Remembering First Lieutenant Ivan Lechowich

First Lieutenant Ivan Lechowich and his wife, Jen.
VALRICO (2011-10-11) -

When a soldier is killed in Afghanistan, the focus is often on how he died. But the family of First Lieutenant Ivan Lechowich of Valrico wants us to remember how their son lived.

They invited the media to their home Tuesday to share his story.

They say Lechowich loved the military because it combined the physical and the intellectual.

And so did Lechowich. He loved lifting weights and reading about history. He 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 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.

Ivan got his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Florida, tried law school and a few other things but settled on joining the Army at age 25.

He met his wife, Jen, while she was in grad school at the University of South Florida while both were earning extra money, delivering pizza at Papa John’s.

He eventually joined the army. He entered officer candidate’s school not through college ROTC, but the hard way, and rose to first lieutenant in less than a year.

April of this year Afghanistan was his first deployment, where 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.

His dad says he worked hard to get this dangerous job, failing the first time before finally getting his “Sapper tab.”

He became a platoon leader. His team was on his 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, where he had one 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 says 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. So 10 months later we’re going to be back in the same church,” she said.

That’s where the memorial service for Ivan will be held.

It’s not common for a family to invite the media into their lives, so soon after the death of a loved one in the military. But they say they’ve been overwhelmed with the thoughtfulness of others about their son…and in telling his story, they were hoping to give something back.

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