By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who also serves as commanding general of the S.C. State Guard (SCSG), was promoted from SCSG brigadier general to two-star major general in a ceremony presided over by Governor Henry McMaster and attended by Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, the state’s adjutant general. The ceremony was held at Columbia’s historic Olympia Armory, Saturday, Feb. 4.
“It doesn’t matter how many stars are on Leon Lott’s uniform, he’s been a star since the day he entered the law enforcement profession,” said Gov. McMaster after pinning Lott’s second star to his uniform. “Over the centuries, people have looked to stars to guide them, to give them direction, to lead them to a destination or task. Leon Lott is a star who has led the men and women of the South Carolina State Guard for close to five years and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department for over 26 years.”
Lott was commissioned into the SCSG in 2004. In 2015, he was promoted from colonel to brigadier general and the post of deputy commander. In 2018, he was promoted to SCSG commander.
Gen. McCarty, who as the state’s adjutant general commands the S.C. Military Department which includes the S.C. Army National Guard, the S.C. Air National Guard, the SCSG, and the Emergency Management Division, presented Lott his two-star general officer’s flag.
“His [Lott’s] experience and leadership have impacted the State Guard in a significant way,” said McCarty. “He is a recognized and respected leader on the national, state, and local levels.”
Even internationally. For instance, in 2010 during the final days of the Iraq War, the Iraqi government reached out to Lott for assistance in establishing that country’s first-ever female police academy. Once the request was cleared through the U.S. State Department, Lott traveled to the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. There he helped set up and plan the school and assisted with the development of a national training curriculum. All this while continuing to serve as sheriff of Richland County and commander of the SCSG’s provost marshal’s (military police) detachment.
Lott holds an honorary doctorate from the University of South Carolina (where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology), an associate’s degree in police administration from the University of South Carolina-Aiken, and a masters in emergency management from Lander University.
A recipient of numerous civilian awards, military decorations, and foreign honors; Lott was named National Sheriff of the Year 2021 by the National Sheriff’s Association. He was twice-awarded South Carolina Sheriff of the Year by the S.C. Sheriff’s Association. And he is a recipient of the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest award presented by the governor.
The SCSG, which Lott has commanded since 2018, is an all-volunteer state defense force that provides direct support in the form of fully trained search-and-rescue teams, military police units, engineering and medical expertise, and other vital services to South Carolina’s military and civil authorities during natural and man-made disasters as well as other state emergencies. The SCSG’s lineage stretches back to the Provincial Militia of 1670.
In addition to the governor and the adjutant general, those attending Saturday’s promotion ceremony included First Lady Peggy McMaster, SCSG Deputy Commander (Brig. Gen.) Mike Langston, Richland County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Chief Maria Yturria, Mrs. Diane Rawl, a gold-star mother whose son 1st Lt. Ryan Rawl (a Richland County deputy and S.C. Army National Guardsman) was killed in Afghanistan, and approximately 100 Guardsmen and officers from around the state.
– Governor Henry McMaster and Maj. Gen. (Sheriff) Leon Lott share a moment following Lott’s promotion ceremony. Looking on is Captain Cody Simpson.