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Originally published Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 8:03 PM

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Des Moines native killed in copter crash found purpose in military

Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Carson, 32, was one of seven Americans killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan last week. He had worked on bomb disposal with some of the military's most elite teams.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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As a kid growing up in Des Moines, Sean Carson was fascinated with the military.

"He must have had every G.I. Joe toy ever built," recalled his mother, Fran Carson, of Renton. Next it was plastic army men.

"We were on vacation and every place we stopped we had to go to a store to see if there were any green army men for him to buy," she said of her only son. "We must have had a couple hundred army men in the car by the time we got home." He would sit in the back seat, imagining elaborate battles.

Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Carson, 32, was one of seven Americans killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan last week. He had joined the Navy in 1999, and worked on bomb disposal with some of the military's most elite teams.

Petty Officer Carson attended Highline High School, but struggled as a teen. Then he went on a family road trip to Virginia, where a stepbrother was in the Navy, and everything changed.

"It made him realize what path he was on and that he didn't really have any kind of future," his stepmother, Barbi Carson, said.

Petty Officer Carson knew that to be a sailor, he would have to go back and get his GED.

"Over the next six months, he did everything he could to study up," his father, Pat Carson, of Rio Vista, Calif., said. "He became singularly focused."

He headed off to boot camp and came home transformed. He was strong, mature and destined for exacting assignments.

Petty Officer Carson was trained as an explosive ordnance disposal technician, and he excelled at his work, said Senior Chief Petty Officer John Groat. These specialists help protect the troops by making sure the way ahead is clear of improvised explosive devices and land mines. He was assigned to a special-operations platoon and went on missions with Navy SEALs.

"You don't get on that platoon unless you're one of our top operators," Groat said. "You have to be very sharp, very good with your hands and very athletic."

Petty Officer Carson didn't want to worry his mother too much, so he didn't share a lot of details. She would later learn that when superiors asked for volunteers, he would be the first one to raise his hand.

He acted as a leader to other bomb-disposal technicians, many of whom were younger, his father said.

"If you met the guy on the street, you would say he's shy, reserved, unpretentious," his father said. "In his military element, he was definitely the leader."

In addition to his mother, father and stepmother, Petty Officer Carson also is survived by his wife, Nicole, and their 4-year-old daughter Leila, both of San Diego, and three stepbrothers.

"I'm proud, proud of my son," his mother said. "It's beyond any descriptive words I can say."

News researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

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