An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Delays don't deter Westover doc from following dream

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Sandi Michon
  • 439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Colleen E. Kelley was headed into the military in 1983, but a fall out of a tree delayed her service for 17 years.

Westover's chief of flight medicine received a military scholarship for medical school when the accident put her on crutches for six months. Then, medical school, marriage, three kids and a job kept her away from her military ambitions.

In 2000, at age 40, she entered the Air Force Reserve here.

She is petite and fit in her gray-green flight suit that matches her eyes. Her salt-and-pepper hair tries to escape her neat French braid, and her tone is direct and compassionate.

"I come from a strong military tradition," Colonel Kelley explained.

Her father was a paratrooper in the Korean War and her maternal grandfather was a surgeon at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Her grandfather was so affected by the war he decided he would rather become a psychiatrist because he felt it would have a greater long-term impact on making his fellow soldiers whole again.

"He worked for 48 hours straight and saw so much blood that he became a psychiatrist because, he said, 'Sutures can mend a physical injury quickly, but it takes a lifetime to mend a man's soul,'" she said, recalling her grandfather's words of compassion.

Her younger brother, James Kelley, is an ROTC grad of Massachusetts Institute for Technology, and a colonel and F-16 instructor pilot.

Part of what pulled her towards the military was her frequent travels overseas.

"I realized how much we have, not in goods, but in freedom, rights and safety and how much we take that for granted," she said. "So much of our stability is a direct result of our military, not only in the United States, but around the world."

A good part of her 17-year military delay, was spent convincing her husband, Nino Mendolia, to support her passion to serve. Colonel Kelley's husband's support deepened to appreciation after Sept. 11, 2001.

"On Sept. 11, I was stranded in Egypt with my daughter. My husband told me that he gets it now... [my military service] is not just a good thing to do, it's the right thing to do," she said.

Eight years later, the emergency room doctor with St. Mary's Hospital in Troy, N.Y., is still saying "thank you" with her military service at Westover and expanding the reach and influence of the American military in diplomatic nation-building and humanitarian outreach.

In 2005, she spent two weeks in Guatemala, treating patients in remote clinics with the 710th Medical Squadron from Omaha, Neb. In 2007, she took part in a combined medical-missionary mission in Bizerte, Tunisia at Kharouba Air Base, where she trained with the Tunisian military, teaching aeromedical transport concepts. She found her fluency in French a huge advantage in Tunisia, and the Tunisian military has invited her back for future exercises.

"We fly, fight and win wars but also share expertise and win hearts," she said.

"When I joined the military at age 40, most people thought I was crazy," she said. "I'm not crazy. I'm doing what I've wanted to do for a very long time."  (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)