Captain Aaron R. Kelley

Commanding Officer, USS Essex (LHD 2)

05 October 2019

Captain Kelley is a native of Orange Park, Fla., and a 1996 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Upon completion of flight training in Pensacola, Fla., and designation as a Naval Aviator in November 1998, he reported to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron THREE (HC-3) as a fleet replacement pilot in the H-46 Sea Knight.

His first fleet assignment was in San Diego, Calif., with the “Gunbearers” of HC-11 where he held various billets including Quality Assurance Officer, Detachment AOIC, and Asst. Maintenance Officer. During assignment at sea in USS KEARSARGE (LHD 3), he served as the Aviation and Afloat Safety Officer where KEARSARGE was awarded the Admiral Flately Memorial Award for Aviation Safety, the CNO Afloat Safety Award, and the Secretary of Navy Safety Excellence Award. As a department head he joined the “Red Lions” of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron FIFTEEN (HS-15) and transitioned to his third helicopter platform flying the HH-60H and SH-60F while serving as Aviation Safety Officer, Maintenance Officer, and Officer in Charge HS-15. In July 2012 he reported to the “Nightdippers” of HS-5 as Executive Officer and assumed command of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron FIVE (HSC-5) in December 2013.

Ashore, while assigned as an MH-60S flight instructor to the “Pack Rats” of HC-3, he served as the Aviation Safety Officer and Curriculum Officer during their transition to HSC-3 and fleet introduction of the MH-60S. Following his department head tour, he earned a Master of Arts Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies at the U.S. Naval War College and was subsequently assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV), Strategy and Policy Division (N51). As a staff officer he served as the Branch Head and Deputy Branch Head (N512). Additional portfolios included Global Posture, Strategic Laydown and Navy lead for Personnel Recovery. Following his command tour, he reported to NATO Headquarters, Supreme Allied Command Transformation, for joint duty assigned to the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate. CAPT Kelley has amassed more than 2,900 flight hours in the H-46, H-60F/H, and MH-60S.

His decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (3 awards), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (3 awards), Combat Action Ribbon and various other service and unit awards.​​


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