Roger McClellan, a retired brigadier general, is one of four University of Arkansas at Monticello graduates who have been selected to receive alumni awards at an inaugural dinner for UAM Chancellor Karla Hughes on October 21.
McClellan will receive the 2016 UAM Alumni Award for Achievement and Merit.
McClellan, along with Clarence Denmark, David Leech and Louine Leech, will be recognized on Friday, October 21 at 6 p.m. in the John F. Gibson University Center. For tickets, contact Christy Pace at (870) 460-1020 or [email protected] before October 12, 2016.
When Roger McClellan graduated from New Edinburg High School in 1973, attending college was not an option, or so he thought. No one in his family had ever gone to college and his father encouraged him to learn a trade.
Paul McClellan worked at Potlatch and gave his son some advice based on his own experiences. “He told me no one ever made any money working for someone else,” Roger said. “He encouraged me to learn a skill that would allow me to be my own boss.”
Roger took his father’s advice and spent the next year learning auto body repair at Pines Vocational Technical School in Pine Bluff before going to work for a body shop in Warren.
At the same time, his long-time girlfriend, Patricia Childers, was working on an office administration degree at UAM. Roger and Patricia grew up a few miles apart in rural Dallas County – Roger in the Macedonia community and Patricia in Mt. Elba. They met when Roger was in the sixth grade and Patricia in the fifth. Four years later they started dating, became high school sweethearts at New Edinburg High and were married in 1976, Patricia’s junior year at UAM.
One of Patricia’s UAM classes was at night. Not wanting his new wife to make the drive from New Edinburg to Monticello alone, McClellan enrolled in an insurance class and discovered college wasn’t as difficult as he had imagined.
McClellan decided to enroll at UAM full time for the 1978 spring semester but had to take care of some unfinished business first. Roger had considered enlisting in the Army National Guard following high school. He passed the entrance exam and just needed to sign his enlistment papers, but at 17, single and not sure what he wanted to do with his life, McClellan put the military on hold.
When he finally decided to follow through, he had a practical reason. “I decided to join the Guard to support my wife,” he said, smiling at the memory. “It paid $63 a month for two weeks a year and one weekend a month. Since we were paying $50 a month rent, I thought that was a pretty good deal.”
McClellan was a full-time UAM student and a private in the Guard. He was soon promoted to specialist, and was being considered for sergeant but there were no openings. Seeing McClellan’s promise, his superiors encouraged him to consider officer candidate school, launching him on the unlikely road from private to brigadier general.
McClellan was commissioned as a second lieutenant in March 1981 and graduated from UAM two months later with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. McClellan’s college memories reflect his status as a non-traditional student. “I was married, commuting, had a full-time job and weekend drill with the Guard,” he said. “In 1973 I wasn’t mature enough to do well in college. At 21, I was ready. I didn’t view college as an opportunity to party; I viewed it as an opportunity to accomplish something.”
McClellan accepted an offer from International Paper in Bastrop, Louisiana, following completion of his master of business administration degree from Louisiana Tech in 1983, beginning a concurrent career as a corporate executive and military officer. McClellan climbed the ranks in both civilian and military life, retiring from International Paper in 2011 as a senior information analyst.
As an officer in the National Guard, McClellan served in a variety of command and staff assignments, including a year as a civil affairs officer in Iraq where he won a Bronze Star for his body of work in Operation Iraqi Freedom II. McClellan worked with tribal leaders, mayors, politicians, schools and hospitals. “I wasn’t kicking in doors,” he said. “I was there to help improve their education system and economy, to help the Iraqi people have a better way of life. We wanted them to know the Americans were there to help. Ninety percent of the people appreciated that we were there.”
McClellan returned from Iraq in 2004, became deputy commander of the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team headquartered in Little Rock and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. On January 1, 2008, McClellan assumed the duties of Commander, Land Component Command of the Arkansas Army National Guard in North Little Rock.
Now retired and living outside New Edinburg on 40 acres of mostly forest land that has been in his wife’s family since the 1940s, McClellan still carries himself with a military bearing and wants everyone to know he is still working from time to time as a tax consultant. But his first love is the Guard. “I loved the military,” he said. “I loved the adventure, the mission, the commitment and the people I served with.”