1st Lt. Robert M. Kelly, shown here taking in a hockey game in Washington, D.C., was killed Nov. 9 in Helmand province, Afghanistan. His family has set up a scholarship in his honor. ()
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Kristen Trout, right, is the first recipient of the 1st Lt. Robert M. Kelly Memorial Scholarship, which was started by the fallen Marine's mother, Karen Kelly, left, and her husband, Lt. Gen. John Kelly. (Dan Lamothe / Staff)
First Lt. Robert Kelly was a leader, a student of history and a hockey nut. He also enjoyed plowing through his mom's Thanksgiving feast, only to lie on the floor afterward.
Losing that personality rocked the Kelly family, including Lt. Gen. John Kelly, the most senior U.S. military officer to lose a son or daughter in Iraq or Afghanistan. The lieutenant, 29, was killed Nov. 9, 2010, in Sangin, Afghanistan, after stepping on an improvised explosive device while serving with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"He was very much a family person," said Karen Kelly, Robert's mother and the general's wife. "When he would come home, he would watch old videos of him and his brother and sister, and go through old photo albums. He just loved that. He loved the comfort of our family. We're a military family, and we've moved over 25 times. To us, our comfort level was being together."
To honor their son's memory, the general and his wife decided the same day Robert Kelly died to establish a scholarship in his honor. Its formation was announced the following day, the Marine Corps' birthday.
On July 10, the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation introduced Kristen Trout, 19, as the recipient of the 1st Lt. Robert M. Kelly Memorial Scholarship at a ceremony in Washington. A rising sophomore from St. Louis, she will receive significant financial aid throughout her academic career at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where she is majoring in history.
The scholarship is one of 1,909 totaling more than $6 million that the foundation will provide to the children of Marines over the next year. Trout, the daughter of former Sgt. Mark Trout, will hold the Kelly scholarship until she graduates. It goes to a history major who has a parent who served in the Corps.
It has been a moving experience, Trout said. She first met Karen Kelly at an event for Gold Star mothers at Marine Week in St. Louis in 2011, and has grown close to the family since. She spent Thanksgiving with them last year at their home in Washington, and now wears a bracelet engraved with the lieutenant's name, last unit and a thankful tribute.
"Semper Fi," it reads, a nod toward the Corps' "always faithful" motto. "You changed my life forever."
"It has been a miracle being able to meet the Kelly family," Trout said. "It has just been incredible."
Many of the other recipients announced at the July 10 foundation event also had moving stories. Kathryn James, for example, is the daughter of the late Maj. Brian James, who died in 1992 at age 34 when his experimental MV-22 Osprey aircraft crashed into the Potomac River in Virginia. She was 4 months old at the time, and is now a student at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., studying drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
The keynote speaker at the event was Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, deputy commandant for combat development and integration. A father of six, he praised the foundation for the work it does and the recipients for excelling despite the hardships they have faced.
"This group represents the cream of the crop for high school students — students who have remained focused, remained committed, studied hard and done the right thing," he said. "Despite the peer pressure to do otherwise, they stayed focused."