Kelly succeeded Gen. Mike Holmes, who is retiring after 39 years in service.
He now heads one of the Air Force’s 10 major commands, which has nearly 115,000 enlisted airmen, 20,000 officers and 22,600 civilians at more than 242 locations nationwide. ACC has nearly 1,100 aircraft — including fighter jets, remotely piloted aircraft, helicopters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft — across its 27 wings.
Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown presided over the ceremony and promoted Kelly in another ceremony earlier that day.
“Gen. Kelly is the perfect choice to inspire and lead this command into the future,” Brown said at the change of command ceremony. “Throughout his career, he has demonstrated great courage and leadership. His intelligence and tenacity have been proven time and time again.”
Kelly was previously the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations at the Pentagon, where he led the service’s effort to develop policy and put it into practice. He was commissioned as an Air Force officer in 1986, after graduating from the ROTC program at Southwest Texas State University.
Kelly is a command pilot with more than 6,000 hours flying the F-15E, F-15, F-35 and F/A-18. He served in Afghanistan, and his flying experience includes more than 800 combat hours.
Kelly also previously commanded the 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, and the 9th Air Force at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. He also commanded the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan from July 2014 to July 2015.
Holmes, who worked with Kelly for years, said at the ceremony that Kelly’s flying hours and experience have prepared him to lead ACC.
“You’ve always made me better,” Holmes said of Kelly. “You’ve made me a better aviator, a better airman, a better officer and I know you’ll make ACC better.”
In his remarks, Kelly said that high-speed, high-end combat is the “ultimate team competition,” which requires building “an ultimate team.”
“And that broader team is built on a foundation of trust — the genuine focus on what’s best for the greater good of the nation,” Kelly said. “I look forward to working with this broader team and advocating for Air Combat Command as we build this ultimate team.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.