Guyana-born Brigadier-General becomes first African American Land Component Commander in the state of Arkansas
AS a young boy growing up in Stanleytown, New Amsterdam – perhaps as young as four years old – Leland Tony Shepherd was always fascinated with the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) parades that his uncle, Ivor Shepherd, would take him to see. At the time, neither he nor ‘Uncle Ivor’ had any idea of the life-altering effects of these casual experiences.
Now a Brigadier-General, Leland Shepherd has recently assumed command as the Sixth Land Component Commander for the Arkansas Army National Guard in the United States and is all set today (June 12) to complete the transfer of command with a ceremony.
As the first African American to take up this office in the state of Arkansas, Shepherd will now have command over all of the ground forces in the state. He will command the Arkansas Army’s eight land power units which consist of Major Combatant Commands and TDA Units, headquartered at Camp Robinson Maneuver Training Center, in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
In his new office, he is tasked with operational readiness, training, mobilisation, deployments in defence of the nation and aiding local authorities in times of state emergencies.
“I feel very blessed and grateful and honoured to have been selected because there are many other people who could’ve been selected who are qualified to do this job,” the general, who grew up at Lot 39 Station Street, Kitty, told the Pepperpot Magazine in an interview. All prepared for his new role, he hopes to be able to inspire, first and foremost, the next generation of Shepherds – with two sons, Ryan and Anthony, already in the army – and then the broader population. “People will be able to look at my story and say, ‘A guy from Guyana who migrated can move through the ranks and become a general officer – a leader of the forces; I can do it too.’”
Shepherd, who wants to set a very good example of who a true leader should be, also wants to use his new office to introduce cognitive diversity so that leaders can think of other types of officers to occupy this role in future.
Shepherd, who attended East Ruimveldt and North Georgetown Secondary Schools, believes that his interest in joining the military stemmed from his childhood experiences growing up in Guyana. He recalled how the GDF parades built in him a strong desire to become a soldier.
To this day, Shepherd has fond memories of his time growing up in Kitty. He was about five years old when his family moved there. “The person who served as a young inspiration was our neighbour- Gobin Geer. Gobin took me on my first camping and hiking trip to complete scout standard. These inputs helped garner my love for being outdoors and a life of service,” he reflected, as he called to mind the positive impact made on him by others like the Cater, Wickham, Bollers, Cambridge, and Singh families.
Further propelling his desire to become a soldier was his time as a Boy Scout at Troop 13, attached to St George’s Cathedral.
He would further go on to develop friendships in primary school that only served to convince him that this was a career he wanted to pursue. His friends’ parents were in the military, so he was on the GDF compound almost daily. His fascination with being in the military just continued to grow. “Carl Liverpool, he and I were in primary school together, and I hung out with him in the GDF compound at that time; his dad was COL Liverpool and during my high school years – the Lewis family; Anthony and Louann Lewis; their dad was Colonel Lewis. Those were very impressionable years that helped me form and solidify what I wanted to do, and their inputs planted the seeds for my future,” Shepherd expressed.
These feelings never left him. In fact, when he was about 20 years old and his family moved to the US, his cousin, SFC Patrice Parkinson, encouraged him to join the US Army. “When you build a fascination, especially in your formative years, you can get engrossed in wanting to do that. I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to pursue that dream,” he shared.
A Better Life
Shepherd said his mom, Gwendoline Griffith-Shepherd, was a true inspiration to him as she explored different pathways for her family in the mid-’80s. Wanting a better life for her family, she migrated to the US and completely changed careers to support her family.
Mrs Griffith-Shepherd, from Third Street, Alberttown, was a teacher at St Joseph High, but when they moved away, she eventually became a registered nurse. “I might be a general, but I salute her,” Shepherd expressed.
His dad, George Shepherd, is from Britannia Village, West Coast Berbice. He was the headmaster at Campbellville and Charlestown Secondary schools and deputy headmaster at North Georgetown Secondary. “The Shepherds are from Britannia. My grandfather had a lot of brothers, so there are a lot of Shepherds in West Coast Berbice.”
Shepherd is married to Zandral Shepherd, and they have five children: Anthony, Lukas, Logan, Wells and Ryan. He also has two brothers – Colin and Andre.
Leadership Programme at UG
With a PHD in Executive Leadership, Shepherd is a professor at St Vincent’s University in Indiana. He has his heart set on introducing a leadership programme to the University of Guyana, which he said can possibly embody both military and civilian features.
“For Guyana, I would love to introduce an organisational leadership programme. I explored the possibility three years ago, and the person whom I was communicating with at the time was exiting the role and I never got a response from the dean of the school, so hopefully, they may take me up on the offer this time,” he shared.
BG Shepherd has received numerous federal and state awards. Among them were the Army Legion of Merit award, the Bronze Star, the Combat Action Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, Operation Iraqi Freedom Service Medal.
Additionally, he was awarded the prestigious Order of Mercury, Bronze for the highest standards of integrity, moral character, professional competence, and selflessness for those who have contributed significantly to the US Army Signal Corps.
BG Shepherd is a graduate of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania with an Associate Degree in Electronic Engineering and a graduate of Philander Smith College with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Organizational Management. He holds a Masters of Arts in Information Technology (IT) Management from Webster University and a Master of Arts in Strategic Studies from the US Army War College. He received his Doctorate in Executive Leadership from the University of Charleston.
BG Shepherd has maintained his status as a citizen-soldier by working as a civilian. He has worked with Alltel Corporation and Verizon, located in Little Rock, AR, for a total of 15 years. BG Shepherd served as the CEO of Choice Communications, located in the US Virgin Islands, for seven years and is currently a Regional Vice President of Operations at PODS.
He began his military career in the US Army Reserves in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 23, 1992, and attended Basic Combat Training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. His career in the Arkansas Army National Guard began as an enlisted soldier in October 1995, and in 1997, he enrolled in the Officer Candidate School (OCS) Class 41, where he received his commission and was appointed Second Lieutenant in August 1998.
He was assigned as a Signal Officer in the 212th Signal Battalion, in Little Rock, AR, where he served as a Platoon leader and subsequently as a company executive officer for four years before being promoted to Captain and transferring to 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) as a Signal Officer with the 1-153 IN BN, located in Malvern, AR.
BG Shepherd served with the 1-153 IN BN as the Signal Officer for three years, deploying into Iraq in 2004 to 2005. Upon his return from Iraq, he was appointed Company Commander of the HHC of the 1-153 Infantry Company. After his assignment as a Company Commander, BG Shepherd was selected to serve as the Brigade Signal Officer for the 39th IBCT.
He subsequently deployed for a second time to Baghdad, Iraq, responsible for Camp Victory’s post signal capabilities; command, control, communications and computers (C4). Following his redeployment from Iraq, BG Shepherd was assigned as the Battalion Executive Officer of the newly created Brigade Special Troops Battalion (BTSB), located in Conway, AR, before transitioning back into the Army’s signal operations as the Systems Chief and Deputy G6 Officer.
In 2015, BG Shepherd assumed command of the Second and Third Battalions at the 233rd Regional Training Institute and finally took command of the 233rd RTI Regiment in 2017. His commands at RTI are the longest back-to-back commands totalling five and half years. After command at 233rd RTI, BG Shepherd assumed his most recent role as the State’s Deputy Chief of Staff – G6 position.