On 9/11, as the world watched the twin towers come down and our nation faced one of its darkest moments, Lt. Col. Shane Kelley felt a call to action.
An ROTC student at Radford University in Virginia at the time, the Lee’s Summit native had already set his eyes on an Army career. But his desire to serve intensified that September day.
“September 11 changed the Army, and it changed me,” he said. “I felt, upon my graduation and commissioning, that it was my responsibility to do my part after we were attacked.
“The Army I learned about in ROTC was not the same Army I joined after September 11th. In school, we learned about the Army in the Cold War. From 9/11, the emphasis of the Army changed and, very soon, I was executing the duties I’d signed up to do,” Kelley said.
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In 2002, he graduated from Radford with a commission of 2nd lieutenant. In his distinguished 16-year career since, Kelley, 38, has completed the United States Army Ranger School and been commissioned an infantry officer. He was also a member of the renowned 173rd Airborne Brigade and 101st Airborne Division, commanded combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been awarded a Combat Infantryman Badge.
Often referred to as the “Badge of Glory,” this award recognizes infantrymen who face greater risks of being wounded or killed in action than any other military occupational specialties — risks Kelley has faced countless times in combat.
This spring, Kelley achieved another milestone. At a Pentagon ceremony on May 3, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
When he was young, friends and family did not envision Kelley pursuing an Army career. Instead, they thought he might follow closer in his parents’ steps. His father, Patrick, served in the Missouri State Legislature and was a Methodist minister, and his mother, Nancy was a preschool teacher. However, inspired by his maternal and paternal grandfathers, Kelley chose the military path.
“Both of my grandfathers were in World War II. One was a paratrooper, and one was a surgeon. They were the number one influence that piqued my interest in the Army,” he said.
Kelley credits his parents with key lessons and qualities he brings to his career, such as a commitment to service, leadership and mentoring.
“My parents’ overall desire was to serve others in the community, city, state and country. It was evident in the way they approached their work. To this day, countless people thank my mother for the important things she instilled in them at the preschool level.
“My father was constantly helping others. He was a leader. Whatever situation he was in, he was always helping people find a better path and a better result. As Army officers, we’re leaders first, and I learned from him.”
Throughout his career, Kelley has continually sought fresh perspectives on leadership and service.
“We’re here to serve our nation. We’re a civilian-led country and Army — and that’s not the same as other countries. As a leader, I want to make sure our future soldiers are living up to that.”
With the Army’s mantra of “no one left behind,” teamwork is at the heart of the service’s culture and one of its many traditions Kelley loves.
“Once you’ve walked a path, it’s your responsibility to turn around and pull others up,” he said.
Whether in combat or off the battlefield, Kelley values the Army’s mentoring culture and takes that role seriously.
“In every position I’ve held, I’ve had great relationships with supervisors and commanders and seek their mentorship,” he said. “Also, the soldiers I’ve led and supervised, I’ve counseled on life and long-term goals.”
When it comes to setting and achieving these goals, Kelley challenges not only his soldiers but also himself.
“As soon as I get comfortable at a certain level, I feel I need to learn something bigger and better. Each day, I seek bigger opportunities and more challenges.”
In his current role as intelligence officer at the Pentagon, Kelley supports the Army’s senior leaders. From immediate intelligence to tactical intelligence on the battlefield, he creates national reports for Army staff and the National Security Council.
In June, Kelley will relocate with his family to Tampa, Fla., and continue in this intelligence role at the United States Central Command.
“My 5- and 7-year-old-sons are showing interest in my uniforms. That’s what started my interest — my grandfather and his Purple Heart. I’m the one now answering those questions for my sons,” Kelley said.