JACKSON – The Mississippi National Guard on Saturday promoted U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly to the rank of brigadier general.

Kelly, a Republican from Saltillo who represents Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and formerly served as a district attorney, has more than 30 years of military experience and most recently held the rank of colonel.

“I’m so very proud of my friend, John Trent Kelly,” said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, highlighting Kelly’s service in the armed forces, as well as congress. “He has served with distinction and honor and dignity.”

Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves both spoke during the Saturday promotion ceremony, held in Jackson at the Mississippi National Guard Joint Force Headquarters. The two state leaders extolled the character, devotion and sacrifice of all in the armed forces and of Kelly in particular.

Kelly becomes the first sitting congressman from Mississippi to simultaneously serve as a general-level officer in the National Guard since G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, who retired from military service with the National Guard in 1980 with the rank of major general and represented Mississippi in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 to 1997.

Speaking several minutes prior to the formal recognition of promotion, Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles, who serves as adjutant general of Mississippi, underscored the elite status Kelly has attained. He noted that there are approximately one million soldiers in the U.S. Army, including guardsmen and reservists. Of that number, only 600 hold a rank at the level of general.

“Do not discount what we are doing,” Boyles said of Kelly’s promotion. “It is significant.”

During a series of remarks on Saturday in which he visibly blinked back tears at times and paused for composure, Kelly reflected on his military career and thanked his family, friends and colleagues for their enduring support and guidance, offering credit as well to his Christian faith.

“It’s just been a blessed life,” Kelly said, later adding, “There’s not greater honor than to serve this nation.”

Speaking briefly to the Daily Journal before an anticipated return to Washington D.C., Kelly described his leadership experience in the military as a key component informing his ongoing political service.

A native of Union, Kelly enlisted in the National Guard at the age of 19 in 1985. He mobilized for Desert Storm in 1990, and deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2009. He has held leadership roles at the company, battalion and brigade levels. Currently, he is director of the joint staff at the Mississippi National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters.

His educational background includes an associate’s degree from East Central Community College and a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Mississippi, as well as a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.

Kelly’s family includes his wife of 27 years, Sheila Kelly, and children John Forrest, Morgan and Jackson.

Following the death of Alan Nunnelee, Kelly won the 1st Congressional District seat in a 2015 special election and has served in congress since. He faces his next re-election race this fall.

In the U.S. House, Kelly sits on the armed service, agriculture and small business committees.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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