The Associated Press

Relatives of one of the Navy SEALS killed in the crash of a helicopter in eastern Afghanistan are remembering him as a friendly person with a sense of humor who was close to his family and always told them not to worry about him.

“He loved his friends, his family, his country, he loved making people laugh. He was one of a kind,” his brother, Charles Strange III, 22, said outside the home, where more than a dozen American flags were displayed in addition to many flags planted in neighbors’ yards. “He’d walk in a room and see someone sad, and he’d make them smile.”

“He wasn’t supposed to die this young. He was supposed to be safe,” his mother, Elizabeth Strange, 46, told The Associated Press. “And he told me that and I believed him. I shouldn’t have believed him because I know better. He would say ‘Mom, don’t be ridiculous and worry so much. I’m safe.’”

“He was intense, he was funny, he had that dry humor,” his father, Charles Strange, told the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia.

Two U.S. officials said Sunday that the SEALs and other troops had rushed to the mountainous area to help a Army Ranger unit that was under fire from insurgents. The rescue team had completed the mission, subduing the attackers who had the Rangers pinned down, and were departing in their Chinook helicopter when the aircraft was apparently hit, one of the officials said. Thirty Americans and 8 Afghans were killed, making it the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war in Afghanistan. Both spoke on condition of anonymity, as the investigation is still ongoing.

Based in Virginia Beach, Michael Strange had been in the military for about six years, four of them stationed in Hawaii, and had been a SEAL for about the last two, his mother said. “Michael did very well. He listened to what people taught him and he learned a lot. He was real smart to begin with,” his mother said. Charles Strange said his brother decided to go into the military near the end of his high school years in North Catholic High School. “He loved and was great at the physical aspect of it. He loved the competitiveness, getting in shape and running and swimming and all of that,” Charles Strange said.

When he wasn’t working, he loved snowboarding, surfing, scuba diving, running, and shooting guns on the range, and was also fond of animals, his family said. He last visited for a week in June for his birthday, his mother said. “We went to Chink’s Steaks for a (cheese)steak and a milkshake, and we talked,” she said. “He had just bought a mini-coupe and he was showing me the car. It was really neat.” He was supposed to come back for Thanksgiving for a big holiday celebration, she said.
“It was going to be such a good time,” she said. “He’s really going to be missed by a lot of people.”

An Arkansas airman who was among the dozens of U.S. troops killed when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan was a hero who loved sports and loved to laugh, his mother and a friend said.

A rescue team of Navy SEALs and other troops who just helped rescue a Army Ranger unit were killed Aug. 6 when the Chinook helicopter they were on was hit and crashed about 60 miles southwest of Kabul, officials said.

Air Force Tech Sgt. John W. Brown was among those on board, his mother, Elizabeth Newlun, said by telephone. Her son was a paramedic and attended to the medical needs of those who were rescued, she said. “I think I’m internally very upset, but at the same time, I’m so very proud of my son,” Newlun said. “I want to make sure that everyone knows that he’s a hero. I can fall apart later.”

Newlun said her brother referred to Brown on a Facebook post as “Rambo without the attitude,” but she called him a “gentle giant.” “He just loved anything physical, anything athletic,” Newlun said. “If I wanted to have a conversation with him that was serious, I would have to shoot baskets with him. There’s nothing athletic about me, but I realized that you have to get into other people’s comfort zone to get information.”

Arkansas state Rep. Jon Woods went to high school with Brown in Siloam Springs and remembered playing basketball and watching “Saturday Night Live” on the weekends. Brown graduated in 1996. “When you think of what the ideal model of a soldier would be, he would be it,” Woods said. “He could run all day. We lived down the street from each other and spent time together after school and hung out. Even if we had a long day of practice, he would put on his sneakers and run after practice.”

Newlun said Brown played football and basketball in high school and went to John Brown University on a swimming scholarship. He had wanted to go into the medical field and become a nurse anesthetist, but decided to join the military after seeing a video of a special tactical unit, she said.

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. - Oct 4th, 2013  A military widow received the surprise of a lifetime Friday when she learned a charity would be building her a new home.

A gathering called a military appreciation event was really just a front for the surprise for Krista Harvell, who heard the news during a presentation at Pinecrest High School. With dozens of onlookers in the stands, Golden Knights veterans parachuted onto the field and delivered the floor plans for her new house to Harvell, who was in the crowd with no idea she was about to become the guest of honor.

"I was like -- I thought I might faint," Harvell laughed. Operation Finally Home is building a house for Harvell and her two young sons on a lot in Aberdeen.

"I really enjoyed California, and it's great, but it's nothing like being here," she said. "And I'm so happy to be coming home."

Following a jump by four members of the Golden Knights, who landed at midfield and delivered the blueprints for Harvell's new home, Kirgan, who had given a speech on how his organization came to be, called the three "contestants" forward. Sledz and Nash are also married to servicemen, and he praised military wives for their courage.

