CAMP ROBINSON, NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — From the streets of Guyana South America to leading the Arkansas Army National Guard, Brigadier General Leland “Tony” Shepherd has quite the story.
In his words, “Only in America could my story be possible.”
Brigadier General Shepherd is one of five general officers who report directly to the Governor’s top military official, and as leader of the Army National Guard, he commands the largest military force in our state.
Moreover, Brig. Gen. Shepherd’s promotion this month made history. He’s the first African American in Arkansas to hold the title.
At 20 years old, Tony Shepherd moved from Guyana to the United States. After school, he could have joined the Oklahoma, Florida, California, or even the Virgin Islands National Guard, but the sincerity of an acceptance letter from Arkansas made and kept Arkansas his home.
“He wrote it in two pages, hand wrote it, and that meant something to me,” Brig. Gen. Shepherd recalled. “So, I moved without knowing anybody in the state.”
Moving through the ranks, Shepherd wanted to give back his service for the opportunities given him. He witnessed leaders before him break ground like in 2008 when Deputy Adjutant General Johnson became the first African American general in the then 203-year history of the Arkansas National Guard.
Shepherd said, “That allowed me to visualize what I can be.”
For years, the military leader has lived by the motto “You can’t be what you can’t see.” So, when he became a one-star general this month, he recognized the significance for all who will follow.
“It’s a giant leap for African Americans across this state, across this country, across this world,” Shepherd said during his speech accepting the promotion.
A week after his promotion, Shepherd told our station, “I think that you’ll see that this step is the beginning of it happening more frequently where it doesn’t become such a standout moment, and that is what I hope to see.”
While in charge of the Arkansas Army National Guard, Shepherd plans to put in place a robust diversity plan so that people of any background can seek command opportunities. However, he doesn’t want his promotion to sidetrack the main purpose of his role, keeping the force at full strength and ensuring they are all well trained for whatever the governor or president asks.
With a wink Brig. Gen. Tony Shepherd concluded, “My role is to serve as a leader. I just so happen to be black.”
Shepherd also credits God for directing his path to the top. He prays every day for wisdom in commanding the over 6,500 soldiers under his charge.