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Iraq

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A U.S. Air Force carry team transfers the remains of Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, of Commack, March 18 at Dover Air Force Base. Photo from U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Matt Davis

It’s a solemn week for Commack and Huntington town residents as they mourn a man who made the ultimate sacrifice for the love of his country.

The funeral services for Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, of Commack, one of the seven U.S. airmen killed when a a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in Iraq March 15, have been scheduled.

The wake will be held at Commack Fire Department headquarters March 29 and 30, with visitation on both days from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. The funeral service will be held March 31 at 11 a.m at St. Joseph’s Church, located at 59 Church St. in Kings Park.

Christopher Raguso. Photo from Commack Fire Department’s Facebook

Raguso served with the Commack Fire Department as lieutenant of Company 4, located off Kings Park Road. He had joined as a volunteer in 2000, according to Commack Fire Commissioner Pat Fazio, and previously served as captain of Company 2 on Elwood Road.

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company,” Fazio said. “It’s unfortunate the timing and passing of his death while serving his country and fighting for the freedoms we all enjoy.”

Raguso was posthumously bestowed the rank of honorary fire chief with a unanimous vote of the Commack Fire Department’s membership March 16. He was well known in the firehouse, playing an “integral role” in training new members, according to Fazio.

“It’s not for any other reason other than he would have achieved the rank of chief, no doubt,” the commissioner said. “It was an aspiration he had — it was well known and something he would have achieved.”

Raguso was also a 13-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department, where he was currently serving as a lieutenant assigned to Battalion 50 in Queens. On six different occasions, he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions as an individual and part of a unit.

“Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal [Christopher] Zanetis bravely wore two uniforms in their extraordinary lives of service — as New York City firefighters and as members of the United States Armed Forces,” said FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, of Port Jefferson Station, were the others from the rescue wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the United State Department of Defense.

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Christopher Raguso posthumously awarded title of honorary chief by Commack Fire Department

A military helicopter crash in Iraq has hit close to home for both the Commack and
Elwood communities.

Commack resident Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, was among those killed in the March 15 helicopter crash. The 39-year-old was one of seven airmen on board a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense. The DOD said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Raguso was assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton. His mother, Laura Raguso of East Northport, said she pleaded with him not to go on this most
recent deployment.

“I begged him not to do it,” she said at a press conference, but that Raguso responded by saying if he didn’t go and do it, who would? “As a mother, he crushed me that day.”

“I begged him not to do it.”
— Laura Raguso

Raguso was also a 13-year veteran of the Fire Department of the City of New York, where he was currently serving as a lieutenant assigned to Battalion 50 in Queens. On six different occasions, he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions either for his individual actions or as part of a unit.

“Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal [Christopher] Zanetis bravely wore two uniforms in their extraordinary lives of service    as New York City firefighters and as members of the United States Armed Forces,” said FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “The hearts and prayers of the entire department are with their loved ones and with the families of their five fellow service members who lost their lives defending our country.”

But to Commack residents, Raguso was perhaps best known for his service with the Commack Fire Department as lieutenant of Company 4, located off Kings Park Road. He  joined as a volunteer in 2000, according to Commack Fire Commissioner Pat Fazio, and  previously served as captain of Company 2
located on Elwood Road.

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company,” Fazio said. “It’s unfortunate the timing and passing of his death while serving his country and fighting for the freedoms we all enjoy.”

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company.”
— Pat Fazio

Raguso was posthumously bestowed the rank of honorary fire chief based on a unanimous vote of the Commack Fire Department’s membership March 16. He was well known in the firehouse as he played an “integral role” in training new members, according to Fazio.

“It’s not for any other reason other than he would have achieved the rank of chief, no doubt,” the commissioner said. “It was an aspiration he had, it was well known and something he would have achieved.”

Fazio said several members of the Commack Fire Department drove to Delaware to join Raguso’s wife, Carmela, and the family at Dover Air Force Base to see Raguso remains return home March 18.

“We will forever be there for the family,” he said. “His wife and his children will forever be part of the family.”

Elwood school district also mourned Raguso’s passing; he was a 1997 graduate of John Glenn High School.

“The district extends its deepest condolences to Lt. Raguso’s family and friends,” wrote Superintendent Kenneth Bossert in a message on the district’s website. “He died a true hero serving our country, and we join the entire nation in mourning his passing.”

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a Staten Island-based nonprofit in memory of New York firefighter Stephen Siller who died in the 9/11 attacks, has stepped forward to donate $100,000 toward paying off the Raguso family’s mortgage.

“He died a true hero serving our country, and we join the entire nation in mourning his passing.”
— Kenneth Bossert

“Our mission is to honor and support military personnel and first responders,” said spokeswoman Catherine Christman. “In Christopher Raguso, you have both in one person.”

Christman said the Raguso family has undergone many recent hardships as his wife, Carmela, is a recent breast cancer survivor. He is also survived by his two daughters, Eva Rose, 5, and Mila Teresa, 6. No details on his wake or funeral arrangements were available as of  this publication’s press time.

Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Staff Sgt. Dashan  Briggs, of Port Jefferson Station, were the others from the rescue wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the DOD. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) ordered flags on all state government buildings to be flown at half-staff in their honor March 19.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) similarly directed the flags on all Town of Huntington buildings flown at half-staff on Monday.

“The people in our town are deeply grateful to your loved ones for their sacrifice in the protection of our nation’s security,” Lupinacci said in a statement. “On behalf [of] the Town of Huntington, you have our deepest sympathies and our prayers will be with you and your families at this sad and tragic time.” Master Sgt. William Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida, and Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida, both assigned to the Air Force Reserve 308th Rescue Squadron, also died in the crash.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a current member of the U.S. Army Reserve, mourned the fallen service members in a statement.

“The people in our town are deeply grateful to your loved ones for their sacrifice in the protection of our nation’s security.”
— Chad Lupinacci

“These fallen airmen are the best of who we are,” he said. “There are no words that fully describe the profound sorrow and immense gratitude that consume our community today. There are no words to describe the emptiness this loss leaves in the heart of every Long Islander. There is, however, no shortage of ways to describe these seven service members — selfless, heroes, patriots and everything we aspire to be as a people, as a nation and as Americans.”

Commack Fire Department is encouraging those who wish to make a donation to the Raguso family to donate funds in Raguso’s name to the Silver Shield Foundation, a nonprofit that provides educational support for children and widows of firefighters killed in the line of duty. Donations can be made by visiting www.silvershieldfoundation.org/donate or mailing to: Silver Shield Foundation, 870 United Nations Plaza, 1st Floor, New York, NY 10017.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation is also collecting donations from residents to continue helping pay off the Raguso family’s mortgage. Donations can be made by visiting: www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/t2traguso.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money to support Raguso’s daughters at www.gofundme.com/5a6lxdc. It has received more than $29,000 of its $50,000 goal as of 3:15 p.m. March 19.

In addition, the St. James Fire Department announced it will be donating the proceeds of its Pancakes with the Easter Bunny event, set for March 25 from 8 to 11 a.m., to the Tunnel to Towers foundation and Raguso family. The cost is $7 for adults, $3 for children and the fifth family member eats free.

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Go Fund Me pages set up to aid future of Staff Sergeant Dashan Briggs' family

A helicopter crash in western Iraq hit close to home.

Port Jefferson Station Staff Sergeant Dashan Briggs was among those killed in the crash March 15. The 30-year-old was one of seven airmen on board carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense. The DOD said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Sergeant Dashan Briggs. Photo from 106th Rescue Wing Facebook

Briggs was one of four assigned to the National Air Guard 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach on board the Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter that crashed. He was a full-time military member with the wing and a special missions aviation flight engineer, according to a post on the Rescue Wing’s official Facebook page. Briggs was previously deployed to Afghanistan as a munitions system specialist with the 106th maintenance group, as well as to Texas and the Caribbean for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“I looked up to him very much, just because of the type of man he was — one of the realest people you’ll ever meet,” said Andre Galarza, a close friend, former roommate and Riverhead High School classmate of Briggs’ who set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money for his fallen friends’ widow Rebecca, 2-year-old son Jayden and 1-year-old daughter Ava. “As a person, he was one of the strongest people I know.”

Galarza called Briggs a warrior, a genuine friend always willing to offer a helping hand and a true leader. He said his goal in setting up the fundraiser, which collected nearly $12,000 as of midday March 19, was to help Briggs’ family with future expenses.

“I know with him being in the [Air National Guard], I’m sure they have a process of how they take care of the widow, but for me, I know folks always say, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help’ — I know deep down in my heart this is the right thing to do,” Galarza said.

“I looked up to him very much, just because of the type of man he was — one of the realest people you’ll ever meet.”

— Andre Galarza

Another fundraiser with a similar goal was established by Dusti Napolitano at the request of those who served with Briggs, including her husband, who is currently deployed in Iraq.

“He needs to be honored — he was an excellent man,” she said in a phone interview. “They want to make sure that his children have money available to them if they need anything that their dad would have otherwise provided for them in the future.”

Captain Michael O’Hagan, public affairs officer for the 106th Rescue Wing, said during a media briefing that at this time, the crash does not appear to be the result of enemy activity. Briggs’ body, along with the others in the crash, will be returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in the coming days ahead of burial with full military honors, O’Hagan said. He added that the wing has a team of professionals dedicated to helping the families through the grieving process.

“The 106th Rescue Wing specializes in worldwide personal recovery of pilots, military personnel and civilians by air, land and sea during combat and peacetime,” O’Hagan said. “First, on behalf of the men and women of the 106th Rescue Wing, and our extended family, I want to offer up our most sincere, deepest condolences for all those affected by this horrific tragedy, most especially, the loved ones and families of our fallen. Our hearts and prayers and support go out to them through this difficult time. This is where we live and serve. Our hearts are broken.”

