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New Reserve FSS leader focuses on family first

Lt. Col. Kelli Smiley comes to McChord from the Pentagon

With her family by her side, Lt. Col. Kelli Smiley, center, greets Reservists from the 446th Force Support Squadron following a change of command ceremony at McChord Field, March 31. /Staff Sgt. Grant Saylor

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(446th AW PA) - There's a new commander leading the charge at the 446th Force Support Squadron. While she expects professionalism and accountability from her Reserve Airmen, she probably wouldn't flinch if her new title was mistakenly identified as commander, family support squadron. Because for Lt. Col. Kelli Smiley, family is the engine behind the force.

"They've been the main driver of my career," said the wife and mother of two children. "Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today."

After growing up and graduating high school in a tiny Wisconsin town, Smiley had an opportunity to visit both the Air Force and West Point Military Academies. She fell in love with the former and joined the ranks. Four years later she was commissioned. Two days after that, she married her other love, Scott, who is not a member of the military.

"He likes to say he went to the academy, too," said Smiley, "but two years on the weekends doesn't count!"

Smiley began her career as a behavioral scientist before cross-training into personnel. Since then, her career has taken on a variety of roles, but has remained centered around her personal and professional families. She worked as the Air Force Reserve liaison for headquarters, Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, where she and her team worked diligently to streamline personnel services across the Reserve, Air Guard and active-duty Air Force components.

After serving on active duty, Smiley transitioned to a Reserve role and scaled back her time commitment to focus more on raising her children. Then 9/11 hit.

"I was at the AFPC in San Antonio, and our job was to take accountability for Air Force personnel at the Pentagon," said Smiley. "We did nothing but for 72 hours straight."

It was a turning point for our nation and this future commander. She has taken on a very active role with her Air Force brethren ever since. Her latest was as an individual mobilization augmentee to the chief of Air Force Reserve Force Strategy and Integration at Air Force Headquarters in the Pentagon. There, her team worked to leverage technology and business practices to support future personnel programs.

"Her experience at the AFPC and Air Force Headquarters level will bring a new perspective to the wing," said Col. Gerald Vowell, 446th Mission Support Group commander. Vowell selected Smiley to replace now retired Lt. Col. William Pelster, and take the reigns of leadership at the 446th FSS. "I believe she will be a very personal commander and will lead by example."

Not surprisingly, leading by example tends to run in the Smiley family. Her 17-year-old daughter started a nonprofit organization three years ago.

The mission: drill water wells for impoverished families in Africa and Central America. While she may be the top troop with the 446th FSS, Smiley is happy to serve as a subordinate to her teenage daughter. Mom is on the non-profit's board of directors.

"The whole family is involved ... in fact, we recently got back from drilling a well in El Salvador," said Smiley. "We love making a difference, so mission work and serving the community like this is a big passion of ours. I couldn't be more proud of my daughter."

Perhaps Air Force Academy officials would be wise to contact the Smiley household. It appears there's a family-focused commander in the making, yet again.

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