WASHINGTON (NNS) — Adm. Frank Kelso II, 79, a Lincoln County native and former Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), died Sunday, June 23, 2013, following injuries sustained from a fall earlier in the week.
Kelso, a native of Fayetteville, Tenn., served as Chief of Naval Operations from June 29, 1990 until April 23, 1994.
As the Chief of Naval Operations and throughout his career as a naval officer, Kelso was renowned for his intelligence, integrity and upstanding character.
“Adm. Kelso was a submariner, an accomplished commander, and an unmatched leader known for his intelligence and integrity. The thoughts of the 900,000 Sailors, Marines and civilians who make up the Department of the Navy go out to our fallen shipmate and his family. Semper Fortis,” said Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus.
“Adm. Frank Kelso’s bold leadership and innovative thinking guided the Navy through times of war and significant draw-down at the end of the Cold War. The ability to cut against the grain and find new and creative solutions for the Navy are what set Admiral Kelso apart from his peers. It was his strength of character and sure-fire integrity that ensured his success as a former CNO and to a higher degree solidified the formidable legacy of a great life that Admiral Frank Kelso leaves behind. It was an honor to have served with him and we are a better Navy due to his leadership and faithful commitment to our Sailors, civilians and their families,” said U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert.
Kelso eventually returned to live in Fayetteville, Tenn., in 2003, a decade after retiring from the Navy.
He was the third of three submariners in a row who served as CNO in in the 1980s and ’90s. As CNO he led the Navy in a period of significant drawdown of U.S. naval forces in the wake of the end of the Cold War and the ballyhooed “peace dividend.” Concurrently, he oversaw the introduction of new platforms and systems that improved capabilities, including precision strike operations. The nation persistently called on the naval capabilities throughout his tour, starting with Operation Desert Storm.
As CNO, he also oversaw revolutionary changes within the OPNAV staff and profoundly changed the means by which the Navy processed and made decisions. In keeping with joint staff practices, he changed “OP” codes to “N” codes, and the staff was reorganized to align with a “Napoleonic” arrangement used by both the Army and the Joint Staff. In a period of dramatic change, he helped to transform not merely the organization, but also the processes by which information could be shared and considered. He is credited with dramatically changing the means by which more informed decisions could be made by the Navy.
Kelso was a strong advocate for the integration of women, particularly in the wake of the 1991 Tailhook Convention during which numerous incidents of sexual assault and harassment were found to have occurred.
During his tour as Commander of the Navy’s Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, members of the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro and had killed a disabled passenger. When their demands were not met, they negotiated safe refuge and were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner. The plane was intercepted by U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats and forced to land in Sigonella, Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested and later tried for murder.
In March of 1986 the U.S. initiated a series of ‘Freedom of Navigation’ exercises in the Gulf of Sidra that challenged Libyan leader’s Col. Muammar al-Qadhafi “line of death” that spanned the Gulf of Sidra. Then Vice Adm. Kelso deployed elements of Task Force 60 including America (CV 66), Coral Sea (CV 43), and Saratoga (CV 60) with upward of 250 aircraft and 26 ships and submarines across the line and triggered Libyan action. Ultimately naval aircraft completed 1,546 sorties in support of the successful operation.
Then in April of that year, following additional terrorist attacks sponsored by al-Qadhafi, the U.S. launched Operation El Dorado Canyon-attacks against Libyan military targets. Under Kelso, U.S. aircraft attacked three target areas near Tripoli. Jets also bombed the al-Jamahiriyyah barracks and Benina Airfield, both near Benghazi.
Kelso got his start in public school and the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., prior to entering the U.S. Naval Academy in 1952. Following graduation in 1956, he served in the cargo ship USS Oglethorpe (AKA 100) before attending Submarine School in 1958. On completion of training, he was assigned to the submarine USS Sabalo (SS 302) before returning to Submarine School for nuclear power training in January 1960. He then served one year in the Nuclear Power Department at the school. Subsequent tours included the pre-commissioning crew of the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Pollack (SSN 603), Engineering Officer aboard USS Daniel Webster (SSBN 626) and Executive Officer of USS Sculpin (SSN 590).
From January 1969 to August 1971, Kelso served as Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval Nuclear Power School in Bainbridge, Md. Following tours included Commanding Officer, USS Finback (SSN 670); Staff of Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; and Commanding Officer, USS Bluefish (SSN 675). Adm. Kelso was then assigned as Executive Assistant to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command and U.S. Atlantic Fleet and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic from September 1975 to July 1977.
He served as Commander, Submarine Squadron SEVEN until reporting as Division Director, Submarine Distribution Division in the Naval Military Personnel Command, and Section Head of the Submarine Programs Section in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Manpower, Personnel and Training) in September 1978.
He was selected for promotion to the rank of rear admiral in February 1980.
Upon selection for flag rank, Admiral Kelso served as Director, Strategic Submarine Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and then was assigned as Director, Office of Program Appraisal, Office of the Secretary of the Navy. On February 8, 1985, Adm. Kelso became Commander 6th Fleet and NATO Commander Naval Striking Force and Support Forces Southern Europe. On June 30, 1986, Adm. Kelso was promoted to admiral and assumed the duties of Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Admiral Kelso became Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command on November 22, 1988.
He became the Navy’s 24th Chief of Naval Operations on June 29, 1990.
Adm. Kelso has been awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (three awards), Legion of Merit (four awards), Meritorious Service, Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement Medals.
He is survived by his second wife, Georgeanna, his four children and numerous grandchildren. Landess McCown, his first wife of 56 years, passed away in 2012.
Kelso, who would have been 80 on July 11, 2013, will be buried in Fayetteville in the historic Rose Hill Cemetery on Saturday.