Six-year-old David Quantock ’80 was at his grandparents’ house in upstate New York the day a taxi pulled up to the curb. He remembers his grandfather looking out the window and asking, “Who called for a cab?” The cabbie got out, knocked on the door, and delivered a Western Union telegram addressed to his mother, Phyllis.
Its sparse, typed words were brutal and direct.
YOUR HUSBAND HAS BEEN CRITICALLY INJURED IN THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM AND IS CURRENTLY IN A COMA.
It was 1964, nine years into the war. Quantock’s father, 1LT Earl G. Quantock, was riding with his men in an M113 “green dragon,” when suddenly a blast ripped the vehicle apart, killing everyone but him.
Today the army would call his wounds a “traumatic brain injury,” but back then there wasn’t a name for what he suffered.
Young David watched his father battle back through therapy and, despite his injuries, return to Vietnam for a second tour. He eventually spent 26 years in the Army, earning three bronze stars and retiring at the rank of major.
“That’s a hero to me,” says Quantock. “He was my idol. He was hard as woodpecker lips.”
At Quantock’s commissioning ceremony in 1980, MAJ Quantock gave his son the following advice, which he has never forgotten.
He said, “Dave, your success in the Army cannot be measured by rank, but in the success of your soldiers. The Army is not about you; it is about taking care of those soldiers.”
His father passed away in 2004 and never got to see, not one, but two sons become generals in the United States Army. Had he been alive, there is no doubt he would have saluted with pride last September as MG David E. Quantock was sworn in as the 14th Provost Marshal General, Commanding General of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command and Army Corrections Command.
His eldest son was now the Army’s “Top Cop.”
THE BEST LAID PLANS
In his Norwich yearbook photo, David Quantock has a full, lush head of dark hair and a bushy mustache. He’s smiling slightly. His heavy brows rim grayish-green eyes. If eyes are the window to one’s soul, Quantock was born with a soul the color of the army combat uniform.
A quote below his bio rings with idealism: “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it. —Voltaire.”
When Quantock speaks, his voice is nuanced with the timbre of all the places he grew up as a nomadic “army brat.” There are echoes of a Southern drawl mixed with the open parlance of upstate New York.
His hope out of high school was to head to West Point, but first he needed to improve his SAT scores. In the meantime, he enrolled at Plattsburgh State, joining the football team. With one twist of the leg, his knee was torn, and with it his carefully scripted plan.
“I was actually on the waiting list to go to West Point after my sophomore year but [my knee injury] disqualified me,” he says. “Then I remembered playing football against Norwich and I said, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if I could go the ROTC route through Norwich?’”
Turns out, he could.
So junior year he packed his bags for Northfield, Vt., to start rookdom.
His roommate, Rick McGivern ’80, describes Quantock as a model cadet. “If you had to write a textbook on how to be a rook, you could take pictures of Dave. If he was told to shine shoes, you could shave in the reflection of his shoes.”
According to McGivern, Quantock wasn’t trying to outdo anyone, it’s just the way he was.
“He was the most focused person I ever met,” says McGivern. “There were three places you could find him: in the library, in the gym, or in the mess hall, eating as much red meat as a human could consume in a single meal.”
A year later, Quantock had made company commander, ROTC cadet battalion commander, and was named the number one ROTC cadet in America.
“Dave was straight and narrow: Every inch of him was army,” says classmate David Casey ’80. “If anyone was going to be a general, it was him.”
While disciplining his fellow cadets, he maintained the utmost professionalism.
Gary Wheaton ’82 would know. With the loudest stereo system on the floor, a penchant for good times, and a room right next to Quantock’s, he was poised for trouble.
One memorable night, Wheaton spared himself a trip to the men’s bathroom, instead, opening his window and relieving himself on the parade ground below.
The next day Quantock appeared at his door.
“He knocked on my door gently, handed me 10 demerits, and didn’t make a big deal out if it,” says Wheaton. “He didn’t say a word. It was over and done with.”
It’s not that Quantock didn’t appreciate a good time. He was just busy. When he transferred from Plattsburg to Norwich he switched his major from math to criminal justice and had to make up the credits fast. There was no dallying for him, because when he came back his senior year he also had a wife to think about.
“By God, I wanted to graduate in 1980. I think one semester I took 26 credits,” he says.
His newly married status was an added incentive to finish on time. Quantock met his wife, Melissa, as a high school junior in Germany. Kindred military brats, they quickly became sweethearts.
They married in the spring of his junior year, a week before Quantock left for advance camp at Fort Bragg. Soon after, she moved in with his parents while he finished school. Her unwavering support has been a hallmark of their 33-year marriage.
