Carol Tyndale wasn't surprised when her son Nicolas H.J. Gideon, then 19, joined the Army last summer. As a child growing up in Murrieta, he was always ready for an adventure, she said.
He began riding motorcycles in second grade, leaving older boys in his dust. On his first ski trip, when he was 11, he headed straight for the most treacherous slopes. As a teenager, he loved skin diving, snowboarding, football, hockey and lacrosse.
"He was all boy," his mother said. "So tough."
Her son struggled as a student, said Tyndale, a teacher for the Temecula Valley Union School District, so she home-schooled him for a while. But "he wanted to get out into the real world," she said.
Gideon left Chaparral High in Temecula and enrolled in an auto mechanics class at the local community college. But his jobs, at a pizza shop, then in plumbing and construction, left him unfulfilled, his mother recalled.
"It wasn't working out as well as he'd hoped. He wanted something more stable," Tyndale said. "The Army was a perfect fit for him."
Gideon enlisted in June 2008 and was stationed at Ft. Richardson in Alaska after five months at Ft. Knox, Ky., for basic training. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.
His mother said Gideon "felt very successful" in the Army. "He was a leader; he was even teaching some classes," she said. He told his family that he planned to stay in the military for several years, then join a police force in California.
In February, his unit shipped out to Afghanistan. Pfc. Gideon, 20, died in combat there July 6 after a sniper attack on his convoy.
Army officials said Gideon's unit was attacked by insurgents using small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Eight other soldiers in his unit were injured in the firefight in southeast Afghanistan's Paktia province.
Gideon was a scout on an armored vehicle -- "the lookout and the first guy to return fire," said his stepfather, Mike Tyndale, a career Marine who served in Operation Desert Shield and spent 14 months in Iraq.
He said Gideon's commander called from Afghanistan after the attack and described what had happened: Their convoy was turning a corner when someone with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher stepped out, fired and hit Gideon "point-blank," his stepfather said. "He was on fire," Mike Tyndale said. "He was yelling at everybody to get him out." He passed out within minutes and died of his injuries the same day.
The scout position was a job Gideon had been training for. "I'm sure if someone had told him it wasn't his day to be up there, he would have been flipping coins to get the job," his stepfather said. "He jumped feet first into everything. I always kind of admired him for that."
Mike Tyndale choked up as he recalled walking his stepson through his choices at enlistment last year. "We talked about the different jobs he could get. He could learn to operate cranes, get into construction when he came back. . . . But 'cavalry scout' was what he wanted. He kept erasing the lines I put through that.
"The tragedy is he was on such a great path. . . . He was so responsible, wasn't looking for shortcuts. Just wanted to do well at something he loved."
His family last saw Gideon in early June when he came home from Afghanistan on leave. "It was so awesome," his mother recalled. They celebrated his stepfather's birthday. And Gideon proposed to his high school girlfriend, Wendy Herman.
"We took so many pictures," Carol Tyndale said. "We had so much fun. Then a week and a half later, he was gone."
Since his death, the family has been fortified by strong hometown support.
Murrieta police officers escorted the hearse carrying Gideon's body from Camp Pendleton to the local mortuary. "The entire city came out" for the procession July 15, Mike Tyndale said.
"All the police officers, the Fire Department . . . out there crossing their hearts when he went by. It was something to see. That meant a lot to us," he said.
The convoy bringing young Nicolas Hugh Joseph Gideon home included 60 motorcycle escorts from the Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer group that met the casket on its arrival from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The group accompanied the family home, then to Gideon's funeral at Cornerstone Community Church and burial at Riverside National Cemetery.
In addition to his mother, stepfather and fiancee, Gideon's survivors include five siblings and his father, Hugh Gideon of Las Vegas.