Maj. Gen. Dennis Celletti Retires from the Illinois National Guard After Four Decades; Story by Mike Chrisman, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs
SPRINGFIELD, IL (05/29/2013)(readMedia)-- Maj. Gen. Dennis Celletti of Springfield has always made time for both his military and civilian family. After 41 years, he is saying farewell to his family in the Illinois Army National Guard.
"He holds a strong bond to family life. His ability to manage the busy life of the Guard and then take time to spend time with all of us is unbelievable," said Celletti's only son, Maj. Jason Celletti of Springfield, Ill., with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Urbana. "As a father and grandfather he is very committed to ensure that he is at events like football games, volleyball games and even just the family cook outs."
Celletti commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1976 and will retire May 31 as the Assistant Adjutant General-Army for the Illinois National Guard.
"In order to be a professional, you have to have a professional career and my wife and family have always understood that and been very supportive and that makes it easier to balance," Celletti said. "When I have had time, I have gone out of my way to have family time and that's important."
Jason said his dad always taught him the Illinois Army National Guard was a family that instills the common threads of commitment, service, dedication and caring. While his dad was extremely busy with work, Jason said he always found time to attend sporting events and volunteer with the Boy Scouts.
Jason said the birth of his daughter Milana brought out a side of the general that many never see.
"The strong, stern major general just melts in her hands," Jason said. "Just the other night she was coloring in her book and like any 2-year old, she missed the page. Sure enough it put a big green streak on the white carpet. What would have been a scold or life lesson for me, for her it was; 'Oh it will wash out, no big deal.'"
Celletti admits his granddaughter tugs at his heart.
"I've missed a lot of family time in my career and it makes you enjoy the precious times even more," Celletti said. "Others have said kids bring out a side of me that most people haven't seen before."
There are many experiences that stand out to Celletti during his career. However, the proudest moments involve his family and watching his son grow as a Soldier and leader.
"I am proud of my son because he has made all of the decisions on his own," he said. "He made all the right decisions and he is right where he needs to be and doing well. I am proud of him, but he is not following in my footsteps. He is making his own way through a professional organization doing what he wants to do."
Celletti became the first Assistant Adjutant General in Illinois history to achieve the rank of major general. He has served in the position since 2005 and advises the Adjutant General on all matters pertaining to the Illinois Army National Guard and its 10,000 Soldiers.
"I feel proud, but it's not about what I have done. It's about what we have done and accomplished as an organization," Celletti said. "We are a solid team. Everyone has the same goals and objectives. I hope I look back in 10 years and still see that we have the same attitude. That is what makes us the Guard."
Celletti grew up in Sterling, Ill., and followed several generations of family who donned a uniform.
"I saw what they did for our country and I felt the need to serve," Celletti said. "Our military is one percent of the population. If you break it down, it goes generation to generation of families serving. It's patriotism built in the genes and it keeps carrying on."
Over his lengthy career, Celletti made a lot of special connections across Illinois. However, the relationship he built in Woodstock, Ill., was different than many others. Company D, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry in Woodstock lost four Soldiers when it deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 to 2009.
"I had the honor of working with several of the Gold Star families," Celletti said. "They are now part of the Illinois National Guard family and we will not forget their loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice to our nation."
Mark Greenleaf of Woodstock worked with Celletti several times when Celletti visited Woodstock and praised the general for his commitment to the military and community.
"You don't have to serve with Major General Celletti to understand how much he cares for the men and women in his command; a civilian like me could see it," Greenleaf said. 'We're very grateful for the visits he made here when our Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, when they returned from combat, and to honor our local veterans, our military families and our fallen. After his 40 years of distinguished service, I wish him a happy and well-earned retirement."
Over the course of a career, many individuals influenced Celletti and made him the leader he is today. Col. (ret.) Ray Perry of Springfield, Ill., was the commander of the 106th Cavalry in Rock Falls when Celletti first commissioned as a second lieutenant 37 years ago. Perry said he knew Celletti was going to be a solid leader for the Illinois National Guard.
"He was one of the hardest workers I have ever had in my formations," Perry said. "He did the best he could do and always stood up for what was right. He has become an amazing leader."
Celletti said some of the toughest assignments he had in his career have been when he was in command of a unit.
"It's tough when you are in the position, but looking back it was worth it to know Soldiers respected you and do what you want," he said. "They're doing it because they respect you."
Jason said his dad was a great leader, but his leadership is the reason the Illinois Army National Guard won't miss a beat when he retires.
"He once told me that if you do your job as a leader and trainer, then you will have full confidence in the Soldiers that will fill your shoes," Jason said.
Celletti's advice to young servicemembers is to never stop learning and always strive to improve. He also stressed the importance of looking after the people who are important.
"Take care of your family and fellow Soldiers and Airmen by doing the right thing and they will take care of you," he said.
Celletti has numerous awards including the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal and Army Commendation Medal.
Celletti jokingly said the top three things he plans to do when he retires are: golf, golf and more golf with some trips in the RV and occasional work in his woodshop.
"After several months together with my wife Kathy, I know she will make me do something to keep me busy and her sane," Celletti said. "So, until then, I may look for some good retirement job just to keep my mind sharp, but a job with a lot of flexibility to still do number one, number two and number three on my list."