Afghanistan actions earn airman 2 Silver Stars


Verified SOF
Aug 23, 2009
Afghanistan actions earn airman 2 Silver Stars

By Scott Fontaine - Staff writer
Posted : Monday May 3, 2010 10:28:30 EDT

Staff Sgt. Sean Harvell sat slumped in his seat in an unarmored truck, bombed just minutes earlier along a road in Helmand province. He woke minutes after the blast. Bullets and rocket-propelled grenades flew around him.

Blood poured from his nose. Shrapnel was lodged in his arm, side and face. His shoulder and back were racked with pain. Harvell, a combat controller from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 22nd Special Tactics Squadron, repelled the ambush on May 30, 2007, by lobbing grenades and firing his M-4 carbine and M-12 shotgun. He then called in close-air support from an AC-130 gunship and an AH-64 Apache helicopter.

Harvell’s Special Operations team had been called to the site of a downed CH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying seven Americans. Insurgents ambushed with roadside bombs and small-arms fire. Sporadic fighting continued for the next two days, but the team was able to recover the bodies and other sensitive materials aboard the helicopter.

“It never really occurred to me how big of a deal it was until I got back,” Harvell said. “When you’re in a firefight, you just go with the flow and react to situations.”

The incident led to the first of two Silver Stars, the nation’s third-highest award for valor. Harvell, a 27-year-old native of Long Beach, Calif., received the awards April 29 at a ceremony at Lewis-McChord that included Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, the commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command.

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Harvell, who now is an Air Force Special Operations Command liaison to recruiting offices in California, is the first Air Force combat controller to receive two Silver Stars at a single ceremony. Schwartz and Wurster awarded 13 medals — a combination of Silver Stars, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts.

Harvell received his first Silver Star for two incidents in 2007: an ambush on May 8 and the response to the downed CH-47 on May 30.

During the May 8 mission, insurgents ambushed his team while they were on a reconnaissance patrol in Bamyan province. According to his award citation, Harvell coordinated close-air support, guided in an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter for medical evacuation and allowed for the removal of his nine-vehicle convoy during the 10-hour firefight.

“Completely enveloped by enemy fire and at great personal risk,” the citation reads, “he calmly directed air attacks, destroying multiple Taliban positions and saving the lives of his teammates.”

During another ambush later that day, the citation continues, he stood in an exposed position with insurgents firing from as close as five yards away so he could direct air support. The F/A-18 Hornet strafing runs he called in came within 45 feet of his position.

The airstrikes Harvell called in on May 8 and May 30 led to the deaths of 212 insurgents and the release of 18,000 pounds of ordnance, according to the citation.

Harvell earned his second Silver Star during an eight-hour firefight on July 25, 2007. His team was in Helmand province to storm a compound from which ambushes had been launched. He and a Marine led the team into the compound; the two killed an insurgent lying in wait from behind cover. Harvell and the Marine — unnamed in the citation — then moved to a nearby covered position despite heavy gunfire.

“Sergeant Harvell again risked his life, sprinting through a fatal funnel of fire to gain a dominant attack position, keeping the enemy pinned inside a room and within the compound’s perimeter,” the citation reads.

Despite taking heavy machine-gun fire from 30 feet away, he stepped out from his covered position and shot a rocket-propelled grenade toward the insurgents. Harvell and three others then sprinted toward a window from which the team was taking fire.

The airman crouched under the window and threw a grenade inside, killing the gunman. The team chose to withdraw from the compound as Taliban reinforcements arrived. Harvell provided cover fire as they left and was the final service member out.

Rounds from machine-gun fire hit the ground near his feet as he sprinted across an open yard, according to the citation. While sprinting across a 200-yard dry riverbed, he stopped to provide cover fire while the rest of the team retreated. And once on the other side of the riverbed, he called in fire from an A-10 and AC-130. The resulting barrage killed 50 insurgents.
I'm really happy to hear this. Hopefully we'll start seeing guys get their awards upgraded and/or awarded properly. Good on ya sir