It was fitting that the promotion ceremony for newly promoted Brig. Gen. Mark C. Quander took place on Feb. 14, 2020, halfway through Black History Month. Quander’s promotion added not only to the Quander family history, it also added to American and African American history.
Quander, the commandant of the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, comes from a long line of West Point Cadets and general officers, but the roots of his family trace back in America to 1684. The Quander family is believed to be the oldest documented African American family to have come from African ancestry to present day America. The extended Quander family is the only African American family to produce four general officers in the U.S. military. The other three general officers who encompass this history were also in attendance at the promotion ceremony: Gen. (ret.) Vincent K. Brooks, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Leo A. Brooks, Sr., and Brig. Gen. (ret.) Leo A. Brooks, Jr. The Brooks family remains the only African American family to have three generals from the same immediate family, and is connected to the Quander family tree in several ways, with the primary link being through Naomi Lewis Brooks, the mother to Leo Jr. and Vincent Brooks.
The promotion ceremony took place at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia, and was hosted by Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, the 54th Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition to the multitude of “stars” represented by the ranks of active and retired guests at the ceremony, “stars” was also the theme of Semonite’s remarks. He said that although it’s not reflected in Army lore, it is his personal belief that the “star” was chosen to represent general officers because its five-points signify five characteristic inherent in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers leaders.
Semonite said in Biblical times “the star was the bright and shining light people followed. It gave them direction. It gave them meaning. It gave them clarity. It gave them guidance on what to do. So I think the star is extremely fitting,” he said. “In my mind there are five points on a star and when it comes to engineers I find those five points are for very specific areas that we look for in general officers. Those five points are: A proven tactical leader, a professional engineer, a visionary strategic leader, a combat war fighter, and a patriot.”
Quander’s biography shows his experience across all “points of the star.” His background includes stints as a tactical and strategic leader and an engineer. He also has three combat deployments to date: Enduring Freedom in 2002 and again in 2011; Iraqi Freedom in 2007; and a humanitarian deployment in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Regarding Quander and his family, it’s easy to measure the star’s final point – being a patriot – according to Semonite.
“This extended family comes from a long line of patriots. They possess a commitment to duty and a love of country that is more important to them than life itself,” Semonite said. “It is no wonder that for nearly 26 years Mark has taken on some of the toughest jobs and made a positive difference in the lives of those that are most vulnerable.”
In his speech after the promotion, Quander reflected on those who went before him, and those who have been on his family’s journey up to that point.
“[I am] a product of my many influences – mostly my faith, my family, and my friends with the latter two really only being differentiated by relation,” Quander said. “My faith, which is strong and important for me, has given me strength and perseverance to endure the tough times but also grounded in the good ones. My family – both immediate and extended – have allowed me to serve my country in ways that have made this a possible.”
Quander also reflected on being married for 20 years to Melonie Quander, a retired lieutenant colonel and Army nurse, and how they’ve moved 14 times during their joint military careers. He said their “miracle baby,” daughter Grace, has been with them on the journey, moving around the world following both her mom and dad each time they were called to serve in another location. Quander said he is fond of saying it takes a village to raise a child. He said his village has defied geography and is without precondition. It includes his mom and dad, Melonie, his mother-in-law, a best friend who served as surrogate parents for his family when they needed help, and his West Point classmates who he has been fortunate to service alongside for almost 25 years. Finally, he thanked Grace, whom Quander says is his greatest achievement.
“My uncle Frankie asked me yesterday, ‘What you most proud of?’ and I told him I am most proud of being a dad. Grace you’ve endured a lot. You are pretty resilient and you keep me grounded. At every level you challenge me. Thanks for everything you do.
“Today is pretty special as I accept and wear the family heirloom of a brigadier general. I promise to carry the legacy and wear them well,” Quander said.
“In times of darkness and uncertainty the stars were seen as a symbol of guidance and clarity. Semonite said during his speech. “Stars in the sky give us hope and reassurance that the path ahead can point the way to success. You are that star now, Mark. Someday there will be brand-new second lieutenants and brand-new sergeants who can look at you and the rest your family knowing that you have set the conditions for success. Through the toughest times and through complex challenges may you continue to be able to provide direction and illuminate the way.”