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MAHS graduate Guckavan, who died serving in Alaska, was ‘ideal soldier,’ Army buddy says

Posted 11/7/18

By Jason Maddux


and Dan Miller


A 2016 Middletown Area High School graduate who died Oct. 26 from a gunshot wound while …

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MAHS graduate Guckavan, who died serving in Alaska, was ‘ideal soldier,’ Army buddy says

Spc. Mason James Guckavan
Spc. Mason James Guckavan

By Jason Maddux


and Dan Miller


A 2016 Middletown Area High School graduate who died Oct. 26 from a gunshot wound while stationed at Fort Wainwright in Alaska “was the ideal soldier that people would have wanted in the military protecting the country,” a former Army buddy told the Press & Journal.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command is investigating the death of Spc. Mason James Guckavan, 21, who died in the barracks there. There is no official determination as to whether the discharge of the firearm was intentional or accidental.

According to U.S. Army Alaska, Guckavan was an infantryman with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, United States Army Alaska. He joined the Army from Middletown in August 2016. Following completion of training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was assigned to the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division in December 2016.

Guckavan was the son of Barbra (Drury) Guckavan of Middletown and James F. Guckavan of Allegheny County.

Mason was an avid outdoorsman, who enjoyed hunting, hiking and skiing. He was an avid reader, and was a member of Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, Middletown.

In addition to his parents, survivors include his siblings, Ian Guckavan, Kiera Guckavan and Gavin Guckavan, all of Middletown.

Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at noon Thursday at Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, 280 N. Race St.

Visitation will be from 10 a.m. until the time of Mass in the narthex of the church.

Burial with full military honors will be in Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery and will be private for family only.

See the full obituary on page A3.

Dedicated to the military

“He cared more about others than himself. He always put his job before anything else. He was dedicated to the military, and I don’t doubt that he would have been in the military for quite a long time before he got out,” said Jake Hares, who was in basic training with Guckavan at Fort Benning for 14 weeks.

There were times when other soldiers wanted to give up, and Guckavan wouldn’t let them, Hares said.

“He would just take them to the side and ask them why they joined in the first place and why they wanted to quit. He would make the reason for us wanting to quit seem real stupid,” said Hares, who joined the Army from Colorado. He left the military last month.

Another thing Guckavan did to help make the trials of basic training easier was a bit unusual. He would sit by his locker with his fellow soldiers and have political debates.

“The political debates just helped everyone have something else to do rather than think about what was actually going on around us,” Hares said.

Guckavan had two pictures in his locker, Hares recalled, and he was the only one Hares remembers having a picture of a girl — singer Taylor Swift.

“He was dead-set that he was going to marry her someday,” Hares said.

They both had pictures of an unusual item in their lockers — a sandwich.

“The food we got fed was horrible, so it was something to look forward to,” Hares said.

Guckavan was one of the hardest workers that Hares said he knew, and that helped him to learn that if you put your mind to something, you’ll get through it.

“He shared his experiences in life, and we all had a good laugh. Just keeping your head up helps you get through a lot of stuff. That’s mainly what I take away from him. If you keep your morale high, then life is easy,” Hares said.

Lt. Col. Sonny Rosales, commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, called Guckavan a key member for the Bobcat Battalion over the past two years.

“He was a dedicated and loyal soldier, committed to the mission,” Rosales said in a press release. “We are devastated he is no longer with us. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, our priority right now is to take care of them, ensuring they have all the resources they need during this critical time.”

His time at MAHS

Guckavan was a kicker on the football team and played varsity soccer for the Blue Raiders.

“The Middletown Area School District is deeply saddened by the loss of Mason Guckavan,” MASD Superintendent Lori Suski said in a statement emailed to the Press & Journal on Friday.

“Mason was a varsity soccer player and part of a very close-knit group of student athletes who grew up together and played the sport from elementary school all the way up through their high school years. Our hearts go out to the Guckavan family as they cope with this tragic loss. Mason was a bright young man committed to serving our country in the U.S. Army, and we grieve with his family at this difficult time,” Suski said.

Guckavan was the kind of kid who could walk into a room and break the tension, by cracking a joke that made you laugh or just from his personality, high school Principal Michael Carnes said in remembering Guckavan on Monday.

He always had a smile on his face, even when the subject was serious, said assistant principal and head Football Coach Brett Myers.

Whatever the situation, “he knew how to handle it,” Myers said. “He had a very mature way of thinking about things.”

Myers knew Guckavan from the 2015 football season, when Guckavan, who was a soccer player, volunteered to come out for the football team to be their kicker.

He took a risk. But Guckavan was an intelligent confident young man who wasn’t afraid to step out of his comfort zone.

“He could have gone out and flopped but it didn’t matter,” Carnes said. “First of all, he didn’t fail too much. He was fearless. It was part of that ‘I’m not going to fail’ attitude.”

Coaches worry if a kicker will make the tackle, especially when the kicker is all that stands between the guy with the pigskin and the goal line.

Myers figured as a soccer player Guckavan hadn’t had much exposure to tackling. But Guckavan embraced the challenge.

“He made a couple of tackles that year,” Myers recalled. “He didn’t cringe. He just attacked it and made the tackle. He got up and smiled and went about his day.”

When it came to talking about what he wanted to do with his life, Carnes and Myers said that with Guckavan, there was never any question or doubt.

“‘I’m going in the military.’ That’s it. That was the end of the conversation,” Carnes said.

That alone made Guckavan unique, as fewer than one in 10 Middletown Area High School graduates choose the military, although Carnes believes the percentage here that do is higher than at other high schools.

Guckavan wanted to serve, Myers said. That was evident in his volunteering to come out for the football team, a decision which spoke of Guckavan’s unselfish nature.

“You give up your time to help out another sports program that’s not necessarily your love or your passion. That kind of sums up who he is,” Myers said.


John Pennell, media relations chief for U.S. Army Alaska, said how long the investigation takes depends on several factors and he couldn’t estimate when it will be finished.

Pennell said the barracks are similar to a hotel where soldiers have their own rooms with common areas to eat, play video games and watch television.

He said other soldiers were in the barracks but he did not know if they witnessed anything. That will be part of the investigation, he said.

Pennell said that, as a member of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Guckavan was a member of a team trained to use the Stryker Infantry Vehicle. The Stryker is an armor personnel carrier-infantry fighting vehicle.

The Stryker Brigade fills the operational gaps between the Army’s light forces and the heavy forces fielded with Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, according to the brigade’s website.