Don Harvel, 66, of Fountain Hills passed away on Sept. 5, 2020. Don was born Aug. 21, 1954 in Albuquerque, N.M. Don knew ever since he was a young boy, he wanted to fly planes…and that’s exactly what he did!
In 1972 he left Albuquerque to attend the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. After graduation, he received a commission into the Air Force and was assigned to pilot training at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. His first flying assignment was flying C-130 aircraft at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. In 1982, he was reassigned as an instructor pilot flying C-130s with the Air Crew Training and Test Wing (Air Force Special Operations) at Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M.
His military assignments included Commander of the 181st Airlift Squadron, Commander of the 136th Operations Group, and Commander of the 136th Airlift Wing. Don was promoted to Brigadier General in 2008 and was assigned to be the Deputy Commander of the Texas Air National Guard. During this time, he also served as the Assistant to the Commander of Air Force Special Operations. He retired from the Air Force/Air National Guard with the permanent rank of Brigadier General, in 2010. Don completed 34 years of military service that included deployments for Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom. He had more than 4,500 hours of C-130 flying experience.
In 1985, Don left active duty and joined the Texas Air National Guard. In 1986, he was hired at Delta Air Lines, enjoying his dual careers. During his career at Delta, he flew the Boeing 727, 737, 757, 767, 777 and the MD-88. If planes weren’t enough, in 1993 he met his beautiful wife, Nan, a passenger on his airplane, while he was flying a trip for Delta. Don retired from Delta Air Lines in August 2019, with over 23 years as an experienced captain.
In 2010, he was also assigned to be the president of an accident investigation board, which investigated an Osprey crash in Afghanistan. He recently completed a 50-chapter book titled “Rotors in the Sand,” detailing the accident and investigation process, while honoring those soldiers involved in the accident.
In his time off from his various careers, volunteer efforts and other hobbies, Don enjoyed taking his ‘53 Corvette to car shows in town, meeting up with friends for a casual beer, or enjoying the Arizona nights by the pool. Don was an avid listener of Chicago, the Beatles and Christmas tunes (yes, year-round) regardless of how often his daughter attempted to update his portfolio of music.
Along with Don’s impressive resume, he was the most loving husband, father, son, friend, and leader. He would light up any room he walked into and was known for always having a smile on his face. Don and his family moved to Fountain Hills in 2016 and he would always say that moving here was the best decision he had ever made (besides marrying his wife, Nan, of course). He loved this community, and obviously, the world-famous fountain. He is survived by his father and stepmother in Albuquerque, his wife, three children, three brothers, and many other relatives and friends.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to one of his three favorite non-profit organizations: (1) E3 IVXP, Inc., a non-profit with a focus on helping end veteran homelessness run by one of Don’s many friends. Donations can be made through the organization’s website: e3-project.com; (2) The Phoenix Children’s Hospital; or, (3) America’s Gold Star Families, a non-profit whose mission is “to provide honor, hope and healing to those grieving any military loss through active duty service in the United States Armed Forces.”