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Retired Army General and Bruin Engineer Takes Helm of Yorba Linda Water District

Maj. Gen. Toy

The United Nations Command
Before retiring from the U.S. Army in July, Maj. Gen. R. Mark Toy served as the chief of staff of the United Nations Command in South Korea.

Dec 15, 2022

UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Over his decorated 35-year career in the United States Army, Major General R. Mark Toy, M.S. ’96 has served the country in active combat zones and overseen its Corps of Engineers’ massive water resources before retiring from the Army July 1. When presented with the opportunity to return to his Southern California roots to help solve one of the state’s most pressing challenges, however, the two-star veteran could not say no.

A Bruin engineer with a master’s degree in environmental engineering, Toy served as the chief of staff of the United Nations Command in South Korea from August 2020 to April 2022 following his role as the commanding general of the Mississippi Valley Division from August 2019 to June 2020. The two posts mark the culmination of his decades long Army career that saw him move 20 times, including his deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

A fourth-generation Chinese American, Toy became the first Chinese American officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be selected as a one-star general and the first two-star major general of Chinese American descent in the Corps. He has earned numerous awards and decorations, including an Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Combat Action Badge and a Bronze Star.

Born in San Francisco and raised in Huntington Beach, California, Toy was on the gymnastics team at Marina High School when he was recruited in his senior year by the United States Military Academy at West Point upon receiving a congressional nomination. 

Maj. Gen. Toy
Toy now serves as general manager of the Yorba Linda Water District. Credit: The Yorba Linda Water District

“Once I learned more about West Point and the possibility of serving our nation, I knew I wanted to challenge myself at the highest level: academically, athletically and in leadership,” Toy said of his decision to attend the military school where he graduated in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science degree in operations research and a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “I didn’t think I would stay in the Army this long; I only owed five years after graduation, but I absolutely loved serving.”

In 2010, Toy’s work with the Army took him back to his home state for the first time since he graduated from UCLA in 1996. His first assignment was in Los Angeles where he served as commander of the Los Angeles District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For his second assignment in California in 2014, he moved to San Francisco to oversee some of the most prominent engineering operations in the western U.S. as the commanding general of the Corps’ South Pacific Division — covering all or parts of 10 states in the Southwest, stretching from the New Mexico/Texas state line to southern Oregon. Toy managed federal resources for the navigation of waterways, implemented strategies to protect ports against floods and helped restore natural ecosystems. 

As he rose through the ranks in the Army, Toy continued to pursue higher education, earning an MBA from Boston University prior to his advanced study at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering on a full ride scholarship from the Army. Inspired by his brother who is also an environmental engineer, Toy chose to pursue the field at UCLA both for its proximity to his family and its top-notch program.  

“My experience at UCLA was incredible. I made life-long friends and colleagues, some of whom I still maintain contact with today,” Toy said. The program helped prepare him to teach at West Point as an assistant professor in environmental engineering following his graduation. “Not surprisingly, some of the tests I administered at West Point looked a lot like the tests I took as a student at UCLA!”

With his extensive experience in water resource management and professional licensure in environmental engineering, Toy took on a new challenge in August as the general manager of the Yorba Linda Water District. Located south of Los Angeles, the public agency that serves the residents in the city of Yorba Linda as well as parts of Anaheim, Placentia, Brea and the unincorporated Orange County. 

“My experience at UCLA was incredible. I made life-long friends and colleagues, some of whom I still maintain contact with today,” R. Mark Toy said.

In his new role, Toy is charged with ensuring safe and reliable water and sewer services, upholding the district’s fiscal responsibility and its operational effectiveness, creating community partnerships and maintaining the district’s workforce engagement. 

As California continues its fight against extreme drought, ensuring water distribution to protect the environment while serving the district’s communities will be a major undertaking for Toy. But he is well prepared for the challenge with his myriad of leadership experiences and problem-solving engineering training.

Toy said his time with the Army taught him that the best way to deal with the environmental challenges of today’s world is through collaboration among academic institutions, businesses and all levels of government. For Toy, the foundation of his leadership style and philosophy centers on the idea of taking care of people and forming strong relationships — an advice he also would like to offer UCLA students.

“Even though you are going to school and trying to excel academically, you need to take the time to engage with people and develop relationships with your peers and faculty in the UCLA engineering program,” Toy said. “Positive relationships are the key to success when advancing into leadership roles in any career field.”

Riley de Jong contributed to this story. 

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