“She keeps me grounded,” he says. “She’s down to earth. In fact, a lot of people say the only reason I was successful was because Melissa carried me for my entire career.”
Quantock initially had no intention of making a career out of the military, so after washing out of aviation due to colorblindness, he chose to branch something that would give him options when he got out—something hopefully leading to law school. He decided to join the Military Police.
It was during the Cold War, and what he didn’t anticipate was that he would end up guarding a nuclear weapons site in “middle of nowhere” Germany. Living in an antiquated farmhouse with Melissa, his first assignment was “miserable,” but he made the best of it.
“It taught me a lot about leadership. How do you motivate guys that have to sit in towers from two to four hours?”
It was the start of a career that would take him around the world: to Grenada (Operation Island Breeze), Haiti (Operation Uphold Democracy), Egypt (Bright Star 2000), and Saudi Arabia (Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program). It would also see him command the 16th Military Police Brigade out of Fort Bragg, N.C., and lead the United States Army Military Police School in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
IRAQ – TAKE ONE
In the book Warrior Police (a term Quantock coined) he is re-garded as a “famed contemporary leader.” Quantock doesn’t think of himself in those terms; instead, he sees himself as a “due course guy” with a focus on doing the best job he can.
“My philosophy has always been, ‘Don’t get fired from the job you’re in,’” he says. “Which to me focuses on, don’t get worrying about the next two or three jobs … take care of your soldiers and civilians and develop them and train them, and if you do all that … the jobs will take care of themselves.”
The jobs have indeed taken care of themselves, which is how in 2003 he found himself gearing up to go to war.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was just beginning, and Quantock’s soldiers at Fort Bragg were next in line to deploy. As part of his preparation, he headed overseas for a pre-deployment site survey. One of the places he visited was Abu Ghraib prison, 20 miles west of Baghdad.
Built by British contractors in the 1960s under Saddam Hussein, the facility had been a cesspool of inhumanity. The BBC called it “one square kilometer of hell.” Mass executions, rape, beatings, hangings, electric shock, castration, and mutilation were all routinely practiced at the site, which observers estimated held as many as 15,000 inmates. Months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Saddam declared amnesty for all prisoners, leaving the prison empty when U.S. forces arrived. The Americans seized control and began using the facility to hold detainees—eventually replacing the Saddam portrait outside with a banner that read in English and Arabic, “America is the friend of all Iraqi people.”
The site ultimately became the focus of America’s own abuse scandal, when photos of U.S. soldiers tormenting naked Iraqi detainees exploded in the media.
During Quantock’s pre-deployment visit, those pictures had not yet come to light, but Quantock’s sixth sense (what he calls his “spidey sense”) was already up. Physically, the place was filthy, with raw sewage and human bones left from the Saddam era. Operationally, it wasn’t faring much better.
“You could tell discipline, standards were awful … I mean, I was looking at folks who looked like they had been defeated. There was no leadership. I said, ‘God, we’ve got to instill some desire in these folks.’ Everybody seemed to be in different uniforms,” he says. “It was a disaster down there. And so it was ripe for something bad to happen.”
The investigation was just starting in January of 2004 when now Colonel Quantock came back for his tour. One of his myriad duties was to take over Abu Ghraib from BG Janis Karpinski.
Thus began what Quantock describes as the “12 toughest months” of his life.
He began by working to clean up the prison: providing oversight, establishing standards of behavior and discipline, instituting interrogation procedures, and making sure that detainees were treated humanely and with dignity.
“It was 22- … 23-hour days. And that was just one of our missions. We were still doing route security. We were standing up the Iraqi highway police. We were standing up police academies down in Hillah. We were doing convoy escorts. I probably put 100,000 miles on my vehicles,” Quantock says.
Despite the hardships, the tour put him face to face with countless soldiers risking their lives in service.
“It was also inspiring because of what I got to be a part of—so many great Americans out there doing their busi-ness, just doing the best they could. The kids inspired me every day. I probably aged 30 years in that one year but it was worth it.”
His ability to see the positive in those around him served him well during the tour. As did his ability to maintain a sense of humor. His two biggest stress relievers remain PT and laughing.
“You’ve got to have a sense of humor. You’ve got to laugh at yourself,” he says.
He needed it, especially during 2004 and 2005. They were losing soldiers and under the pressure of constant work—but he was determined not to let it get his troops down. As a morale builder he instituted the “Loose Grip Award.” Each Saturday night at their Battle Update Brief, a soldier would be nominated for the biggest screw-up of the week … and the kicker was, it only had to be partly true.
