Camp Hansen honors life, service of ‘proud’ Marine
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — When Capt. Robert M. Secher was killed Oct. 8, 2006, in Iraq, he was where he wanted to be and doing what he loved, say those who knew him.
After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, "the only thing he ever wanted was to get into some kind of action," Dr. H. Pierre Secher said of his son, an artillery officer with 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
The regiment honored Secher’s life and service by renaming the 12th Marines’ Fire Support Training Facility on Camp Hansen as Secher Hall in a ceremony Friday where family and Marines spoke of his dedication to the Corps and country.
Secher deployed to Iraq on Jan. 25, 2006, as part of Military Training Team 11. The 11- to 19-member team was comprised mostly of III Marine Expeditionary Forces officers attached to I Marine Expeditionary Force for a deployment to Hit, Iraq, between Ramadi and Al Asad in Anbar province.
Secher and the other Marines were to train Iraqi infantry battalions to conduct independent operations, according to Capt. Jared Laurin, one of the officers who served with Secher in Iraq.
The enlisted members of the team looked up to Secher, Chief Petty Officer Matthew Leonard said at the renaming ceremony Friday.
"We followed him because he was that leader," the one who went the extra mile, Leonard said.
One incident sticks in his mind about Secher.
Leonard said it was the "end of a long day and frustrations of dealing with the Iraqis" when he was directed to go on a patrol into the city to care for a young Iraqi girl who had been injured in a household accident. Secher immediately started getting ready to go, too, telling him, ‘I can’t let you go by yourself,’ " Leonard said.
It wasn’t the only time Secher went above and beyond for the team.
There was a particularly bad September day in which a nearby U.S. unit had been involved in sustained combat and several of its leaders were injured, Leonard said.
He and others were preparing to provide additional support. Secher was asked at the last minute to come along for his expertise as an artillery officer and his prior experience as an enlisted machine gunner.
After eight hours of intense combat, Leonard said, "I joked and said, ‘Bet you’re sorry I came and got you.’ "
Secher told him, "No, there is no place I would rather be than where I am right now," Leonard recalled.
A fateful day
Capt. Laurin recalled the day Secher was killed. Most of the training team had convoyed to Al Asad to have their Humvees up-armored, he said.
Secher and another officer remained in Hit to lead an Iraqi patrol. During the patrol, Secher was shot in the head and evacuated to a nearby hospital, Laurin said in an interview. He remembers that the team detoured to the hospital on the return to Hit to see Secher for what would be the last time.
"We got to hold his hand as he passed away," Laurin said.
By Oct. 8, 2006, Secher had participated in more than 200 convoys and 50 mounted and dismounted combat patrols in the heart of the Sunni insurgency, according to a Marine biography.
He was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat V device for valor for actions during his deployment.
"He was a good son," said his mother, Elke Morris, who attended the renaming ceremony on Okinawa. He’d wanted to serve in the military from a very young age, she added.
Secher enlisted in the Marine Corps as a machine gunner in 1990 when he was 17.
"I never saw him more proud than when he was in dress uniform at Parris Island," said Morris.
She added, "There was nothing he desired more than to be in charge of a few good Marines."
In 1998, after completing a bachelor’s degree in political science, Secher became an artillery officer. With the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, he was one part of the first wave into Afghanistan in 2001, said his father. After that deployment, his son told him Iraq was next.
"Robert wanted to do this all his life," Pierre Secher said. "When he fell, after you got over the pain of his death, you knew that’s the way he wanted to die."
Secher’s death has made a lasting impression on those who knew him.
"Since Oct. 8, 2006, there has not been a day since that I haven’t thought of him," Leonard said.
Laurin, who "immediately looked up to him" when he met Secher in 2005, said he "will always miss the days [in Hit] when we would sit and smoke cigars and talk about home."
Lt. Col. Victor Bunch said Secher represented the best of the combat advisers who served in Iraq in 2006.
"I was most certainly not the better man, but I am a better Marine for having served with him." Bunch said.
Secher also had an effect on the lives of people who knew him for only a short time, said his father.
Pierre Secher recalled receiving a bouquet of roses in October 2007 that was accompanied by a note that read, "Exactly one year ago your son saved my life."
The note was from Cpl. Ryan Gary who visited the Secher family in January. Gary had known Secher for five days in Iraq. But he said it was the training Secher provided during those five days that kept him alive when he was in a vehicle hit by roadside bomb, Pierre Secher said.
The building now named for her late son has additional meaning for Morris.
"He was just one of the 4,000 who did their duty and made the ultimate sacrifice," she said. "I am proud that it has Robert’s name, but I do see it as also representative of the others who have died … that they not be forgotten."