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Funeral Plans Announced for Valrico Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

A funeral Mass will be held Oct. 15 at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico.

It's something Richard Lechowich prayed he'd never have to do but realized was a possibility when his son, 1st Lt. Ivan Lechowich, signed up for the Army in July 2009.

"It's a tough thing to be burying a child," said Richard Lechowich. "It all seems very surreal right now, but reality is starting to sink in."

Ivan Lechowich, 27, at 7:15 a.m. Sept. 28 when a truck he riding in was struck by an improvised explosive device during a route clearance operation.

Two other soldiers were killed as well, and a fourth was severely wounded.

They were assigned to the 5th Engineer Battalion, 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Fort Leonard Wood, MO.

A Mass of the Christian Burial will be celebrated Saturday, Oct. 15, at noon  at , 5049 Bell Shoals Road, Valrico. Burial with military honors will follow at Serenity Meadows Memorial Park, Riverview.

The family will receive friends at St. Stephen Catholic Church on Friday, Oct. 14, from 2-4 p.m. and from 7:30-9 p.m. A wake service will be held at 8:30 p.m.

Lechowiches are No Strangers to Danger

Richard Lechowich is no stranger to the dangers of war. Now a civilian working at Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, he spent 22 years in the Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

While in the Army, Richard Lechowich served as the Middle East foreign area officer and moved his wife and two children to Saudi Arabia in 1995, where they survived an attack on a military office building that killed five Americans.

The next year, in March 1996, while the Lechowiches were on a plane headed for a vacation, the plane was hijacked to Libya. The passengers were released two days later.

Then, in June 1996, terrorists attacked the U.S. military complex at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 Americans and wounding hundreds more. Ninety-six families, including the Lechowiches, were evacuated.

Despite his upbringing in a military family, Ivan Lechowich never expressed a desire to join the military, said his father. Instead, he graduated from the International Baccalaureate program at King High School in 2002 and went on to the University of Florida where he majored in history.

"He wanted to be a lawyer," said his father. "He actually went to law school for a semester but decided he didn't like it. He thought awhile about what he wanted to do and decided to join the Army.

"He was very focused when he set his mind to something," Richard Lechowich said. "He immediately dropped 40 pounds and became a combat engineer in the Army."

He entered the United States Army in July 2009 and was commissioned an engineer officer through Delta Company, Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga., in January 2010. In December 2010, he was assigned to the 5th Engineer Battalion, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

But Lechowich wasn't satisfied with being simply a combat engineer. He was selected to enter the specialized Sapper school for combat engineers.

He also attended the Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Leonard Wood before being assigned to the 554th Engineer Battalion Sapper Leader Course there as company executive officer for the Sapper Leader Course.

"They recently had a program on the Sapper school on the History Channel," said Richard Lechowich. "It's incredible physically and mentally demanding."

After a short time on the battalion staff, he was assigned to the 515th Sapper Company as a platoon leader and deployed to Afghanistan in April.

Those Left Behind

When the family flew to Dover Air Force last week to retrieve their son's body, Richard Lechowich said he had a chance to meet the families of the other men who were killed along with his son.

"They were telling me that he was a natural leader; his men love him," Lechowich said. "I couldn't be prouder of anyone. In his brief time in the Army, he did exceptionally well."

His military awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Combat Action Badge and the Sapper Tab.

"He also received the German Armed Forces Competency Medal, which is very tough to get," said Richard Lechowich.

Lechowich became a first-time father just a week before his death. Natalie Marie Lechowich was born a week early and the first lieutenant was able to see his newborn daughter via Skype from Afghanistan.

"If she'd been born on time, she would have been born after her father died and he never would have seen her," said the Rev. William Swengros of in Valrico, where the Lechowiches attended church. "It's so beautiful and very sad."

"His wife, Jen, has been staying with us and it was one of those situations where she went into labor and had the baby a couple of hours later," said Richard Lechowich. "We set up the Skype account right away and Ivan got to talk to Jen and see the baby at least once a day until his death."

Ivan Lechowich was due to come home Oct. 30, in time for his sister, Erika's wedding Nov. 5. Erika Lechowich has now postponed her wedding plans until February.

Debra LeCompte October 09, 2011 at 03:42 AM
To the family, I have no words adequate to address your loss. We will always be grateful for the service of your family, and this ultimate sacrifice. I wrote a poem for another Soldier who was not present when his daughter was born. Perhaps if you tell them to your son's child when she is old enough she might find some comfort in them. Please know we are a thankful nation.
Debra LeCompte October 09, 2011 at 03:43 AM
I Came Home to My Daughter There she lay, so warm, pink, soft, and sweet. When first we finally did meet. I saw so much of her mother there in her eyes, The stamp of my own features on her countenance threatened to make me cry. Wonder at the first sight of my darling daughter, Swept my soul, and I knew my life she would forever alter. Feelings too tender for the battlefield, In that moment caused all my vigilance briefly to yield. Then I realized more clearly than ever before, I was called to war because of an evil good people everywhere deplore. My newborn child and all the children of the world, Need those of us in service, the flag of liberty to unfurl. In my daughter’s face I saw the hope of our world and our nation, Waiting for her contributions, which true peace will hasten. I knew that in a land far away, where long I had stood the wall, Children were seeing first hand our intent in the service of us all. As they watch, I know they too will learn, Their own hearts for peace and liberty will come to yearn. In this the power of the enemy will disappear, The truth of all our brotherhood will finally do away with all fear. So though my heart longs to stay, I will again return to the war zone in just a few short days. In my mind, images of her gentle beauty, Will give me strength and bring complete commitment to my sacred duty.
Janie.Klir October 09, 2011 at 10:59 AM
When i was reading this i just knew i had seen this soldier before and the name it sounded so familiar but i couldnt remember where i had seen him until i was reading the article and i read about his little girl being born and then it hit me this is where i remember this young man from I was reading the article not to long ago about the baby being born and how he had gotten to see her via skype and i left a comment saying how happy i was for him. This news saddens my heart so much and I am so very sorry for your loss. I am praying for you all and please accept my deepest sympathy.

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