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Feature: Interview with Major General Timothy Kelly, U.S. Air Force
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Military branch of service and rank
U.S. Air Force, Major General

Congratulations on your recent promotion. As a military person you have probably had experiences that most Federal workers would never have. How do you incorporate that into your Federal work?
Thank you. I incorporate my reserve job experiences into many facets of my civilian job every day and vice versa. My civilian position within the Office of the Secretary of Defense provides oversight of Department of Defense (DoD) special access programs. I represent the civilian oversight of these programs for the secretary of defense. Civilian control of the military is so ingrained in America that we hardly give it a second thought. It is clearly articulated in the Constitution and flows from the president to the secretary of defense through his undersecretaries of defense. As a citizen airman, I get to see this oversight exercised from both the civilian and military perspectives. I feel very lucky and privileged to serve in both the military and civilian sides of our national defense. 

Did you have a favorite assignment/job?
My favorite assignment has to be as the deputy director of the J5 at U.S. European Command (EUCOM), and not just because it was in Bavaria. The EUCOM area of responsibility is vast and its security cooperation missions were very challenging. There is a full interagency and international team within the EUCOM staff, and I had the great pleasure of serving for two outstanding strategic leaders: Admiral James Stavridis and General Phil Breedlove.

Was there an experience at FEI that was particularly transformative for you? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from this experience?
The FEI LDS programs were an extremely reflective experience for me. The seminar format allowed me to see the DoD through the lens of others as well as from an international perspective. The LDS program enabled me to also attend the Leadership through the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery, AL, in 2016. This class was one of the most emotional professional leadership courses I’ve ever attended. I was assigned to Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, AL. I was in my reserve position at the time and did not have a good appreciation for the significance of what transpired in lower Alabama in the 1960s. This class opened my eyes to what people endured during this time. This was an experiential learning moment and revealed to me just how limited my middle and high school history classes were in covering the civil rights movement. The opportunity to visit historically significant places and do things like walking over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL, and meeting individuals who had firsthand experiences with the movement was extremely moving. The FEI seminar format allowed me to share thoughts with my fellow government employees and was very rewarding and beneficial. The entire experience had a profound effect on me as an officer, civil servant, father, husband, and fellow citizen.

You have been in several leadership positions for most of your career. Can you share with us the best leadership advice that you ever received?
The best leader I’ve worked for was the Honorable Michèle Flournoy when she was the undersecretary of defense for policy. She did not provide me with leadership advice but rather demonstrated the best leadership at her level that I’ve ever seen. Her best leadership trait was listening. She was able to determine the pulse of the organization by listening and observing the climate. She was able to change the culture of a very large organization in a short period of time. She reinvigorated the staff, who in turn were excited to come to work because they felt valued and appreciated.

How would you describe your leadership style?
Practical and professional. I’ve always worked my boss’s priorities at every level and tried to be a team player. Providing practical advice and ensuring your boss is never surprised seems to work for me. 

What advice would you give to Federal workers as they transition from the military?
Get some fashion advice and dress the new part. Corfram shoes do not go with a suit. Ensure you understand the language of your new organization and try not to use too many military acronyms or phrases. Civilians are not as rank conscience or accustomed to “following orders,” so ensure you engage them appropriately at all levels.

What is a big misconception about former military members?
That all military members are the same. Members of each service, career field, and specialty have their own personalities and traits.  

What was the last book you read?
The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain.

What are you listening to these days? What is on your iPod?
Everything. I have over 5,000 songs on my iPhone and listen to everything from Dean Martin to Led Zeppelin. I love Zach Brown Band, Bare Naked Ladies, James Taylor, and the Beatles. Acoustic Alchemy is one of my favorite jazz bands.

What is one piece of technology you can’t live without?
Not necessarily technology, but I use my Ryobi 18V driver a lot around the house. I have two iPhones and two iPads for work and home. I also have a Microsoft Surface Pro for my day job that I use on the road and home (typing this on it now). 

If you were queen/king for a day with an endless pot of money, what one thing would you want to fix/change in the Federal workforce? Why?
Our reputation: we seem to all be lumped together and thought of as lazy, overpaid bureaucrats, which could not be further from the truth. The vast majority of Federal workers are blue collar tradesmen who do most of the maintenance at military logistics centers. It was very frustrating during the furlough process and determining who is an “essential” employee. We’re all essential to completing the mission, no matter our service, career field, or specialty.   

Major General Timothy P. Kelly is the mobilization assistant to the commander, Air Education and Training Command (AETC), Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, TX. AETC is responsible for the recruiting, training, and education of Air Force personnel. The command includes the Air Force Recruiting Service, two numbered air forces, and Air University. It operates more than 1,400 trainer, fighter, and mobility aircraft; 23 wings; 10 bases; and five geographically separated groups, and trains more than 293,000 students per year with approximately 60,000 active-duty, reserve, Guard, civilian, and contractor personnel.

General Kelly entered the Air Force in 1987 as a graduate of the University of Delaware Reserve Officer Training Corps program. He is a member of the professional acquisition corps and has extensive experience with leading-edge research and development. He has broad weapon systems acquisition experience, including laboratory, air-to-air weapons, science and technology, space and intelligence systems, and integrated air defense systems. General Kelly joined the Air Force Reserve in 1998. Prior to assuming his current position, he was the mobilization assistant to the commander and president, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL.

As a civilian, General Kelly is the director of special programs and technology integration for the undersecretary of defense for policy. In this capacity, he is responsible for providing policy advice and support to the secretary of defense and other senior Department of Defense leaders by formulating, recommending, integrating, and implementing policies and strategies to improve U.S. strategic capabilities.

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