“The guys and gals would scheme … take a picture of somebody doing something stupid or make something up.” The winner of the award would write a detailed (and colorful) report of their transgressions in a little green book, which was read aloud at the meeting. The hilarity was resounding.
“It was to try and break the stress,” he says, “to team build, to have everybody realize that we are in this fight together. We are going to laugh together. We are going to fight together, cry together.”
And there had been plenty of tears. In that year alone, the brigade lost 13 men. As a reminder, Quantock keeps replicas of all 13 sets of their dog tags suspended with red, white, and blue ribbons from an eagle on his fireplace mantel.
“There’s not a single day that I question whether I did everything [within my power] to protect their lives,” he said at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery on Memorial Day 2011. “Even though I feel that I did, their loss is no less.”
Throughout his long career, Quantock has spoken at far too many funerals.
For the 600 people congregated at Northside High School in Va. for the funeral of Army Sgt. Timothy John “T.J.” Conrad, he told them what he tells his soldiers. “Every day, their fingerprints are on the history of the United States. You cannot read the history of the United States and not understand, that without an Army, there would not be a United States of America to go out and defend. I tell them to look at the flag, and understand their fingerprints are on those red, white, and blue colors. T.J.’s fingerprints are on those colors.”
Back home, Quantock’s family was also carrying the red, white, and blue colors of war. While he was in Iraq, Melissa was doing more than simply holding down the fort. Their children—David, Chris, and Heather—were getting older, and Melissa expanded her attention to supporting the families around her. It was early in the war, and there were very few protocols in place to provide for soldiers’ loved ones—especially in the case of injury or death. To address this need, Melissa formed “care teams” and worked to get the wives involved in volunteer activities on and around the base.
And in 2006, when Quantock was named Commandant of the United States Army Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood, she moved her care and consideration there.
“As I went through my military career, there were two things that were important to me,” Quantock told the post newspaper, “being successful in the Army, and at the same time being a successful husband and father.”
Like his father before him, making family a top priority has always been an inextricable part of who Quantock is. He worked very hard throughout his career to make sure he was there for his kids at all of their significant events—ball games, dance recitals, even family dinners.
“We raised three kids in the Army; understanding what is important in those kids is key,” he says. “I mean, I love golf, but I stopped playing golf for 10 years until my kids were able to play with me.”
Not that he had much time for golf. In 2008 he was tapped for yet another move when Gen. David Petraeus chose him to become the Deputy Commanding General (Detainee Operations)/Commanding General of Task Force 134 in Iraq.
At that time, the United States still had 22,000 detainees in custody, and as head of the new task force it was up to Quantock to deal with them.
But this deployment was going to be different. For the first time, both his sons would be serving as soldiers on the same battlefield as their father. It was a thought that was a bit scary for all of them.
It wasn’t Quantock’s intention that his children follow in his footsteps; they chose it on their own.
“They’ve been wanting to go into the army since they could walk,” he says. “I think from Melissa’s perspective she looked at it like, ‘Dave’s there to look over them and take care of them,’ but from my perspective, there is no way in heck. At the end of the day, God’s looking over them and they understand the risk. That’s why we’re soldiers … with soldiers comes inherent risk. They are willing to accept those risks and I’m very proud of them for that.”
IRAQ – TAKE TWO
In November of 2009 Quantock sat for an interview with CNN. He’d aged since his senior portrait, his head now smooth, shining under the overhead light. He wasn’t smiling. Long vertical lines ran between his dark brows down to his army gray-green eyes. His hands, resembling blades, gestured together slowly as though conducting an army orchestra, squashing the opposition. He looked tired—raising his eyebrows and creasing his forehead like a bulldog—but his tone was level.
Since his arrival, it had been his job to orchestrate the release or transfer of thousands of detainees in U.S. custody from prisons like Camp Bucca in the south to Camp Cropper, near Baghdad, or Taji in the north. According to the security agreement signed in December 2008, he needed an arrest warrant or a conviction to hand a detainee over to Iraqi authority; otherwise he had to let them go.
“When I showed up in Iraq in July of 2008 with 22,000 detainees and the security agreement impending on us, I remember Gen. Odierno walking out of the room telling me, ‘Dave, just let the good ones go.’ And I looked around and I thought, ‘Oh my God. Most of these guys are bad but we have no paper on them.’”
The task ahead of him was daunting. He and his soldiers had to somehow find evidence and sift out the good from the bad. As Warrior Police describes them, the detainees were “a dog’s breakfast collection ranging from hard-core criminals, al-Qaeda fighters, Sunni insurgents, former Saddam gunmen, Mahdi Army fighters, and a growing mob of semiliterate unemployed young men who drifted to the various factions out of economic need or quasi-religious fervor.”
