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Valrico soldier killed in Afghanistan grew up with the military

Erika Lechowich talks about her brother, Army 1st Lt. Ivan Lechowich, Tuesday in Valrico. 
Ivan Lechowich was killed last month by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. 
His remains will be escorted from MacDill Air Force Base to Riverview on Thursday.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Erika Lechowich talks about her brother, Army 1st Lt. Ivan Lechowich, Tuesday in Valrico. Ivan Lechowich was killed last month by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. His remains will be escorted from MacDill Air Force Base to Riverview on Thursday.

VALRICO — Ivan Lechowich understood the military long before he joined it.

The son of a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, he and his family lived on bases from California to Germany. He devoured books on military history. He relished pushing his body to its physical limits.

So at 25, when he made up his mind to join the Army, Lechowich was ready.

"He chose his career freely," said his father, Rick Lechowich, who is retired from the military and once taught history at West Point. "He chose this risk freely."

Lechowich, 27, a lieutenant serving in Afghanistan, was killed Sept. 28 by an improvised explosive device. Family members say the Army told them Lechowich and his team had just diffused several roadside bombs.

"They were doing the hardest thing, in the hardest place," said his father.

Lechowich was married 10 months ago. His wife, Jen, gave birth to their first child, Natalie Marie, on Sept. 23 — 10 days early — and just early enough for her father to see her on Skype.

His parents, Rick and Gina, and sister, Erika, met with reporters outside their home on a tree-lined street in Valrico to talk about Ivan, a 2002 graduate of King High School who went on to study history at University of Florida. Near them in the driveway was the couple's Prius, which has an "I'm the Proud Parent of a Soldier" sticker.

"Ivan's a good man. Ivan's going to be in heaven," said his mother. "We thought we'd have him longer."

The public can pay its respects Thursday. His remains will be escorted from MacDill Air Force Base to Serenity Meadows Memorial Park and Funeral Home in Riverview. The escort will begin around 9:45 a.m.

Lechowich has been awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and National Defense Service Medal, among others.

He and Jen were married in November at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico. Not quite a year later, the family will be back at that church, for his funeral Saturday.

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

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Pay tribute

The public is invited to pay tribute to 1st Lt. Ivan Lechowich along the procession, which heads north on Bayshore Boulevard from the base and east on State Road 60 to the Riverview funeral home. Visitation on Thursday will be private. Public visitation will be 2 to 4 and 7:30 to 9 p.m. Friday at St. Stephen Catholic Church, 5049 Bell Shoals Road. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at noon Saturday at St. Stephen Catholic Church with Father William Swengros officiating. Burial with military honors will follow Mass at Serenity Meadows Memorial Park.

Valrico soldier killed in Afghanistan grew up with the military 10/11/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 12:36am]

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