Who Is John Kelly's Wife? New Details About Karen Hernest

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John Kelly currently serves as the White House Chief of Staff, and was the former Secretary of Homeland Security, the briefest in history. But before becoming part of the Trump administration, Kelly was commander of the United States Southern Command, which provides contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for Central and South America, and the Caribbean. He was also a commanding general in Iraq, and the Marine Forces North.

A dedicated military man, we know that Kelly served his country with honor. But what about his family? Surely they know him for more than his comments about Robert E. Lee being an “honorable man,” right? So, just who is John Kelly’s wife? Here are 5 things to know about Karen Hernest, and their marriage and family life.


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1. She comes from a military family.

Photo: Getty

Her father served in the Marines in World War II, serving in the Fourth Marine Division. Needless to say, she’s used to what military spouses go through. In a speech at the 5th Annual Brain at War Conference, she said, “We send our loved ones off and pray for their safety. We live with the fear and stress every day, visit their wounded comrades and say goodbye to their fellow Marines. I have lived with fear for ten years. No matter what else you do, it is always there.”

2. They’ve been married for over 40 years.

The couple has been married since 1976. She’s proven herself to be a dedicated military wife, there’s no doubt about that.

3. They have three children.

Kelly and Hernest had three children: sons Robert and John Jr., and daughter Kathleen. Robert served in the Marines, as well as John Jr., who is a Marine Corps major. Kathleen works for the American Red Cross at the Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda.


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4. One of their sons was killed in combat.

Photo: Getty

On November 9, 2010, their 29-year-old son, Robert Michael Kelly, stepped on a landmine while leading a platoon of Marines in Afghanistan. At the time of his death, Robert was with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, an infantry battalion.

He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Upon their son’s death, Kelly became the “highest-ranking American military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

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5. Hernest created a scholarship in her son’s memory.

She helped set up the the First Lieutenant Robert Kelly Memorial Scholarship in his honor. In an article in the San Diego Union Tribune, she said, “I decided on the day I found out that I would do something to make my son proud. Because I was very proud of him...I just wanted to do something good. Because out of everything, out of the pain that we feel, something good has to come out of it. Some people choose to wallow in self-pity. I chose to do something positive, because I think my son would be very disappointed in me if I didn’t.”

For the 2017-2018 school year, the foundation awarded $7.3 million in scholarships. And in addition to the scholarship, Hernest also works with the Marine Corps Family Readiness Program, which “helps military families, wounded service-members and families who have lost loved ones in action.”


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Samantha Maffucci is an associate editor for YourTango who focuses on writing trending news and entertainment pieces. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.