Attorneys pay tribute to fallen Guyanese soldier

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

One of the five Guyana Defence Force (GDF) soldiers who died after their Bell 402 Army helicopter crashed on Wednesday, was described as a “gentle giant” by his former Hugh Wooding Law School colleagues.

Colonel Michael Shahoud was among seven soldiers on the ill-fated helicopter flight which lost signal.

There were only two survivors of the crash, Corporal Dwayne Jackson and Lieutenant Andio Crawford, the Guyana Defence Force confirmed on Thursday. Those who did not survive were prominent military figures in the GDF. The others were Lt Col Michael Charles, retired Brigadier Gary Beaton, Lt Col Sean Welcome, and Staff Sgt Jason Khan.

Trinidadian attorney Josiah Soo Hon went to law school with Shahoud, and said he was “pretty quiet.”

“He would always be early for class and left as soon as class was over.”

Soo Hon said they would meet up when he occasionally travelled to Guyana. They also met at a conference for advocates in the Caribbean in 2017.

When he heard of the crash, Soo Hon said he felt really sad. Of Shahoud, he said, “He was a really tough and strict guy.” He fondly remembers “this one shirt he wore.”

“It was a pale yellow, short-sleeved shirt he wore to all the functions,” Soo Hon said.

Guyanese attorney Nadia Samuels recalled her first day in Trinidad and said Shahoud took her to find an apartment and ensure she was settled in.

“Nobody could say a bad word about you,” she posted in tribute. “Mikey was with us ever since. Every lime, every where.”

On Sunday, Ronetta Sergeant told Newsday, Shahoud meant “so much to so many persons both in his personal and professional life.”

“Whether molded by the disciplined training of a military officer in the Guyana Defence Force or an intrinsic aspect of his authentic persona, Michael effortlessly blurred the lines between roles, adeptly navigating relationships as both a brother and a friend to all.”

She said Shahoud “wove threads of humility, support, and genuine care, creating a masterpiece of compassion that touched every soul fortunate enough to know him.

“In my own experience, no one interaction stood out but all of them as Micheal was consistent in his ways. We were classmates both at the University of Guyana as we read for our law degree and as we trained for our legal education certificate at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad.”

She said she first met Shahoud after returning from a leave of absence when she had her first child.

“While experiencing my own hardships with working and studying full time Michael, apart from being my driver between classes to my job, extended what I can only refer to as a lifeline, seamlessly blending the roles of friend and my first free therapist…I can say where he saw potential he was sure to remember to nurture that potential where he can and give you a pat on the back reminding you of that and how far along you have come.

“It’s been over a decade since I’ve known Micheal and he would always applaud your efforts to an awkward annoyance at some times but that’s who he was…”

She said as a student, he believed no one should be left behind and always shared notes with his classmates “and making sure that we were moving forward together as a class.

“Keeping you focused with a gentle but stern approach. He surely was no stick in the mud ensuring to enjoy life but at the same time he understood that there was a time for everything. Even as a colleague, he sought help and extended it where he can always putting his best efforts forward for whatever task was faced.”

She said his tragic death resonated deeply, not just for the GDF, but “in the hearts of all who experienced his grace.”

“I was shopping with my husband for a family dinner when we got the confirmation that so many service men lost their lives in such a tragic manner at this time in Guyana’s history.

“Our brightest and our best.” Shahoud was also her husband’s commanding officer in the army.

“…Sadness and anger quickly replaced the moment of support and I felt like I couldn’t breathe and immediately thought of his family, especially his wife who was also a colleague.”

“I truly believe that at the moment of leaving this physical realm Micheal left this world ’empty’ as he always gave his best in all situations whether it was as a friend or a commanding officer. He died as he lived doing what he loved, in service to his country particularly at this time in our history and that is how I will choose to remember him, as he lived not as he died, a friend and a true son of the soil.

“May his soul rest in eternal peace and his loved ones be forever comforted in the fact that he was nothing short of a hero of the nation. As we navigate this profound loss, let us not only mourn but celebrate the enduring legacy of a man who personified decorum, grace,”

Shahoud was commander of the 1st Infantry Battalion, one of three battalions in the GDF. He was also an attorney. On Thursday, the Guyana Bar Association extended condolences to the soldiers’ families.

It said it was “particularly saddened” by Shahoud’s death. Shahoud was admitted to practice in Guyana in October 2014. He began his law career at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions before returning to active duty in the GDF, the bar association said.

Since the deadly crash, there has been an outpouring of grief in Guyana. The country’s president Irfraan Ali said, “My heart pains and drowns in sorrow at the tragic loss of some of our finest men in uniform. The scale of this loss to the families, our country, the GDF and to me personally is immeasurable.”

“…You were among the finest we will ever have. I wish I was waiting for all of you to come home. With all my love until we meet again.”

On Friday, Ali called for Guyana to unite on Sunday for a day of prayer and reflection.

“Our nation is in mourning,” he said in a statement.