Chad and wife Pam were raising a full house: 2 year old Gavin, Amber, age 5 and Alanna, 8 years old. When Chad came back from Bosnia in 2001, he landed a job at Lee Hardware in Waycross and moonlighted at Papa John's Pizza. "We trained Chad on the job," owners Billy and Kim Turbeville note, "then he of course turned and trained us."
Chad not only kept up with his National Guard obligations, he excelled at them. In 2004 the 48th Combat Brigade named Sgt. Mercer "NonCommissioned Officer of the Year." Likely this came as no surprise to childhood pal Casey, who'd joined the Geogia National Guard along with Chad before graduating Ware County High in '98. Long summer days playing GI Joe in the woods and later days sharpening competitive shooting skills pretty well charted their course to the Guard and to scholarships at Georgia Military College.
"He was a great cadet," according to Col. Pat Beer, Commandant, recalling that Chad's top 20% ranking put him in the Chain of Command. "He always had a very can do attitude. He had the biggest smile you could possibly believe," the colonel reflects, "always very friendly."
It's just such qualites that Moni Basu, an Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter embedded with the 48th, considers the special assets that National Guard units bring to the conflict in Iraq. "There's a lot of interaction between American soldiers and Iraqi civilians and the National Guard guys are great at that because in their civilian lives in Georgia . . .they're used to dealing with civilian problems." She also believes they bring a greater maturity level than professional soldiers who often are right out of high school at 19, 20 years old.
Though Chad was only 25 when he was killed in a vehicle rollover in Baghdad, June 30, 2005, he seems clearly to have been mature beyond his years. "He was a good man," childhood pal Casey Caswell, now a Waycross police officer, comments. "He stood up for what he believed."
"It is so awesome to talk with your children," writes Chad's sister-in-law, Carol Cole, "and hear them tell me 'my daddy died so I can be free.' Who knows if they really understand because they are so young but they truly beleive it.
"Took your son to town last week, offered to buy him a toy but he wanted a flag for his daddy. The girls always look for things to put at your resting place. I know you are keeping watch over your family and we all miss you very much. . .Our family and friends will never be able to thank you and other fallen heroes for ALL that you have given us.
"We will keep your memories forever."
[ The Atlanta Journal Constitution followed the Georgia National Guard's 48th Combat Brigade Team throughout its deployement in 2005-2006. Their archives are readily accessible. Their tribute page, "Remembering the Fallen of the 48th" is particularly moving for capturing the loving soft voices of that region. Some graphics have been eroded with time: each of the nine boxes in a double row array at mid-page activates an additional sound clilp.
A further resource for the work of the 48th in Iraq is found at the brigade's unit page.