Josh Gavulic was a master at finding solutions.
Like the time he needed gas money while attending Derby (Kan.) High School in the 1990s.
“He just walked into class with a gas can, gave his spiel about needing gas money and got the money,” former classmate Jenny Ammerman said Tuesday. “He could improv in any situation.”
Gavulic followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Air Force shortly after high school. He became a decorated special tactics airman who survived 10 deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Master Sgt. Gavulic was killed Friday while taking part in a parachute training exercise in Eloy, Ariz. The cause of the accident is still under investigation, an Air Force spokesman said.
“I’m still in disbelief,” said Colin Miller, another Derby High classmate. “Josh was a unique soul. He could always make the best out of a bad situation.”
Gavulic, 34, leaves behind his wife, Alyssa, and six children. The youngest child is 16 months, Ammerman said.
During his 16 years in the Air Force, he earned three Bronze Stars, two Joint Service Commendation medals with valor, two Air Force Commendation medals and an Army Commendation medal.
Gavulic served with the Air Force’s 17th Special Tactics Squadron at Fort Benning, Ga. The unit was attached to the Army Rangers.
“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, who was rated a jump master and helped plan joint operations, was killed during a free fall, according to the Air Force.
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 close friends with Miller and Brett Ammerman.
“He had a sense of humor, a little crazy,” said Jenny Ammerman, Brett’s wife.
Gavulic’s parents moved to Alaska shortly after Gavulic graduated from Derby High in 1997. He later joined them there for a few months before returning to the Wichita area to work as a waiter at some restaurants.
“He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do,” Jenny Ammerman said. “Joining the military was the best thing to happen to him. When he first joined, he was excited because he got paid to blow up things. He thought it was the best job.”
The Derby High friends stayed in touch over the years.
Miller and the Ammermans attended his wedding at Fort Hood in Texas in 2002. Gavulic regularly made visits to Derby to see his friends and sometimes brought his family.
Gavulic was known in high school for doing “a lot of strange and unusual things,” Miller said. “At the same time, he was admired and well-liked.”
As Gavulic matured over the years, he became a man “you wanted to raise your kids to be like,” Jenny Ammerman said. “He was a great guy, a great husband and dad.”
Parachuting fit his personality, friends said.
“He definitely wanted to be the guy out on the front line,” Miller said. “He certainly went out doing something he loved to do.”