Sergeant Brandon Kelly is a history buff, military veteran and has served in the sheriff’s office for 23 years. PHOTO COURTESY BRANDON KELLY

The human behind the uniform

Brandon Kelly’s history of military and law enforcement service

The American flag – a symbol of what George Washington deemed the “great experiment” can exemplify myriad things to many people. When Sergeant Brandon Kelly with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office looks at the flag, he reflects on the five generations of his family that have fought for this country in the U.S. military. Those same relatives transitioned from military uniforms to law enforcement uniforms in a legacy of public service and helping.

“My family has just dedicated themselves – they are public servants. I grew up watching my family – nurses, law enforcement, military – try and help their communities. Just growing up at the dinner table listening to the stories… pretty much everybody in my family has continued that tradition,” he said.

Now, when he puts on his uniform, few people see past it.

“Usually the majority of people don’t know the person behind the uniform – it’s just the uniform. ‘Oh, you’re a cop.’ And in the eyes of several we are not good people right now. We have families, we have interests. We are not out there just trying to ruin somebody’s day,” he said.

After being in Big Sky for nearly six years he said few people recognize him when he walks around Big Sky plainclothed. They do not see past the uniform, he reiterated. Few people see the daily struggles of the men and women who have to put children in body bags and then go home to have dinner with their own kids. People do not know that there are boneweary days of heaviness and loss from responding to accidents or crime scenes.

“It’s tough, you go out there and they see what’s on the news. They don’t see you when you’re changing the tire for somebody when it’s 30 below zero. They don’t see the fatalities that you deal with and then you have to put the coroner hat on,” he said.

So many moving parts come into play coupled with necessary split-second decisions.

“You are counseling, you are trying to uphold the law, trying to hold people accountable, trying to make things safe for everybody, trying to keep some of the nastiness out of the view of the public,” he said. “So, there is a lot of stuff that we are trying to do that is never really seen unless you ride with us everyday.”

From Anaconda, Mont. he has a deep understanding and appreciation for history as well as mining’s role in creating culturally diverse communities in the Treasure State. Any immigrants who needed work made their way to places like Butte or Anaconda: Italians, Irish, Slovaks and – back in the day – there was a thriving Asian population.

He has vast knowledge of the dealings of old company towns and unions, the significance of precious metals mined from Montana and how those impacted communities, the state and the world.

His family was “very” Irish Catholic.

“My grandmother was from Ireland. My very first pair of Reeboks were back when they used to put the British flag on them. She saw [that flag] on my shoes and she kicked me out of the house. She came from back when they were persecuted in Ireland by the English,” he said.

He remembered to wear different shoes for future visits with his feisty grandmother Margaret.

To follow family tradition and to see the world, he enlisted in the Navy and served during Operation Desert Storm, His MOS was aviation ordnance – he was loading missiles, rockets and ammunition on aircraft. He was initially stationed in Naval Air Station Sigonella before serving on the USS Saipan.

Upon leaving the military, he temporarily shifted away from the family-established path and went to school to be a teacher. One year of student teaching cured him of that goal.

Twenty-three years into law enforcement, he notes the current misunderstanding of who he is and who his colleagues are. When one officer does something terrible – they all suffer. Law enforcement homes are being vandalized in Gallatin County despite there being only one excessive force incident with the sheriff’s office in decades – one that was dealt with transparently and expeditiously. The deputy was quickly fired and the case immediately passed to the Montana Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigations.

“You see this stuff and you ask, ‘Well, why am I doing this?’ I do it because my family has always done it. I’ve seen them perform CPR on the side of the road or help somebody out because they can’t walk and shovel their sidewalk. Those are the things I grew up with – we take care of our community because we have pride in our community,” he said.

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