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.
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.