TAMPA — Before she became enmeshed in a controversy that would take down the director of the CIA, Jill Kelley was considered so valuable to the MacDill Air Force Base community that she was awarded the Joint Chiefs of Staff's second-highest honor to a civilian.
The award was approved by then-Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, and presented to Kelley on March 18, 2011, by then-Gen. David Petraeus at a ceremony in Washington.
The award recommendation initially was made by Petraeus while he was commander of U.S. Central Command, said Navy Cmdr. Patrick McNally, spokesman for the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Because of problems with the award application, it was resubmitted on Oct. 21, 2010, by Marine Gen. James Mattis, who replaced Petraeus as head of the command.
Kelley was recognized for "outstanding public service to the United States Central Command, the MacDill Air Force Base community and the Department of Defense from October 31, 2008 to May 31, 2010," according to the award citation. "Mrs. Kelley distinguished herself by exceptional service while supporting the mission of the United Central Command, building positive relationships between the military and the Tampa community, supporting community outreach, and advancing various military endeavors."
The citation also states that Kelley's "willingness to host engagements with Senior National Representatives from more than 60 countries was indicative of her support for both the Coalition's effort and the mission of United States Central Command."
Kelley's now-iconic Bayshore Boulevard house, seen worldwide on media reports and lampooned on "Saturday Night Live," was a focus of the award.
"On multiple occasions, Mrs. Kelley invited Senior National Representatives, their spouses, and senior leaders to her home to demonstrate their gratitude and support. These events promoted camaraderie, understanding and a better appreciation for Coalition and military customs, concerns and abilities. Her personal leadership and selfless contributions to our community generated a strong bond between our Coalition members and Tampa residents, which inspired acts of generosity and patriotism in others."
Kelley's email exchanges with Marine Gen. John Allen are the subject of a Department of Defense inspector general's investigation. Allen's nomination to head NATO forces in Europe have been put on hold pending the outcome of the investigation.
Kelley's complaint to the FBI about harassing email from Petraeus' biographer — the woman the general is thought to have been having an affair with — eventually resulted in Petraeus resigning his position as head of the CIA.
The award citation lauds Kelley for helping Petraeus in earlier days.
"She has also been instrumental in introducing the Commander, early in his tenure, to local and state officials, particularly the Mayor of Tampa and the Governor of Florida, fostering a relationship that brought the military and the citizens of Florida closer together and with a more thorough understanding of the contributions by the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines of the Central Command and MacDill Air Force Base. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Mrs. Jill Kelley are in keeping with the finest traditions of public service and reflect great credit upon herself, United States Central Command and the Department of Defense."
This award is the second highest honorary public service award under the authority of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and consists of a silver medal, lapel pin, citation and certificate signed by the chairman, McNally said.
Kelley has continued her public silence on the controversy, but her twin sister, Natalie Khawam, emerged tentatively from the shadows Tuesday to put a human face on her role as one of the side characters in the drama.
Khawam joined celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred at a packed news conference in Washington that left most relevant questions unanswered. Instead of details, Khawam offered impressions in a voice that sometimes seemed close to breaking.
"During my darkest times, Jill held the light for me," Khawam declared, reading from a prepared statement. "She and my brother-in-law, Dr. Kelley, took me in with my son when we needed refuge and protection."