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Airman who earned two Silver Stars for valor drowns in California

Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sean Harvell, a two-time Silver Star recipient, drowned Tuesday near his home in Long Beach, California, according to local reports.

Harvell, 33, was found dead floating in the water off a local beach, according to a report in the The Long Beach Post. A private security officer attempted to provide life-saving care until emergency services arrived, but the Long Beach Fire Department declared Harvell deceased, the Post said.

Harvell was one of only three airmen to have earned two Silver Stars during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jane Maher, Harvell's mother, said in a post to her Facebook page that it seemed her son could do anything.

"He was a great American hero. He served our country for many years. And he kicked a lot of ass," she said.

According to Maher, the cause of death appears to be an "accidental drowning in front of the beach apartment he loved so much."

Staff Sgt. Sean Harvell, Air Force combat controller

Then-Staff Sgt. Sean Harvell discusses his role as an combat controller in this recruiting video from the Air Force.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of Sean," Col. Michael Flatten, 24th Special Operations Wing vice commander, said in a statement. "Sean served his nation admirably, often in the face of insurmountable odds. He was a fierce warrior on the battlefield, and an incredible brother to those who served alongside him. He was larger than life."

Harvell's brother, Staff Sgt. Andrew Harvell, was killed in Afghanistan in 2011 when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down in the Tangi Valley.

Staff Sgt. Harvell, 26, was a combat controller with the 24th Special Tactics Squadron out of Pope Field, N.C.

"The Special Tactics community is absolutely committed to honoring Sean," Flatten said. "It's a terrible loss to the Air Force and special operations community, and we will never forget what Andy and Sean gave in service to their country."

Sean Harvell, a combat controller, received his two Silver Stars for actions in Afghanistan, only the second person — and the first airman — to receive two such awards during the Global War on Terror.

On May 8, 2007, Harvell's convoy was on patrol when it came under enemy fire. According to the official award citation, Harvell exposed himself to fire in order to coordinate airstrikes and the evacuation of the team over a 10-hour period.

"Completely enveloped by enemy fire and at great personal risk, he calmly directed air attacks, destroying multiple Taliban positions and saving the lives of his teammates," the citation says. "Later, in the middle of a devastating ambush, he again exposed himself to heavy enemy fire from as close as five meters and directed F-18 strafing runs within a mere 45 feet of his position to rout enemy insurgents."

Just a few weeks later, on May 30, Harvell again found himself under fire.

"While attempting the recovery of a downed CH-47 helicopter and United States Army aircrew, he was wounded and knocked unconscious by a rocket propelled grenade fired by Taliban militants in a daring daylight ambush," the citation says. "Regaining consciousness and bleeding from multiple wounds, Sergeant Harvell engaged Taliban fighters with his personal M-4 carbine, M-12 shotgun and then grenades while simultaneously directing deadly, danger-close air attacks on the insurgent force."

"During these two days of fierce fighting, his expertise in the employment of air power and selfless service resulted in the death of 212 enemy combatants and release of 18,000 pounds of aviation ordnance," the citation continues.

Harvell's second Silver Star was earned by his actions on July 25, 2007, when his unit attempted to clear an enemy compound along the Helmand River.

"Leading a small joint team into a compound with a fortified enemy position, Sergeant Harvell repeatedly placed himself in harm's way with little regard for his own safety. On the initial breach, he and his Marine Corps teammate engaged and killed an insurgent who was laying-in-wait from a covered position," the award citation says. "Sergeant Harvell and his teammate then moved to another covered position to engage additional enemy combatants, whereupon 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."

Harvell then crouched below a window the Taliban fighters were firing from.

"He pulled the pin on a grenade and delayed two seconds before throwing it through the opening, killing another insurgent and abating enemy fire," the citation says. "Finally, as Taliban reinforcements arrived, Sergeant Harvell and his team withdrew from the compound. Providing covering fire for his teammates as they exited, Sergeant Harvell was the last to leave. As he sprinted across the open yard, rounds from enemy heavy machine gun fire peppered around his feet."

Taking cover behind a near-by wall, Harvell directed an airstrike from an A-10 "Warthog" and AC-130 gunship that destroyed the compound and killed an estimated 50 insurgents.

Harvell also received the Purple Heart, and several Bronze Stars.

A funeral is tentatively scheduled for May 6 at Los Angeles National Cemetery

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