Hundreds remember airman who died in parachute accident

benw@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 28, 2014 

Dressed in Air Force blue and Army green, hundreds of men and women filled the Main Post Chapel Friday to remember Master Sgt. Joshua M. Gavulic, who died a week ago in a parachute training accident in Eloy, Ariz.

---- Gavulic, a 34-year-old husband and father of six children, was remembered as a tender warrior who would do any task placed before him. A 16-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Gavulic was a tactical air control party member assigned to the 17th Special Tactics Squadron at Fort Benning supporting the 75th Ranger Regiment.

About 80 to 100 airmen who knew Gavulic came to Fort Benning from the region for the 3 p.m. memorial service.

Eric Brandenburg, a retired master sergeant, was squadron superintendent when he hired Gavulic, a staff sergeant in 2005, to join the unit. “We ran all the tryouts for the guys coming into special operations and Rangers,” Brandenburg said. “He definitely stood out above his peers. He’s a great, great guy.”

Of the six recruits picked to serve in the unit that year, Brandenburg said Gavulic immediately shot ahead of his peers in his performance and motivation.

“He is a great family man. great warrior, somebody you can count on,” said Brandenburg, who is now president of Strategic Integration, a Columbus consulting firm. “He gave 120 percent no matter what he did. I don’t care if you tell him to sweep the hallway, he would do whatever you want.”

When it came to his specialized job, Gavulic could jump out of airplanes, call in air strikes. “Whatever task you gave that kid, he would do it a 100 percent,” Brandenburg said. “He is absolutely the most well-rounded soldier, airman warrior I ever met in my life.”

Despite all the temporary duty assignments, Gavulic always put his family first, said Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Foster of Fort Bragg, N.C. He had 10 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“He is the kind of guy I looked up to as a master sergeant, as a father and as senior non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force,” Foster said. “What I learned most is how to be a father and how to be a great non-commissioned senior officer. He cared about the men and cared about the guy to his right and the guy to his left.”

Master Sgt. Thomas Case Leggett, also of Fort Bragg, has known Gavulic nearly a decade as a man of courage. Leggett left Fort Benning about four years ago.

“He was the consummate professional,” Leggett said. “He had a huge impact in the Army and the Air Force, and I feel it’s kind of our duty to ensure his legacy lives on.”

During the service, Lt. Col. John Traxler, commander of the 17th Special Tactics Squadron, recalled how he instinctively used the word tender warrior to describe Gavulic. It was Thursday night before he realized it came from a book he had read. “A warrior is a protector, a shield, a perfect combination of tenacity and tenderness and love,” he said.

The service ended with a roll call for Gavulic missing and the playing of Taps.

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