“They want to make sure that his children have money available to them if they need anything that their dad would have otherwise provided for them in the future.”

— Dusti Napolitano

Captain Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Captain Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Master Sergeant Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack were the others from the Rescue Wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the DOD. Master Sergeant William Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida, and Staff Sergeant Carl Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida, both assigned to the Air Force Reserve 308th Rescue Squadron, also died in the crash.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) mourned the fallen service members in a statement.

“These fallen airmen are the best of who we are,” he said. “There are no words that fully describe the profound sorrow and immense gratitude that consume our community today. There are no words to describe the emptiness this loss leaves in the heart of every Long Islander. There is, however, no shortage of ways to describe these seven service members — selfless, heroes, patriots and everything we aspire to be as a people, as a nation and as Americans.”

Visit https://www.gofundme.com/in-loving-memory-of-dashan-briggs or https://www.youcaring.com/rebeccabriggs-1134709 to donate to Briggs’ family.

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Congressman Lee Zeldin. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

People who come home after serving our country overseas should not have to cope with mental illnesses stemming from their experiences, but the sad reality is that most veterans have seen or dealt with traumatic things. That means we have to do everything we can for those who return home with post-traumatic stress disorder.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), an Iraq war veteran, is on the right track in addressing this. When he was in the state legislature, he established a peer program in which veterans could help one another battle mental issues, and now he is working to take that initiative to the national level.

Part of the reason this program is important is that it addresses the stigma surrounding mental illness. The shame people feel deters the average citizen from getting help, but think of how those feelings must be compounded in people who carry the weight of a reputation as one of our country’s bravest and strongest. And even without the fear of appearing weak, veterans have experienced many things others cannot truly understand if they have not served in the military. They need and deserve the support of people who have been in their shoes — people who know what they are going through. Mental illness is often woefully misunderstood as it is, so we must mitigate that as much as possible.

Ultimately, we would prefer more resources for military psychiatrists to better identify and treat issues with active servicemen, so they leave their PTSD or other mental or emotional problems overseas, but we will gladly support a national veterans’ peer program to assist those we have so far failed to help.

Landmark Properties set to break ground next week

Two veterans and their families will soon be Sound Beach homeowners. Stock photo

For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans living on Long Island, finding an affordable new home is the difference between remaining on the Island and leaving.

According to Mark Baisch, of Rocky Point-based Landmark Properties, many Long Island veterans cannot afford to purchase a home on the Island and are forced to move.

Baisch, alongside Commander Joseph Cognitore of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 of Rocky Point, is helping two veterans and their families live a little easier with the construction of two new homes on Tyler Avenue in Sound Beach.

According to Cognitore the $250,000 homes are actually worth around $400,000. Basich said the properties could not exceed $250,000 in order for the vets to afford the property and mortgage rates. But, with the help of Suffolk County and the Long Island Housing Partnership, Baisch said the price of the properties could be reduced to $190,000 each.

“They’re getting a brand new Landmark house for it looks like possibly … a hundred plus thousand dollars less than market value,” Baisch said.

The reduced price allows veterans to get an affordable mortgage like the VA mortgage, which offers zero down payment.

According to Cognitore, he and his committee of veterans screen each candidate to determine the vet’s need for the home after the mortgage company approves them for a loan. The vets must also be first-time home buyers who make less than $200,000-$300,000 annually. The amount of years a vet served, the size of their family and whether they received awards for their service are determining factors. However, for Cognitore and his committee the hardest part is selecting the candidates.

“It’s a good opportunity for a couple of families,” Cognitore said. “Unfortunately, everybody that we interview deserves a home.”

Although this is not the first time Cognitore and Baisch are helping Long Island veterans, this is the first time Baisch is constructing the homes alone. Landmark Properties’ construction workers may start clearing the land this week, according to Baisch.

While a veteran with physical disabilities has not received one of the homes in the past, Baisch said he could tailor the home to the veteran’s needs. Cognitore hopes to select the veterans before Landmark Properties finishes construction.

“What happened in the past, we got all the candidates together and a lot of times they couldn’t wait to build the home,” Cognitore said regarding construction. “They didn’t know who the candidates were right away so they had to start building the home prior to the candidates being picked.”

Cognitore said they would reach out to previous candidates who did not receive a home and bring them up to speed with the process.

Regardless of the veterans who get the homes, both Cognitore and Baisch are happy to make a difference and help vets in need.

Cognitore said the lower cost of the homes “makes it affordable for them and they could just make it. That’s the kind of opportunities that we’re looking for.”

Baisch expressed similar thoughts.

“Every veteran that I’ve sold a house to has told me that if it weren’t for [the homes], they would have left Long Island,” Baisch said.

This version corrects a typo that misidentified a country where American veterans served overseas.

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