First African American Battalion Commander

Colonel (COL) Burthel Thomas:

COL Thomas was born in Dumas, Arkansas and attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff where he received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture in 1971. He received his Master of Science Degree in Agriculture from Arkansas State University in 1974.

After receiving his degree in 1974, COL Thomas served four years on active duty in the Army at Fort Benning, Georgia. He served as a Company Executive Officer and taught tactical communications at the United States Army Infantry Center. In 1978, COL Thomas’ active duty ended, and he entered the Arkansas Army National Guard.

As a member of the Arkansas Army National Guard, he was assigned various duties within Company A, 39th Infantry Brigade Support Battalion and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry, 39th Infantry Brigade. COL Thomas was later transferred to the State Area Readiness Command (STARC), as the State Marksmanship Coordinator where he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In 1992, COL Thomas was selected to command the 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry, 39th Infantry Brigade in Warren, Arkansas. COL Thomas was the first African American to serve as Battalion Commander in the 39th Infantry Brigade.

COL Thomas’ military assignments in the Arkansas Army National Guard also consisted of the Installation Support Unit, Director of Plans and Training, Director of Housing and Engineering, Deputy Commander Installation Support Unit, and he served as the State Inspector General. He received his promotion to Colonel in 2004.

COL Thomas has received numerous distinguished awards and medals, which includes the Army Commendation Medal, three Army Achievement Medals, Army Reserves Components Achievement Medal, two National Defense Service Medals, and an Army Service Ribbon.

COL Thomas worked at the USDA as the Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations, and he retired from this position in 2014.