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Wharton: Salt Lake native has seen world's hot spots

Published January 3, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Patrick Kelly learned that the world can be a terrible place.

But that hasn't lessened his sense of adventure and his keen sense of humor.

I've known Patrick since he was born. His father, Tim, was a longtime Tribune photographer and our kids grew up together. Patrick became great friends again with my twin sons when they pledged Pi Kappa Alpha at the University of Utah.

Kelly's career path first as a military intelligence specialist for the U.S. Army and more recently as an irregular warfare analyst for a private contractor took him to South Korea, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Now 37, he has been in the middle of wars and conflict, lost a best friend to an IED blast and seen the good, bad and ugly aspects of U.S. involvement.

None of this was entirely expected.

Kelly said at this point in his life, he expected to be married with kids, perhaps working somewhere in Salt Lake City, even at The Tribune following his dad's footsteps as a photographer. He figured if he were lucky, he might take one trip in his lifetime to Europe. Now, he's been to more than 30 countries all over the world.

"I always wanted to join the military," said Kelly, who attended the University of Utah from 1993 to 1997. "My parents talked me out of it when I was 18. I joined the Pikes, had too much fun and didn't know what I wanted to do."

So he enlisted in the Army in 1998 and was assigned to the military intelligence branch. He was sent to South Korea, came back and went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., where he learned Russian.

While in the Army, he was deployed to Kosovo right after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Six months after returning, he was sent to Afghanistan. He often didn't tell his mother, Sharon, where he was serving to keep her from worrying.

After leaving the Army, he signed on as a private contractor. That led to three tours of Iraq, one in Qatar and three in Afghanistan. He has been deployed to foreign countries for six years and three months, and will probably take at least one more tour. Right now, he is taking a break while trying to complete a college business degree.

His travels have taken him to pristine beaches in Salalah, Oman, not far from the Al-Qaeda hot spot of Yemen. He has seen North Korean soldiers eye-to-eye at Panmunjom and toured the ruins at Petra in Jordan. He has seen what sectarian violence and hatred do to people in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I've learned that the world is a terrible place," he said. "There is a lot of hatred. We don't know how lucky we are to be born in the states. … I've learned how awful people can be."

Kelly also has opinions about U.S. involvement in these war zones. He thought America should have been in Kosovo, where there was a huge humanitarian crisis. He supported the initial involvement in Afghanistan, but said the United States definitely should not have been involved in Iraq.

"I am pretty cynical about the world," Kelly said. "There is no compromising in the states anymore between the two political parties. There has been an extremist hijacking. There is no sign of the world getting better. There is the democratization of weapons, more sophisticated weapons trafficked out to a wider audience. … I am really worried about nuclear technology, with a dirty bomb going off in the states or Israel."

Yet, though he has seen much to make him cynical, Kelly remains the happy, fun-loving kid I remember.

"Being deployed, humor solves a lot of problems," he said.

And, through many trials and tribulations, Patrick Kelly has managed to keep that sense of humor intact.

wharton@sltrib.com