Leland Tony Shepherd becomes first Black man to command Arkansas Army National Guard

Shepherd, who was born in Guyana and served combat tours in Iraq, will lead four brigades of 6,500 guardsmen.

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Guyana-born Brigadier-General Leland Tony Shepherd has made history as the first Black man to command the Arkansas Army National Guard. 

According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Shepherd on Sunday assumed command of the states’s four brigades of 6,500 guardsmen: the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 77th Theater Aviation Brigade, 87th Troop Command and the 142nd Field Artillery Brigade.

Brig. Gen. Shepherd is the second Black general officer in the Arkansas Army National Guard. The first was Brig. Gen. William J. Johnson, who retired in 2012.

Brig. Gen. Leland Tony Shepherd receives his general officer’s belt from his daughter, Logan, on June 12, 2022. Shepherd was promoted to brigadier general and assumed command of the Arkansas Army National Guard in back-to-back ceremonies. (Credit: Photo by Sgt. Marie Bryant)

“This may be one small step, another step of promoting an officer to the rank of general, but it is a giant leap for African Americans across the state, across the nation and across this world,” Shepherd said during his promotion ceremony on June 12 at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock.

In back-to-back ceremonies, Shepherd was reportedly promoted to brigadier general and took over command of the Arkansas Army National Guard from Brig. Gen. Bradley J. Cox.

“This is an American story. Where a young private dreamt the dream of getting to the top,” said Shepherd, who moved to the United States with his mother when he was about 20 years old. 

The newly minted brigadier general drew laugher and applause when he followed up those remarks with a quote from Drake, “Starting from the bottom, now we here.”

Shepherd served two combat tours in Iraq and has been honored with numerous medals, including  the Iraqi Freedom Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.

Referring to all of the medals pinned on Shepherd’s uniform, Maj. Gen. Kendall W. Penn remarked during the ceremony, according to the Gazette, that it was obvious that his comrade had excelled in all of his positions. “Tony has shown that capability as long as I’ve known him,” said Penn who met Shepherd in the early 2000s, before deploying to Iraq.

“Tony was able to do things with radios, computers and wiring that nobody else in the brigade could do,” Penn recalled. “I can’t wait to see all the accomplishments you bring to the table.”

“There is a saying out there that you can’t be what you cannot see,” Shepherd said. “In the Arkansas National Guard, I have been able to see quite a bit.”

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