Former VMI ROTC Instructor Killed in Afghanistan

UPDATE (April 19, 2008) – Services for 1st Sgt. Mercardante have been scheduled near Athens, Ga. Visitation is set for Monday, April 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Lord & Stephens Funeral Home, (706) 549-3342, 1211 Jimmy Daniel Road, Bogart, Ga. A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, April 22, at Mars Hill Baptist Church, (706) 548-6962 2661 Mars Hill Road, Watkinsville, Ga. Read additional information from the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald.

LEXINGTON, Va., April 18, 2008 – Marine 1st Sgt. Luke Mercardante, who served on the staff of the VMI Naval ROTC unit from 2002 to 2005, was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 15, according to a Department of Defense news release.

1st Sgt. Luke Mercardante, right, congratulates 2nd Lt. William E. Harley upon his commissioning last May
as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.
(VMI photo by Kevin Remington)  

Mercardante, 35, was acting sergeant major for Combat Logistics Battalion 24 of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit when he died. While at VMI, Mercardante was an assistant Marine officer instructor, or MOI, and helped train cadets preparing to be commissioned as officers in the Marine Corps.

“As an assistant MOI, First Sergeant Mercardante was a superb Marine and a tremendous role model for all of us,” said Col. William Grace, commanding officer of the VMI Naval ROTC unit. “He loved being a Marine and helping develop our next generation of leaders. He was totally devoted to our cadets while at VMI and to his Marines while leading them in our nation’s effort in War on Terror. He will be missed.”

Mercardante’s impact on training cadets was so appreciated by the VMI Class of 2007 that the class selected him as an Honorary Brother Rat. The first year cadets attend VMI they are known as Rats, and the shared experience of that demanding time forges bonds among them that last a lifetime. Members of the class call one another “Brother Rat,” and the selection of a faculty or staff member to join that brotherhood is the highest honor a class can bestow.

Jamaal Walton, president of the Class of 2007, said the class member extend their condolences to the Mercardante family.

“First Sergeant Mercardante was chosen as an Honorary Brother Rat for our class because he was man of honor, integrity, and always went above the expectations of his duty,” Walton said. “He always lent a helping hand to others and made a positive impact to those who got to know him. Brother Rat Mercardante was truly a great Marine, a great friend, and most of all a great father.”

Sally Coffman Arciero, the class agent for the Class of 2007, said the class was the first that Mercardante saw matriculate and that “he grew into VMI along with us.”

Though his primary duties put him into close contact with those cadets involved in Naval ROTC, he made a special effort to meet all members of the class, she said.

“I saw him making an effort to talk with and get to know all of us,” Arciero said. “It was a much appreciated effort.... I found him to be an intense man, and he supported that which he believed in with his entire being. He was an honorable man, a good leader, and a proud Brother Rat.”

In responding to his selection for the honor with a letter that was published in the Bomb, the VMI yearbook, Mercardante said, “Your class and this great institution has also played a significant role in my life and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be associated with such a prestigious, honorable, and respectable organization. From the day you matriculated ... I developed a sense of respect and admiration for each of you and those who wear the VMI uniform.”

He said he was impressed as the members of the class developed over their cadetships.

“Keeping with the spirit of the Brother Rat,” he said, “I will represent you and your class at all times in the most professional and respectable manner, be an ambassador for VMI, be an individual that any of you can call upon at any time, and wear your class ring with great pride.... This is one of the greatest honors of my life after being able to call myself a Christian, a father, and a United States Marine.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Read an account in the Athens (Gs.) Banner-Herald.