Face of Defense: Son of Fallen Guardsman Enlists on Parents' Anniversary


Twenty years after his parents got married and 10 years after losing his father in Iraq, Pvt. Paul David Kelly, 19, raised his right hand and enlisted into the Virginia Army National Guard.

Colonel James Ring, chief of staff for the Virginia Army National Guard, administered Kelly's oath in front of his mother, his grandmother, younger brother, a few friends and his recruiters, July 26.

"We are honored and proud for my son to be part of the Guard family," Kelly's mother, Maria, said. "I thank God for all the support and love, and I know my husband is looking down to us and I know in my heart that he will protect our son."

Family Legacy of Military Service

Serving in the military was always one of Kelly's goals, he said. Both his parents served in the military. His father, Army Col. Paul M. Kelly, served in the Virginia National Guard. His mother, Maria, served in the Air Force.

Photos of Paul as a child show him dressed up in a uniform just like the one his dad would wear to work every day. He said he’d wear his father's boots and stomp around the house, playing soldier, just like his dad.

When Kelly was 9, the helicopter his father was traveling in was shot down north of Baghdad and Col. Kelly, along with 11 other soldiers, including fellow Virginia Army National Guard member Sgt. 1st Class Darryl D. Booker, died.

Serving in Father’s Footsteps

For Kelly, this only strengthened his resolve. He was sure that he would serve, just like his departed father.

"When he was killed in Iraq, it had a huge impact on me," Kelly said. "I remember when I was nine years old I decided then that I wanted to pursue something in the military."

Ten years later, at the Military Entry Processing Station located at Fort Lee, Virginia, Kelly fulfilled that goal by enlisting as an infantry soldier assigned to the Christiansburg, Va.,-based Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Remembering Fallen Father

Over those 10 years, Kelly's mother worked hard to keep the memory of Col. Kelly alive for her sons.

"Every single day we talk about him," Maria said. "He's always there for us. And in my house -- every single corner of my house -- we have a family picture. His dad's picture is there and he knows -- Dad is here."

"I know he's saying it's OK," Maria said of her fallen husband.

Virginia Army National Guard Service

Colonel Kelly, an aviation officer, commanded the Virginia Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment a few years before his death and the Virginia Guard aviation community rallied around both the Kelly and Booker families in the days, months and years that followed their deaths.

"We were very active with the military and with all my dad's friends," Kelly said of his fallen father. "They never forgot my dad."

Ring was one of those friends. He said he counted Col. Kelly as both a mentor and a friend and served under him during the unit's deployment to Bosnia in 2002.

"The greatest memory I have is his leadership style," Ring said of Col. Kelly. "He was known to be a tremendous leader, a tremendous people person. We often gave him the nickname of "The Senator" because he walked around always shaking hands and always had a smile on his face."

Like Father, Like Son

Ring has a daughter near Pvt. Kelly's age and his children have grown up alongside the Kelly children. He watched Kelly grow from a child to a young man and recognizes the leadership style of Col. Kelly in Pvt. Kelly. Ring said enlisting his friend's son into the Virginia Army National Guard was a privilege.

"When we take the oath we enjoin our families in that process, as well," Ring said.

Maria said she feels like her son's service is a continuation of her husband's.

"It's a sad moment for my husband that he passed, but it's a happy moment for my son who will continue the legacy for my husband," she said.