They labored with intensity, setting up a web portal to gather evidence from the field, putting cases together to be tried in front of an Iraqi court, getting arrest warrants and detention orders in accordance with the security agreement.
“It was like building a bridge as we walked across it,” he says.
In the meantime, they created educational programs, vocational training, and Islamic discussion groups for the detainees. These opportunities represented his core values as a commander.
“[You treat] people with dignity and respect inside those facilities, because … you don’t want to create more terrorists by treating them improperly,” he says.
The detainees learned valuable skills —reading and writing, computer literacy, and math. Along the way, Quantock says they also learned that Americans weren’t so bad.
“There were some hard-core individuals that could be there for 100 years and not change their mind. But even those you treat with dignity and respect. That is what we stand for as a country.”
By the end of the task force, the team had enough evidence to transfer 8,000 prisoners to the government of Iraq—closing Camp Bucca—and in January of 2010 they handed over control of all Iraqi prisons to the Iraqi government.
RISING IN RANK
As he walked away from the razor wire and 15-ft. chain-link fences, Quantock exchanged Iraq, once again, for the green, humid climate of Fort Leonard Wood. Upon his return in May 2010 he became the first non-engineer Commanding General of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence.
In his short tenure there, the base came under fire from the media for a lengthy list of pending court-martial cases for sexual assault. And as if that wasn’t enough, on New Year’s Day 2011, tornadoes ripped across its face.
But, as with all his previous assignments, Quantock dealt with these challenges in preparation for the next job he would be given. In September 2011, he was named the Provost Marshal General/Commanding General of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) and the Army Corrections Command.
The last time he had an office in the Pentagon, he shared a cubicle with eight office mates. These days he’s got a ten-person conference table, a desk, and even a window. “The fact that I have a door that shuts is pretty cool,” he says.
His 100-picture digital photo frame flips through images of his family, and though he’s on the side of the building where the plane went down on 9/11, he can’t quite see the memorial.
His Pentagon office is only one of three in his command, but he spends most of his time there when he isn’t traveling because, he says, it is “where the decisions are made.”
He now wears three very important hats: As the Provost Marshal General, he’s in charge of anything that deals with policy and procedures of law enforcement in the Army and his office is in the Pentagon. As the CID Commander in charge of criminal investigations, his office is in Quantico. And as the Corrections Commanding General, he is in charge of all Army jails and has yet a third office in Washington, D.C.
Parts of his work he can’t really talk about, though some of the cases under his jurisdiction filter out to the press now and again. Some of what he commands deals with procedural change, such as allowing post and garrison commanders to do away with motor vehicle registration on bases. Some of it is sensational, for example, when Army investigators probed the video of a sheep being beaten by laughing soldiers. Occasionally it is gut wrenching, like murder and rape.
“When you are in the position that I’m in now … it can get you down,” he says. “You start wondering for periods of time, ‘Is there anyone doing anything good out there?’ But then you have 30 years of experience to lean on that says 99 percent of the folks out there are doing unbelievably great things.”
When he talks to new recruits and young officers, he emphasizes the importance of being an “ethical and moral role model.” It is one of Quantock’s personal Ten Commandments.
“You know the old saying, ‘The higher you go on the flagpole, the more your back end’s exposed.’ It’s a true statement. That is why you have got to lead that ethical and moral life if you in fact get the honor of leading the sons and daughters of our American population around the world.”
Quantock takes his responsibility as a role model seriously. So seriously that his workouts have been known to serve as a platform for his own fatherly advice to recruits.
Quantock PT’s every single day. Religiously. He laces up his shoes, dons his gray ARMY T-shirt and black trunks, and hits the road. While he was a commander at Fort Leonard Wood, one of his favorite activities was to run with the kids going through basic training. He’d jump into the middle of formation and just talk to them. He’d ask them things like: Why did you come into the Army? What are your goals? How has the training been going? And then he would rotate, talking to 10 to 30 new soldiers at a time.
“I enjoyed hearing why they came into the Army,” he says. “And it was good for them to see that, hey, a 52-, 53-year-old guy can go out there and run.”
But the most important part came later when, as his father had done 25-plus years earlier, he reminded them of their duty as soldiers.
“After I get done running with those young troopers,” he says. “I’d explain to them about the profession. ‘This is an organization. It’s not about you. It’s about serving the nation, serving the country. It’s about something bigger than you. It’s about being part of the nation’s history because you can’t talk about our country, our nation, without talking about its military and where it has gone. Whether it’s Korea, WWI, WWII, Spanish American, Civil War, without understanding that all of that … a thread that ties all of that together is military service, and you are a part of that.’”