BY MARLENE BROWNING-WAINSCOTT
Sweet Owen Contributor
Kameron “Kam” Kelly enlisted in the United States Air Force in 2019 and currently holds the rank of staff sergeant. Stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, he serves as a crew chief and will deploy to Korea this month.
Kelly graduated from Owen County High School in 2018, where he excelled in academics and was a member of the soccer team. If you had asked the younger Kelly if he would become a member of the U.S. Air Force, it most likely never crossed his mind.
It wasn’t until May 2019, at the age of 19, that he decided to enlist.
“I’ve always had a fascination with aviation and saw this as an opportunity to get into the field,” he said. “The Air Force seemed to be the only option for me because of my passion for aviation. I had flown some smaller aircraft before and had the opportunity to gain some hands-on experience with aircraft maintenance, and I fell in love with it at a young age.
“The day I enlisted, I was very excited and a little scared of the unknown. I didn’t tell anyone I was joining until after I signed on the dotted line. I came home from the recruiter’s office with an ‘Air Force Mom’ sticker and tossed it to my mother to break the news.”
Imagining a military life and living a military life were two very different concepts for Kelly.
“I thought (basic training) would be this scary, miserable thing,” he continued. “It was challenging but not nearly as bad as I expected. Basic training was a blast, and while it was rigorous, we often had the opportunity to have a little fun. On the last day of basic training, we had already graduated, and the Military Training Instructors had loosened up now that we were airmen. They had us do a recap of basic, and they asked us for our best impersonations of them. Let’s say we had our chance to get back at the eight weeks of pain they gave us, so we didn’t hold back. It was humorous.
“While being broken down and built back up may not seem fun, it instilled the discipline and hard work needed to perform my job and made every second worth it. I often refer to myself and my friends as ‘professional children.’ My career field is tough outside work, long hours, and high-stress scenarios, but our humor keeps us going. Any new guy that comes around typically has to do some funny tasks that they have no idea is a joke. I’ll let your imagination take the rest of that one.”
Adapting to military life is challenging and vastly different from the life Kelly left in Owen County. One thing he recalls during his transition to the expectations of the Air Force is the high standards expected of each new airman.
“You become used to being held to a high standard and a 0% failure rate in every task,” Kelly explained. “It really trickles down into every little detail of your life.”
Crew Chief Kelly
Kelly is currently a crew chief for the A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthog.” The A-10 Thunderbolt is a twin-engine close air support aircraft known for its extensive use during Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The aircraft’s mission is ground attacks against tanks, armored vehicles, and installations, along with close air support of ground forces.
“As the Warthog crew chief, I take care of and coordinate all the maintenance on the aircraft,” Kelly said. “We maintain the aircraft much like a car mechanic. If it breaks, we’re the specialists that fix it. I’m the person who helps the pilot get the jet in the air, and I’m the last person the pilot sees and talks to on the ground before a flight.
“My fondest memory is seeing an A10 return from a flight completely empty of all armament. Knowing that the aircraft you got in the air could complete the missions successfully, do its job, and return in one piece because you could do your job successfully was an amazing feeling.”
In 2022, Kelly received the prestigious Maintenance Professional of the Year award, 358th Fighter Squadron, reflecting his outstanding accomplishments as crew chief.
Later that year, Kelly received orders to deploy to South Korea in June 2023 for one year to apply his expertise as crew chief in an overseas mission.
“Imagine you’ve practiced a sport for several years, but you’ve never gotten to play in a game; that’s how I see deployments,” he said. “Every day, we do real-life maintenance for the pilots to train to deploy. Deployments are the ‘game day.’ It’s the real-world scenario that you’ve put in so much time and effort to prepare for.”
While he will miss time with family and friends while deployed, Kelly expressed excitement about serving his country overseas.
Meet Kaitlyn Kelly
Kelly met his wife, Kaitlyn Parker, while in high school.
“She was a very kind, easy-going gal,” he said. “I knew she was the one for me because when I was not around her, it just wasn’t fun. Being separated from her for several years was difficult when I first joined. It was tough, but we had to make time for each other every single day.”
After their four-year-long-distance-relationship, the two were married April 22, 2023, in Owenton. After the wedding, the couple moved to Missouri, where Kam continued his duties at Whiteman AFB and prepared for deployment.
Kam reflected on their new life together, saying, “We are going to enjoy life and face any obstacles it throws at us. I know we will travel a lot as that’s part of the military lifestyle, so I want to enjoy seeing the world as a family.”
Kaitlyn addressed her new role as a military spouse, expressing pride in her new husband.
“It’s been interesting being on the other side after being long-distance for four years—being recognized by the military now makes me feel supported,” Kaitlyn said. “Being a part of the process of receiving my dependent card and asking questions has been very rewarding. I will be going to visit him during his deployment in Korea. I plan to go overseas to see him in December to spend our first Christmas together.”
Thoughts on service
When asked about one word that will never be the same since joining the Air Force, Kam answered, “change.”
“I’ve always seen ‘change’ as a negative word,” he said. “Prior to being in the Air Force, I always wanted to be idle and stay the same. I’ve been pushed a lot, always facing change, and it’s always been better than I could have imagined. During my time in the Air Force, I have become more responsible, disciplined, and a leader.”
Change has become an integral part of Kam’s life. As civilians, we often forget the sacrifices made by our military men and women who have dedicated their lives to serve their country. Uprooted from everything they’ve ever known—leaving their family and friends behind—to protect those they’ve never met and will never know.
“It can be very hard, no matter who you are,” Kam said. “The military lifestyle changed every aspect of my life for the better. Without it, I wouldn’t even be close to the person I am today. It’s pushed me to my full potential. There is definitely risk involved, but the rewards and friendships that have come out of it are things that I will never forget. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.”
“Kam has been such a hard worker,” Kaitlyn concludes. “He has taken every task by himself, head on. It’s been amazing seeing him fulfill his potential and beyond and become the man he is today. I’m glad I’ve been able to support and encourage him in his journey. I’m honored to be his wife and friend.”
When Staff Sgt. Kelly deploys to serve his country overseas this month, Sweet Owen Magazine will share his address on its social media pages for those who want to send him a letter or card from home. To Kam and all our past and present military members, we thank you for your service.