When a soldier is killed in Afghanistan, the focus is often on how he died. But the family of First Lieutenant Ivan Lechowich, 27, of Valrico, Florida wants us to remember how their son lived.
They invited the media to their home Tuesday to share his story. It’s not common for a family to invite the media into their lives, especially after the death of a loved one in the military. But the Lechowich family said they’ve been overwhelmed with the thoughtfulness of others about their son…and in telling his story, they were hoping to give something back.
They said Ivan Lechowich loved the military because it combined the physical and the intellectual. And so did Lechowich. He loved lifting weights and reading, especially history and Hunter S. Thompson. In fact, one of his dogs is named Hunter after the author.
Lechowich was a huge Gator fan who enjoyed a good bourbon – Makers Mark was his favorite.
He almost didn’t join the Army…despite his family history of military service. His father, Rick, spent 22 years in the Army and now works as a civilian at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base.
“The phrase we have is, ‘There are barbarians at the gates,’ so you’ve got to keep the barbarians outside and he choose that, he volunteered to be one of those people,” Rick Lechowich said.
“Everybody knows there’s a risk and you hope you don’t have to pay it. I went 22 years without a scratch. He went 2 years and 11 months and paid it.”
Ivan and his family were once aboard a plane that was hijacked to Libya. The family also lived in Germany when the Chernobyl disaster happened in nearby Belarus.
His mother Gina says he learned to deal with anything growing up in the military.
“Whatever had to be done, he got it done but he did it with good humor and good grace,” she said.
Ivan was clever, funny…a real prankster, according to his sister Erika.
“He had an amazing outgoing personality, incredibly funny, fun to be around. Life of the party, liked to pull pranks make people laugh. One of his favorite things to do was to moon people, including mom,” she said.
He met his wife, Jen, while she was in graduate school at the University of South Florida. They both were earning extra money one summer delivering pizzas for Papa John’s.
Ivan got his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Florida, tried law school and a few other things but joined the Army at age 25. He entered officer candidate’s school not through college ROTC, but the hard way, and rose to first lieutenant in less than a year.
Afghanistan was his first deployment in April this year. He was sent to Ghazni Province, where the Taliban are in control of much of the countryside.
He was a Sapper – a combat engineer who works under fire, dismantling IEDs, improvised explosive devices.
His dad says he worked hard to get this dangerous job, failing the first time before finally getting his “Sapper tab.”
He became a Sapper platoon leader in Afghanistan. His team was on its way back from a mission where they had disarmed some IEDs when their mine resistant vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. Ivan, his gunner and driver were all killed.
Lechowich almost missed seeing his newborn daughter and would have had she not been born 10 days early, according to Gina Lechowich.
They were able to set up a Skype connection, so he had a chance to see his newborn daughter from 8,000 miles away.
His wife Jen and he picked out her name Natalie Marie. Ivan was killed five days later.
Gina Lechowich said her daughter in law is staying strong.
“When we consider that she has a five-day-old infant and is now a widow…” she said.
“They were married last November 20th at St. Stephens,” Gina said. “So, 10 months later we’re going to be back in the same church.”
That’s where the memorial service for Ivan will be held.
On Thursday (Oct. 13, 2011), residents of the Tampa Bay community can pay their respects to 1st Lt. Ivan Lechowich and his family. An honor flight will bring Lt. Lechowich home to MacDill Air Florida Base at 9:05 a.m. and the escort will begin at around 9:45-10:00 a.m.
People can line the escort route:
– Leave MacDill AFB Bayshore Gate
– North on Bayshore Boulevard
– North on S. Magnolia Ave.
– East on Platt St.
– North on Plant St.
– East on Kennedy Blvd.
– South on Ashley St.
– East on Jackson St.
– North on N. Jefferson St.
– East on Twiggs St.
– North on Channelside Dr.
– East on S.R. 60
– South on Kings Ave.
– West on Lumsden Rd.
– South on Providence Rd.
– Arrive at Serenity Meadows Memorial Park in Riverview, FL
Filed under: Deployment, Military families, U.S. Army | Tagged: Afghanistan, Army 1st Lt. Ivan Lechowich, Ghazni Province, Hunter S. Thompson, Improvised Explosive Device, MacDill Air Force Base, postaday2011, SAPPER combat engineers, Valrico Florida |