BEYA 2019: USACE Afghanistan District Commander earns ‘Career Achievement Award’ for STEM leadership

Col. Jason E. Kelly

Col. Jason E. Kelly, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District Commanding Officer from 2015 to 2018, navigates the channels of the Norfolk Harbor.

Col. Jason E. Kelly

Col. Jason E. Kelly, Transatlantic Afghanistan District Commander, shakes hands and thanks the Special Mission Wing Commander, Abdul Karim Rahimi, for his partnership and continued support during a site visit to the Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

Col. Jason E. Kelly

Col. Jason E. Kelly listens to one of the hospital staff during a recent tour of “The Path of the Patient” at the Heathe N. Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

Colonel Jason E. Kelly
Afghanistan Engineer District

Colonel Jason E. Kelly Commander Afghanistan Engineer District

Transatlantic Afghanistan District Commander Col. Jason E. Kelly’s achievements as a leader in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coupled with his commitment to advancing career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) have earned him the 2019 Career Achievement Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA).

The 33rd Annual BEYA STEM Conference is an annual celebration honoring scientists and engineers who are the best in their fields and who use their status as role models within their communities to encourage students to pursue studies in the one of the STEM fields. This year’s event takes place in Washington, D.C. Feb. 7-9, 2019.

Kelly’s nomination is based on his time leading a team for the Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District from June 2015 through June 2018, where he handled strategic issues relating to rising sea levels, and found navigation solutions to support the world’s largest naval base while ensuring commercial navigation continued unabated in the region. Today he commands the Transatlantic Afghanistan District at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, a position he was handpicked for by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commanding General Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, who describes Kelly as “one of the Army’s best.”

Kelly began his distinguished career as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in June 1990 and continues to lead by example. Climbing through the Engineer Regiment, he has been a leader, mentor and coach, focused on developing those under his command, while affording himself that same quality of never-ending development. He will be the first to tell you that his appetite for knowledge and daily preparation is unrivaled.

In addition to supporting his two sons and his wife, Stephanie, Kelly invests time as a STEM leader and mentor wherever he is assigned. While in the USACE Norfolk District, he established a STEM Outreach Committee to help ensure the talents of the 375 employees, all working in the STEM field, were being shared with the local community and contributed to the development of tomorrow’s leaders.

In the numerous letters of recommendation nominating Kelly for this Career Achievement Award, civic leaders and members of Congress applauded his inspiration for aspiring STEM leaders.

“Jason stands out to me as a uniquely gifted leader, mentor and STEM ambassador,” wrote Maj. Gen. David Hill, U.S. Army Central Deputy Commanding General. “Jason excelled at developing engineer officers and soldiers in their technical disciplines as well as mentoring them to enhance their comprehensive personal fitness. I observed these same strengths...where he led a largely civilian, multidisciplinary STEM workforce…in delivering world class construction and engineering services.”

Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, who represents Virginia’s 3rd District, wrote: “Whether in meetings on Capitol Hill or at events in my district, I have found this exceptional engineer and Army officer to be knowledgeable, dedicated and passionate about the U. S. Army and our nation.”

Kelly has brought his technical engineering expertise, leadership, and customer focus to the USACE district he commands in Afghanistan. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the Army Corps of Engineers entered into a partnership that will carry out the construction of more than 500 kilometers of transmission lines, 10 electricity sub-stations, and a host of other electrical engineering needs associated with these activities, throughout contingency operations in Afghanistan.

“Col. Kelly led the USACE portion of one of our quarterly electricity sector presentations to the President of Afghanistan and demonstrated a deep understanding of the challenges we face in this complex and difficult environment,” said Jeffery Cohen, Deputy Mission Director, USAID. “He clearly articulated these challenges to President Ghani and his attending cabinet members, and laid out his plan forward to achieve the desired results.” 

As Kelly continues to drive home the need for building capacity within the populace of Afghanistan, it is clear that the combined USAID-USACE program will have broad, social and economic value and impact as it will provide electricity to Afghans in five provinces that are in desperate need of the economic growth electric power will bring to their communities.

Kelly holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from West Point, a master’s degree in engineering management from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, a master’s degree in statistics from the Georgia Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in joint campaign planning and strategy from the National Defense University, and a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.

“Colonel Jason Kelly’s strong work ethics are both admired and respected by leadership and his peers,” Semonite said. “He is always helpful, positive, and does what it takes to ensure the mission succeeds.”

In all, USACE members placed in 15 of 25 BEYA categories. “This speaks volumes to the caliber of work and attention-to-detail that members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bring to the table every day,” said Semonite.