan while on patrol.
General Kelly had to tell his wife, Karen Hernest, that their son was killed in Afghanistan. He describes it as the hardest thing he has ever done.
His son, Robert, stepped on a landmine during a third combat tour in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban in Sangin, scene of some the toughest fighting in the war. He was a platoon commander with Lima Company, 3/5th Marines. General Kelly has another son who is a Marine Major.
The Marine Corps is the family business in the Kelly family. Their daughter works for the American Red Cross.
Military staff work
Military organizations from the battalion level up operate under a commanding officer (CO) who runs things through a staff. The staff positions at the battalion level (the lowest level with a formal staff) are enumerated as follows:
1. S-1, typically a Captain in charge of personnel, orders, schools, awards, promotions. This guy is the paper pusher.
2. S-2, typically a Captain in charge of intelligence and reconnaissance. This guy is the spook.
3. S-3, typically a Captain, sometimes a Major, in charge of plans and operations.
This is the guy who hammers out the attack orders and coordinates with supporting artillery, fast movers, choppers, and other air assets.
He is typically a very experienced former company commander. He is the plans guy.
4. S-4, typically a Captain in charge of logistics and supply — beans & bullets. This guy makes sure the troops get chow, water, and ammunition as well as weapons and gear.
5. S-5, typically a Captain in charge of civil affairs. This is a new area since the Big Red Car was in the service back in the day.
This organization is overseen by the Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer. The XO, the CO’s understudy and his replacement if the CO is killed, runs the staff.
At a higher level, such as an Army or Marine infantry division, there is also a Chief of Staff in addition to Assistant Division Commanders for maneuver and support. At the division level, a “G” is used rather than a “S.” So, the S-1 at Division is the G-1.
In every instance, the staff reports to the CO through the XO or the Chief of Staff. Nobody is freelancing, though the CO is perfectly free to wander over to the “3” shop and make a progress check on the planning or the “2” shop and get an update on intel.
The point is that the military is uber organized and the roles played by each staff officer are well-documented and orchestrated. The Chief of Staff is the guy who makes sure the staff is converting the “commander’s intent” into real world plans.
In the White House, the staff positions are of varying function and order. Whoever has the President’s ear exerts the most influence on the rest of the President’s body including his brain.
General Kelly knows how a staff is supposed to operate to achieve the commander’s goals.
White House, WTF?
President Trump is an experienced big company executive, but he has never operated at the level of complexity and breadth required of the POTUS. No harm, no foul. It is a unique job.
Nobody in this office ever has come in ready to go except for General Dwight David Eisenhower who’d had a stint as a 5-star General and the first NATO commander. He knew how a staff was supposed to operate and his wartime staff was Americans and Brits.
He had served under both Gen George Catlett Marshal and Gen Douglas MacArthur as a staff officer. He learned from the best ever.
He once said of MacArthur: “Oh, yes, I studied dramatics under him for twelve years.”
To which MacArthur retorted: “Eisenhower was the best clerk I ever had.”
You can expect General Kelly to organize, streamline, and operate a complementary staff with military precision.
General Kelly, who is this guy, Big Red Car?
They are not giving out four stars in USMC Crackerjack boxes. To become a Marine 4-star is as likely as winning the Irish Sweepstakes. You have to be the best of the best. And, you have to perform like a Lipizzaner.
Kelly has been in the following assignments of note:
1. At the company level: platoon commander, executive officer, company commander of both rifle and weapons companies;
2. Battalion S-3 officer in a Marine infantry battalion;
3. Head of Offensive Tactics Section, and Director of the USMC Infantry Officer Course;
4. Commanding Officer 1st Light Armored Recon Battalion, 1st Marine Division (involved in the 1992 Los Angeles riots);
5. Commandant of the USMC’s Liaison Officer to the US House of Representatives — note this! He knows how the Congress operates;
6. Special Assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe;
7. Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, 2nd Marine Division;
8. Assistant Division Commander (under Mad Dog Mattis, CO) 1st Marine Division in Iraq (a position held by the legendary Chesty Puller);
9. Commander of Task Force Tripoli which took Samarra and Takrit after the 1st Marine Division participated in the conquering of Baghdad;
10. Legislative Assistant to the USMC Commandant;
11. Commanding Officer 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Afghanistan);
12. Commanding Officer Multi-National Force-West (Iraq);
13. Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta); and,
14. Commanding Officer of the US Southern Command (Caribbean, Mexico, South America)
This is a man exquisitely prepared for command and service at the highest levels for almost half a century. He knows the subject material.
In addition, he attended the following schools:
1. Undergrad University of Massachusetts (BA),
2. Masters Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in National Security Studies (MA),
3. Masters National Defense University (MS),
4. Officer Candidate School USMC,
5. The USMC Basic School;
6. The US Army Infantry Officer (Fort Benning School for Boys),
7. The USMC Command and General Staff College,
8. School for Advanced Warfare, and,
9. National War College.
This is an extraordinary amount of schooling for a man who served his first two years in the USMC as an enlisted man.
General Kelly has had exquisite preparation for his new position. He has been well educated, has been challenged in his assignments, has had a record of superlative and increasing responsibility, and has been at the touch point of legislation and the military numerous times. He knows everybody who needs to be known in Washington, DC.
It is unlikely you could create a fictional character with better preparation.
The Trump White House
The Trump White House provides some unique challenges. First, there is the President himself. He is not a professional politician. He and Kelly will get along fine.
[Let’s face it. Donald J Trump was a bone-spurred draft dodger during the Vietnam Era. There, it’s been said. The Big Red Car said it. Deal with it. President Trump will defer to General Kelly — who did not serve in Vietnam — like a jock sniffer. Figure that one out, but it’s all about compensation. Check with your shrink and ask her to ‘splain that to y’all.]
Then, there is the Trump royal family and insiders. To get control of the White House, it is essential that Kushner, Ivanka, Bannon, Kellyanne, and The Mooch get with the program. They cannot report directly to the President and have the White House run efficiently.
This is the biggest operational challenge for President Trump — not for General Kelly, for President Trump. If he wants to get the most out of General Kelly’s ability to run a staff, then he has to ensure the staff reports to Kelly.
No give on this issue. This is the keystone of the entire operation.
BTW, the President, Secretary Ross, Secretary Mnuchin, and General Kelly had dinner at the Trump hotel in DC last night. Hitting the ground running. Huge advantage, General Kelly knows the Cabinet.
Prediction, Big Red Car?
Yeah, I’ll give you a prediction. You are going to find out that the guy with the four stars is smart, articulate, clever, gentlemanly, and efficient. In the end, he will run that White House like it was an adjunct of the United States Marine Corps and when the Marines are in charge of things, things get done.
You’re also going to find out that Kelly and Mad Dog mesh like a hand in a glove. General Kelly was Mad Dog’s ADC (assistant division commander) when Mad Dog had the 1st Mar Div. That ain’t chopped liver, y’all. They are battle buddies.