A sword of excellence

Col. Pete Sercer will be immortalized at Irmo High School this fall, when the JROTC building is named in his honor.

But those who worked with Sercer during his 22 years at Irmo don’t need to see his name on a building to remember him.

“I always consider it a privilege to be around Col. Sercer because he is one of the few people I have ever met who has achieved what I would refer to as greatness in his lifetime,” principal Eddie Walker said.

Sercer took over the JROTC program at Irmo in 1984, after serving in the same capacity at the University of South Carolina a few years earlier. He was the second leader for the program, which began at Irmo in 1972. He retired last year.

The Lexington-Richland 5 school board voted earlier this month to name the ROTC building after Sercer.

He left quite a legacy.

“Anytime you go into a job, you want to try to improve the program,” Sercer said.

He definitely did that.

Under Sercer’s leadership, the Irmo JROTC won the Air Force Association Sword of Excellence three times, the equivalent of being named the best JROTC in South Carolina. The unit was consistently rated as one of the top in the state and nation during the past two decades.

“He is the epitome of our core value at Irmo High School, ‘In ourselves our future lies,’ ” Walker said. “He is a walking billboard for the ROTC core values of ‘integrity first, service above self and excellence in all you do.’ ”

Stepping into Sercer’s shoes was a bit intimidating, says Col. Jay Seward, who succeeded Sercer at Irmo this year.

“Col. Pete Sercer is almost an icon in the world of Air Force Junior ROTC,” Seward said. “He established the model of what a Junior ROTC ought to be as a crucible for citizenship development and leadership training.”

Perhaps Sercer’s most visible gift to Irmo High is the Celebrate Freedom Gardens and Courtyard, whose creation he spearheaded. One of the biggest gardens is dedicated in memory of Capt. Dan McCollum, one of Sercer’s former cadets at Irmo and the first from South Carolina to die in the war on terrorism.

“That makes you realize how fragile life is,” Sercer said.

Sercer’s impact at Irmo High wasn’t confined to the JRTOC program. He was a longtime adviser for the Interact Club and was director for the Miss Yellow Jacket Pageant. He repeatedly managed the United Way campaign for Irmo High.

When Sercer came to Irmo, he had no idea he would be there 22 years.

“After the first couple of years, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I felt like I was making an impact, helping people reach their full potential.”

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham was an ROTC cadet under Sercer at USC and credits Sercer for helping him through the death of his parents, putting him in a position to raise his teen-age sister, go to law school and find a fulfilling military career when he was turned down as a pilot.

“He’s one of the most decent, hard-working people I’ve ever met.... (He) has a gift for motivating young people and inspiring them to bring out the best that the person has to offer,” Graham, R-S.C., said. “He certainly brought out the best in me. He had more confidence in me than I did.”


Age: 70

Family: Wife, Lesley; sons Pete Jr. (Irmo High School ’80), Paul (Irmo High School ’92)

College: Graduated from University of South Carolina in 1958; holds doctorate degree in education

Career: Air Force, 26 years, assignments including missile crew during Cold War and intelligence; served in Vietnam and earned the Bronze Star; USC ROTC leader 1973-77; deputy commander for intelligence with Ninth Air Force at Shaw Air Force Base; deputy base commander, Myrtle Beach Air Force Base; Irmo JROTC leader 1984-2006

Community service: Member and former president, St. Andrews Rotary Club, with 22 years’ perfect attendance; trustee for Midlands Technical College since 1989 (money he receives for that goes to $1,000 annual scholarship to Irmo High School JROTC cadet going to Midlands Tech); former president of S.C. Association of Technical College Commissioners; director and Southern region chairperson of the national Association of Community College Trustees

On Irmo High’s ROTC building being named after him: “It’s overwhelming and probably not deserving, but I really appreciate it.”

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