JACKSONVILLE — After 26 years, Jacksonville resident Rodney Kelley will officially hang up his gear at the end of the year as a naval reservist.
Kelley returned home last weekend after a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, working as a Navy corpsman (a health professional) with ISAF, the International Security Assistance Forces, helping to run the Role One Medical Clinic.
“Each year, we had about 2,000 NATO and U.S. Forces that we treated,” said Kelley, a senior chief officer.
He enlisted in the reserves in 1987, inspired by friends who were reservists.
It was, he said, a case of “'join the Navy, see the world,' and well, I did,” he laughed. “I was proud to serve, proud to do my job.”
Several years after enlistment, he married Deborah, a college professor who now teaches at Tyler Junior College.
In the beginning, it didn't faze her that her husband would be deployed away from home.
“She was like, 'Oh, you only do two weeks reserves,'” he recalled, adding that he served in Operation Desert Storm, but that was in 1991, “before we met.
“So who would have thought” his last two deployments would be to the Middle East, Kelley asked.
“When I started, a few years (went by) and nothing happened, then I got called up for to go to Iraq with the Marines – I was there almost a year, then came back.
“I was going to retire last July, when they sent me these orders. And it was like” – he made a confused face before adding, “you know, I've never not done my (duty), so I went to Afghanistan, doing medical support.”
In his civilian life, Kelley was a licensed vocational nurse who had worked at Rusk State Hospital and in Jacksonville as a paramedic and firefighter, then became the local fire chief.