David Quantock ’80 initially had no intention of making a career out of the military. After he was passed over for aviation due to colorblindness, he wanted something that would give him options when he got out. 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. 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.
In 2003 he was 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 did a site visit to Abu Ghraib prison, 20 miles west of Baghdad.
Built in the 1960s under Saddam Hussein, the facility had been a cesspool of inhumanity. Mass executions, rape, beatings, hangings, electric shock, castration, and mutilation were all routinely practiced at the site, which 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. 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 was already up. 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 in 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.
The tour put him face to face with countless soldiers risking their lives in service. “It was inspiring because of what I got to be a part of—so many great Americans out there doing their business, 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.”
In 2008, when Quantock 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 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.
The task was daunting. He and his soldiers had to find evidence and sift out the good from the bad. The detainees ranged 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.
In the meantime, they created educational programs, vocational training, and Islamic discussion groups for the detainees. They 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, and in January of 2010 they handed over control of all Iraqi prisons to the Iraqi government.
Upon his return to Fort Leonard Wood 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 for a lengthy list of pending court-martial cases for sexual assault.
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 overseeing policy and procedures of law enforcement in the Army, criminal investigations, and all Army jails.
“When you are in that position … it can get you down,” Quantock said. “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.”
In 2014, Lt. General Quantock culminated his distinguished career as The Inspector General, Office of the Secretary of the Army. He retired earlier this year, after 37 years of service to the nation. Representative Elise M. Stefanik (R-NY) honored Quantock, saying “he upheld the office’s longstanding legacy as a fair and impartial organization. In all of his diverse assignments, LTG Quantock’s dedication, integrity, and leadership had an immeasurable impact on the Army and our nation’s allies.”
Adapted from an article by Lori Duff in the May 2012 Norwich Record.