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‘A Giant Leap for African-Americans’: Colonel Makes History as First Black Officer to Command Arkansas Army National Guard

Col. Leland Tony Shepherd, a decorated member of the Army National Guard, is now leading in the Arkansas branch of the military reserve, making him the first Black person to hold his new top-ranking position.

Shepherd was promoted to brigadier general, assuming command of the Arkansas Army National Guard on June 12 at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock. He now oversees 6,500 Army Guardsmen in four brigades.

Col. Leland Tony Shepherd (Photos: Arkansas National Guard)

“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 the ceremony.

Shepherd is the second Black general officer in the Arkansas National Guard. Brig. Gen. William J. Johnson became the first in 2007. He retired in 2012, according to reports.

The Guyanese-American’s educational path to prepared him for the role. He has a doctorate in executive leadership from the University of Charleston and a master’s degree in information technology management from Webster University and another in strategic studies from the Army War College. He jump-started his education with a bachelor’s in organizational management from Philander Smith College.

Shepherd served two combat tours in Iraq as a signal officer and has been awarded a host of service medals, including the prestigious Bronze Order of Mercury award. It is reserved for the service people who have shown the “highest standards of integrity, moral character, professional competence and selflessness, for those who have contributed significantly to the Army Signal Corps.”

Maj. Gen. Kendall W. Penn, the highest-ranking official in the Arkansas National Guard, praised Shepherd for his accomplishments during the ceremony.

Penn said anyone looking at Shepherd’s uniform colored with medals could tell he has done a “fantastic job” in every position he has ever held.

“Tony has shown that capability as long as I’ve known him,” Penn said, who met Shepherd since the early 2000s.

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