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Funeral Service Alum Jack Lechner Is New Superintendent at Arlington National Cemetery

8/6/14


As the new superintendent at Arlington National Cemetery, Jack E. Lechner Jr., CFSP, ‘76 (A.S., Funeral Service Prep/Certificate in Funeral Service) has a big job.  But his decades of education and military service have made him ideally suited for the challenge. 

Lechner’s role as superintendent is three-fold. “Our primary mission is to serve the grieving families of the veterans and their spouses, whom we honor and inter daily,” Lechner said, noting that the cemetery has 27-30 funerals each day, eight of them with full military honors.

Arlington National Cemetery is also a major tourist destination for over 3 million visitors each year.  “Keeping the cemetery safe, accessible, and relevant for visitors to honor, remember and explore is a seven-day-per-week endeavor,” Lecher says. 

Open every day year-round, the 624-acre cemetery situated in the rolling hills of Arlington, Va., includes 19 miles of roadways and 8,500 trees.  Maintenance is ongoing, with snow removal required in the winter and tree trimming, shrub pruning and lawn care carried out in the warmer weather.
 
“We must meet the standards for a national shrine where over 400,000 of our nation’s heroes lie in quiet repose,” Lechner observes.

Thirdly, Lechner points to the cemetery’s diplomatic mission of conducting national observances for Veterans Day and Memorial Day, and receiving visiting dignitaries from all over the world who come to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to pay their respects to American Military men and women.

Lechner started out in the funeral service field in the 1970s on a far smaller scale.  Originally from Burlington County, he came to Mercer County Community College in 1973 to study funeral service and graduated in 1976 as a member of the program’s very first class.
 
Having worked as a driver and pallbearer at a funeral home after high school, Lechner recalls being drawn to the funeral service field’s unique combination of social service, art, science and business.

As part of the MCCC program, Lechner completed internships at funeral homes in Pennsauken and Clementon.  Following graduation, and after passing the mortuary science licensing exam, he began his career at the Stephenson-Brown Funeral Home in Merchantville and then co-founded South Jersey Funeral Associates in 1980.

But Lechner was restless and seeking adventure.  He decided to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1983 as an infantryman and then attended Officer Candidate School.

During almost three decades of military service, Lechner has commanded soldiers in peacetime and in combat.  He served as a Logistics Officer and in the 75th Ranger Regiment, 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, on the Army Staff and the Joint Staff. 

Arlington National Cemetery Superintendent Jack Lechner, CFSP

The Sergeant of the Guard assists in the placement of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., June 16, 2014, commemorating the cemetery's150th anniversary. From left: Cemetery Superintendent Jack E. Lechner Jr.; Deputy Superintendent Renea C. Yates; and Sgt. Maj. Brenda Curfman, senior enlisted advisor, Army National Military Cemeteries. Photo by J.D. Leipold, U.S. Army.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, commanding general, U.S. Army
Military District of Washington, left, and Arlington National Cemetery
Superintendent Jack E. Lechner Jr., participate in an Armed Forces Full
Honors Wreath Ceremony at the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy in May 2014. Photo by Leroy Council, U.S. Army.

 

His last combat tour was a year in Iraq, where he was the Chief of Staff for the 316th Sustainment Command, a 20,000-soldier command responsible for logistical support for all U.S. Military forces fighting in Iraq, including arranging burial transport for fallen soldiers.

After returning to the United States, Col. Lechner worked with the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.  His final military assignment brought him right back around to his early roots when he accepted a position as the Executive Officer to the Superintendent at Arlington National Cemetery.

Following his retirement in 2011, Lechner decided to take the civilian post of Deputy Superintendent.  In May 2014, he was selected by the Secretary of the Army to become Arlington’s Superintendent.

Lechner says his lifelong pursuit of education, coupled with his military background, has made the job a perfect fit.  After graduating from Mercer, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Mortuary Science (Summa Cum Laude) from the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science, a Master of Science in Logistics Management from Florida Tech University, and a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy (Supply Chain Management) from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, Washington, DC. 

Lechner credits MCCC with giving him a great foundation. “Mercer provided me with the start I needed to become a licensed practitioner of mortuary science in the shortest time possible.  Because of that early start, I was able to mature in the profession and develop my passion for caring for families at their time of need,” he said.

He recalls two professors who nurtured his progress.  “Professor Robert Harris had the biggest impact on me.  He took an interest in our success and encouraged and assisted us whenever possible,” Lechner said.  He notes that late in the spring semester of his second year at MCCC, the prerequisites for the Funeral Service program changed, requiring that students take an accounting course before advancing into their third year.

“Dr. Harris tutored a group of us during his lunch hour, so that we could pass the accounting test and move into our third year on time,” Lechner said, adding that he credits Dr. Harris with some of the A’s he earned in graduate school “because of his personal investment in my accounting education.”

Lechner also recalls Frank X. Mulligan, a licensed funeral director who understood the need for a mortuary science program in New Jersey and was willing to step up and take charge of the MCCC program.  “He was a dedicated educator, even as he was working extremely hard to develop the first mortuary science program in the state.”

Lechner wants current students to know that it’s never too late to apply themselves and get the most out of their education, noting that he wishes he had been focused enough during his time at Mercer to absorb everything the college had to offer.  That realization did not come until he was older.

“Now I understand that learning is a lifetime activity.  I found that when I really applied myself there was so much more to be gained than just the short-term goal of a grade, a degree, or a license,” Lechner said.

In addition to his bachelor’s and masters’ degrees, Lechner graduated from Ranger School, Airborne School, Rigger School, and Command and General Staff College, and took many other Army courses, including one for Mortuary Affairs Officers.

He is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Ohio and Virginia, in addition to New Jersey.  He also has a life, accident and health insurance producers’ license and a real estate license. 

Lecher observes that his professional growth was the result of his education.  “As I continued to advance to positions of greater authority and responsibility, I came to realize that I depended on everything I had learned along the way and that each new area of expertise prepared me for the next step.”

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Glenn Kraft