"Wives are the backbone of families," he said. "While they are supporting their men in battle, they are at home raising the children and building a strong family unit."

After saying a few words about Krista Harvell's circumstances, Kirgan said he was "too overcome" and could not continue to tell the other womens' stories.

He then quickly turned to Harvell. "Here, Krista, are the blueprints for your new home," he said, handing the plans to her.  A tearful Harvell then realized that she had been "set up."

"It has been difficult since my husband's death, and I couldn't have made it without my babies and without my friends," she said, her two sons Hunter, 5, and Ethan, 2, at her side. "I see that a lot of my friends are here in the audience, and I appreciate you being here. "This is a new beginning for us, and I thank you all so much."

Harvell still has family in the area. Her brother, grandparents, and an uncle live in Moore County, and a sister plans to relocate here. The Harvell's new home, at 2,500 square feet and valued at about $350,000, will be built in the Bethesda Farm subdivision.

Zerbe was a senior at Red Lion Area High School in the Spring of 2001 when he decided to join the military. The attacks of Sept. 11 hadn’t happened when he set a goal of joining the Air Force. His football coach, George Shue, remembers Zerbe creating a workout plan of swimming and lifting weights after practice to get ready. For the next decade, his life was military. 

Pararescue jumpers are the last resort — called in the worst situations to perform rescues. Commonly known as “PJs,” they are well-known for recovering NASA astronauts from water splashdowns. But they also are members of the only military unit trained specifically in the recovery and medical treatment of soldiers in battle. 

About three years ago, Shue saw Zerbe while he was visiting home. He couldn’t talk much about his missions or even say where he was going. But he wasn’t shy about his task: saving lives. “He was proud of what he was doing,” Shue said. “I know he was doing what he wanted to be doing. I hope something we taught him about being a team player carried on to his life’s mission.”

Zerbe was an active kid. He was on student council, prom court. He wrestled, too. And Shue wasn’t surprised to hear that Zerbe — nicknamed Zerb by other kids - had succeeded in his dream. When Zerbe joined the football team as a sophomore, he wasn’t the biggest, strongest or fastest.

“But what he did with his offseason workout and work ethics helped him overcome that,” Shue said.

And football was a family affair for the Zerbes. His older brother played, his sister was a cheerleader and his parents were active booster club members. That close sense of family carried onto the field, Shue said, and then into his career. “Ironically, I used to say that if I have to go to battle, the guy I want beside of me is a member of this football team,” Shue said. “That is the kind of individual that he was.” 

“He was proud of what he was doing,” Shue said. “I know he was doing what he wanted to be doing. I hope something we taught him about being a team player carried on to his life’s mission.”

Zerbe’s friends and acquaintances took to Facebook to share memories. One friend said Zerbe’s good attitude was infectious. “I still remember the days of you goofing around,” the friend wrote. “The smile you had that lit up a room and how you always made people laugh. Dan you are a true hero: my hero.” Others wrote about his ability to cheer up friends.

“Dan, you always made me laugh when I wanted to cry,” a friend wrote. “That, I’ll always remember. You were sweet, kind and absolutely funny.”

Pararescueman Tech. Sgt. John W. Brown, 33, of Siloam Springs, AR

EOD (EWS/Freefall Parachutist) Sr. Chief Kraig M. Vickers 36, Kokomo, HI 

Pararescueman Tech. Sgt. Daniel L. Zerbe, 28, York, PA

Cryptologist Tech PO1 (EWS) Michael J. Strange, 25, of Philadelphia, PA

Combat Controller Staff Sgt. Andrew W. Harvell, 26, Long Beach, CA

Kraig Vickers lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Nani, who was pregnant, and their three children, his friend from childhood, Michael Labuanan, told the Maui News. “I gravitated towards Kraig because of his easygoing personality and the drive to become the best person that he could be,” Labuanan wrote in an email to the newspaper.

In a statement, Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, extended her “gratitude to Kraig Vickers for his loyal service to our country. “We honor and remember the 30 American service members who gave their lives in Afghanistan. This tragic event is a stark reminder of the supreme sacrifices the women and men of the U.S. military make in serving our country,” the statement said.

Vickers completed Explosive Ordinance training at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in 1998. He served on Explosive Ordinance Disposal Mobile Unit 5, Hagatna, Guam, from November 1998 to July 2001. Other assignments included serving in Naval Expeditionary Combat Force Command, Bahrain, from August 2001 to August 2002; and Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit 3, Barbers Point, Hawaii, from August 2002 to February 2005. He joined his East Coast-based special warfare unit in February 2005.

His decorations include three Bronze Stars with ‘V’ for valor; Purple Heart; Joint Service Commendation Medal with Combat ‘V’; Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal; three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals; two Combat Action Ribbons; three Presidential Unit Citations; Navy Unit Commendation; four Navy Good Conduct Medals; Navy Expeditionary Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Humanitarian Service Medal; Sea Service Ribbon; Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon; Navy Expert Rifleman Medal and Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal.