General John F. Kelley is retired for the second time – and it’s well earned. In a 45-year Marine Corps career, he recalls moving 29 times in a 38-year period. After eight months at home, he served the country for two years in the Trump administration – as acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and chief of staff to the President.
Kelley offered a frank discussion of international threats and his perspective on governance at the Indiana Chamber’s annual Chamber Day Dinner on February 11 (view event photos). Nearly 700 attendees were on hand at the Indiana Roof Ballroom for his comments, opening remarks from Gov. Eric Holcomb and recognition of the 84 years of service of retiring legislative leaders Pat Bauer and Brian Bosma.
In a sobering analysis when talking about the excellent work of DHS, Kelley noted there have been “100 serious attempts to do another 9/11 since 9/11. Some came close. DHS has saved your lives many times over.”
Kelley reflects on growing up in a Boston neighborhood where all the males in his life were veterans. He reported for his military physical in 1970 at the same federal building as his father (World War II) and great uncle (World War I). Poor eyesight and bone spurs left him with the opportunity to defer service, but he requested approval from the doctor “and off I went.
“I said to myself I would stay around as long as it was fun, rewarding and they would keep me.” Which they did for those four and a half decades in a variety of critical roles in this country and abroad.
On the state of the federal government, the former general says both supporters and critics of the current administration need to remember one thing: “It’s about America once that election is over.”
As chief of staff, Kelley’s first thought was always, “Is this good for the country? I never thought, ‘Is this good for re-election or is this good for the party?’ ”
Kelley praised Holcomb for his brief recounting of the many recent Indiana accomplishments, with special emphasis on the lack of negativity. It’s something he wishes could return to our nation’s capital.
“In Washington, absolutely no one is talking to each other anymore. All have a visceral dislike for each other. I don’t see any immediate solutions there.”
In closing with the fact that he is an optimist, Kelley did offer three potential steps on the way to a better federal government: more veterans serving in Congress, term limits on a voluntary basis and people simply talking to each other.
“The most respected institution in our country, at 85%, is the military,” he concludes. “The least trusted is Congress. I think that is very, very dangerous.”
Ice Miller LLP served as presenting sponsor for the annual event. Caesars Entertainment was the reception sponsor. Gold sponsors were AM General LLC, Eli Lilly and Company, Indiana State University, Keystone Group & Indy Eleven, NIPSCO, Parkview Health and St. Vincent. Silver sponsors are Alkermes, Inc.; American Chemistry Council; AT&T Indiana; Charter Spectrum TV/Internet/Voice; Delta Dental of Indiana; First Merchants Bank; French Lick Resort; Hoosiers Work For Health; IGT Indiana; Oak Street Funding; Old National Bank; Roche Diagnostics Corporation; Ruoff Mortgage; Smithville; The Kroger Co.; and Vectren, A CenterPoint Energy Company.
Mark your calendars for March 16, 2021 for the next Chamber Day Dinner.