Captain Mark Kelly discussed how perseverance has helped him overcome various personal and professional obstacles during the Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s (MCAA) annual convention.
Captain Mark Kelly discussed how perseverance has helped him overcome various personal and professional obstacles during the Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s (MCAA) annual convention.

Featured speakers during the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) annual convention conveyed a message about the importance of perseverance to success in professional and personal endeavors. The words of former astronaut and retired naval aviator Capt. Mark Kelly were no exception.

Aye Aye, Captain

During the Annual Awards of Excellence Breakfast, Kelly inspired attendees with his “Endeavor to Succeed” presentation. The speech highlighted events and experiences that influenced his life and career including his determination to become a naval aviator and a NASA astronaut despite several setbacks and his wife Gabrielle Giffords’ undaunted will to recover from her injuries following an assassination attempt on Jan. 8, 2011.

Kelly flew 39 combat missions from the USS Midway during Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. In 1996, he and his twin brother, Scott, were selected by NASA to be shuttle pilots, fulfilling lifelong dreams for both. Kelly spent more than 50 days in space, finally culminating in his retirement in June 2011.

Kelly’s wife, Rep. Giffords, D-Ariz., had been shot in an attempted assassination in Tucson, Ariz. During the days, weeks, and months following that event, Kelly carefully and methodically managed the aftermath, first caring for his wife and then arranging for her long-term rehabilitation. He deemed the month following the shooting as “the hardest time of my life.”

Giffords’ recovery occurred ahead of schedule, allowing Kelly to return as a shuttle commander. He is distinguished for having commanded the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavor.

During his MCAA presentation, Kelly said, “When I first met her [Giffords] I thought she was 10 women. She was the CEO of her family’s company and a state senator. She never did anything the easy way. While she was studying as a Fulbright Scholar she lived in a Mennonite community with no electricity and no running water.”

Kelly’s admiration for his wife was obvious as he recalled some of the trying times both faced as she went from death’s door back to the floor of Congress to vote on the nations’ debt-legislation bill, “Which was a very big moment for Gabby,” said Kelly.

Independent Thinkers

Kelly spoke about his responsibilities as a primary caregiver, and compared those actions to the day-to-day decisions that business owners make, highlighting problems commonly associated with group thinking.

He emphasized that he had seen intelligent people go along with the crowd, rather than speak their own minds and contribute their opinions, when group thinking took over.

“We learned after the NASA Columbia shuttle disaster that we can make bad decisions because of group think. ‘Nobody is as dumb as all of us,’ is a sign that hangs in the NASA office now,” said Kelly.

As a result of the NASA Columbia experience, Kelly made sure that everyone on his wife’s health care team had the opportunity to be heard and to contribute their opinions about her treatment and rehabilitation plan.

However, he stressed that it is still incumbent upon a leader to take charge. “In your mechanical contracting businesses, it is important for everyone on the team to contribute, and in the end, that will make your decision-making process and associated risks a more manageable process,” said Kelly.

After describing some “Top Gun” style maneuvering to avoid enemy fire, “As Winston Churchill said, ‘The most exciting thing in war is to be in a plane, shot at, and missed,’” he said.

He stressed the importance of communication between team members, citing a mission upon an A6 Intruder, which almost cost him his life.

Upon this mission, a wide turn had landed his aircraft in Iranian airspace. As he was coming back out he noticed an enemy plane on the radar. “Some unsuspecting Iranian fighter plane was in big trouble because I could see that one of our fighters was directly behind him in fast pursuit. A few seconds later I realized that I was the idiot who was in friendly fire target sights. I had failed to communicate to base that I had made a wide turn into Iranian air space, and as soon as I headed out of there I was a target. That nearly cost me my life.”

For more information about the MCAA annual convention, visit

Publication date: 6/10/2013 

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