LOS ANGELES, CA – The last of three Airmen, who died in an Aug. 6 helicopter crash in Afghanistan, was buried at Los Angeles National Cemetery here Sept. 10.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Harvell, an Air Force Special Operations Command combat controller, was one of 30 Americans killed in action when the CH-47 helicopter they were flying in crashed in the Wardak province of Afghanistan. Two other teammates, pararescuemen Tech. Sgts. Daniel L. Zerbe and John W. Brown, were buried in separate ceremonies in August at Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
Harvell was a combat controller among the most highly trained special operations force in the U.S. military. The motto of a combat controller, “First There,” reaffirms a combat controller’s commitment of undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines by leading the way for other forces to follow, according to the af.mil factsheet.
At Harvell’s memorial service Sept. 9, one of his former commanders said he witnessed firsthand the beating “heart of a lion” within all of Harvell’s actions.
“Harvell was put to the test in the combat controller pipeline, a grueling two years of training, but he never gave up and instilled confidence in everyone around him,” the lieutenant colonel said. “He attacked every day at full-throttle, with passion and love of his family and brothers in arms, (which) was exactly what our nation needed on the battlefield.”
As a combat controller, Harvell’s job was to deploy undetected into hostile environments to establish assault zones, conduct air traffic control at forward airfields, while simultaneously conducting command and control of close air support assets in support of U.S. Special Operations Command forces.
Harvell’s memorial included more than 300 family, friends and teammates. Most remembered Harvell’s unparalleled sense of humor and the way he could light up a room with laughter, whether at home or on the battlefield. During most of the memorial, the crowd was in tears with laughter, retelling stories of Harvell as a prankster, yet they said his professionalism was bar none.
A fellow combat controller said, “Listening to Andy on the ‘mic’ was like sweet music. He put the pilots at ease with the confidence in his voice.”
One of Harvell’s team leads said, “He could switch instantly from jokester to one of the most brave and technically proficient combat controllers I’ve ever witnessed.”
His sense of humor was second to no one, and “it was a pretty safe bet he would deliver the funniest and by far the wittiest comment, no doubt about it,” said one of Harvell’s closest friends and teammates.
“He could always make me smile,” he said. “Not a day will pass that I won’t miss you. But I promise you I will not sit around and mourn losing you, but rather celebrate your life by living my life intentionally and purposefully.”
In homage, he said the most accurate way to define a best friend is not just your favorite friend, the friend you spent the most time around, but rather someone who forever changes you and helps to mold the very core of your character. His friends and family said they would live not just through cherished memories and funny stories, but through living their lives to the fullest.
Krista Harvell said when her husband died, a part of her was taken that will never be replaced, but she said although that piece was taken, it was filled with an uncanny feeling of pride.
“I am more proud of my Andy today than yesterday, and I did not think that possible,” she said. “He was an amazing husband and an untouchable father. He was very rare in the person he was, but for me he was rare in the sense he was able to play both sides of the fence, he was a warrior and took to the enemy without hesitation, but when home, he was kind, gentle, patient and completely loving to our children and myself.”
Another teammate said he’ll miss the way Harvell used to talk about his two sons and how they changed his life forever. It was amazing watching him raise them, he said.
“He has left behind three remarkable legacies: the first is his legacy as a combat controller, and second and third are our two sons, Hunter and Ethan,” Krista Harvell said. “Though he is not here physically, our two sons will keep him with me here on earth until we meet again in heaven.”
Harvell’s funeral procession led 30 miles from his hometown of Long Beach, Calif., to Los Angeles National Cemetery with his casket in a glass caisson, pulled by a motorcycle hearse company. Harvell’s pall bearers rode on motorcycles led by Harvell’s brother, Tech. Sgt. Sean Harvell.
During the funeral, an AC-130H gunship from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. flew overhead as full military honors were rendered. The honor guard from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., folded the American flag draped over the casket while four F-16s from Fresno Air National Guard Base, Calif., flew overhead in a missing-man formation. The flag was presented to Harvell’s family by Maj. Gen. O.G. Mannon, AFSOC vice commander.
After the ceremony, more than 100 combat controllers and pararescuemen laid their berets alongside Harvell’s and hammered their ‘flashes’ into the casket, while two of his Marine brethren included a sniper ‘hog’s tooth’ round and a non-commissioned officer sword.
“As an older brother, I looked up to him,” Sean Harvell said. “As Andy always said, ‘victory or Valhalla.’ See you in Valhalla, brother.”
Editor’s Note: Valhalla was a Norse mythological hall for only the bravest warriors. In keeping with that tradition, the family chose a Viking style dinner complete with a feast of turkey legs, a celebration fit for their beloved husband, father, son, brother, teammate and Air Commando.