- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Former Wichita-area classmates say they will long remember an Air Force master sergeant killed in a recent training exercise in Arizona.

Air ForceMaster Sgt. Josh Gavulic, a 1997 Derby High School graduate, was killed Feb. 21 while taking part in a parachute training exercise in Eloy, Ariz. Gavulic, who was rated a jump master and helped plan joint operations, was killed during a free fall, according to the Air Force. The Air Force has said the cause of the accident is still under investigation, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1jDRL5Z ).

Gavulic served with the Air Force’s 17th Special Tactics Squadron at Fort Benning, Ga. The unit was attached to the Army Rangers.

“I’m still in disbelief,” said Colin Miller, a Derby High classmate. “Josh was a unique soul.”

Gavulic, 34, leaves behind his wife, Alyssa, and six children. The youngest child is 16 months old, said another former classmate, Jenny Ammerman.

Gavulic joined the Air Force shortly after high school and became a decorated special tactics airman who survived 10 deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. In 16 years in the Air Force, Gavulic earned three Bronze Stars, two Joint Service Commendation medals with valor, two Air Force Commendation medals and an Army Commendation medal.

“Joshua was a tender warrior - fierce on the battlefield, a consummate professional whose commitment to his team was only surpassed by his love and commitment to his wife and their wonderful children,” 17th Commander John Traxler said in a statement.

Gavulic moved to Derby at the start of his high school years because his father was transferred to McConnell Air Force Base. He was a drummer in Derby’s marching band, where he became friends with Miller and Brett Ammerman.

“He had a sense of humor, a little crazy,” said Jenny Ammerman, Brett’s wife.

The Derby High friends stayed in touch over the years, and Miller and the Ammermans attended Gavulic’s wedding at Fort Hood in Texas in 2002. Gavulic also visited Derby regularly to see his friends and sometimes brought his family.

His friends said that parachuting fit his personality.

“He definitely wanted to be the guy out on the front line,” Miller said. “He certainly went out doing something he loved to do.”

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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