Tags Posts tagged with "Tunnel To Towers"

Tunnel To Towers

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A check is presented to Rebecca Briggs, second from left, the widow of Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, during a July 24 press conference in Hauppauge. Photo from Bellone's office

By Anthony Petriello

A Port Jefferson Station family received some comfort in the form of a fully paid off mortgage following the tragic death of their Air Force husband and father.

The family of Port Jefferson Station Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, 30, who was killed March 15 in a helicopter crash near the Syrian border in western Iraq, had the remaining balance on their mortgage paid off thanks to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation July 24.

Briggs’ wife, Rebecca, and two young children, Jayden and Ava, received a miracle in the form of an undisclosed payment in addition to $33,000 already donated by Caliber Home Loans toward the payoff.

“I just wanted to say thank you to Tunnel to Towers and Caliber Home Loans for doing this mortgage pay off, because it’s very comforting to know there’s people out there helping all the military families, Gold Star families, and it’s just nice to know that we can stay in our home,” the widow said to the media at the press conference.

Briggs’ family also received close to $46,000 as of Aug. 7, raised through a GoFundMe campaign launched by Andre Galarza, a close friend, former roommate and Riverhead High School classmate of Briggs’.

“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,” Galarza said in an interview in March. “As a person, he was one of the strongest people I know.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) recognized Briggs for his sacrifice in serving the country during the July 24 press conference in Hauppauge.

“Today we honored the family of a man, a husband, a father, a soldier and a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice to his country,” he said. “Technical Sergeant Briggs served us all and now it is we who must honor his service.”

Tunnel to Towers was established to honor the service and sacrifice of Brooklyn firefighter and Staten Island resident Stephen Siller, who died Sept. 11, 2001. The foundation “also honors our military and first responders who continue to make the supreme sacrifice of life and limb for our country,” according to its website.

All seven airmen on board were carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the  U.S. Department of Defense. All seven military personnel onboard died in the crash of the Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter.

Briggs and three others aboard the aircraft — Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack were members of the 106th Air National Guard Rescue Wing out of Westhampton Beach’s Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base.

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The starting line at the Tunnel to Towers 5K race was lined with American flags. Photo by John Davies

By Jane Koropsak

My feet hit the floor at 4:30 a.m. and for one fleeting moment I wondered why I was up so early on a Sunday morning.

Then, I remembered. Today, Sept. 27, I would participate in the Tunnel to Towers 5K fundraiser in New York City to honor every firefighter who gave the ultimate sacrifice on Sept. 11, 2001, including Stephen Siller, the New York City FDNY firefighter for whom the fundraiser is named.

On that fateful day that changed our nation forever, Siller put on 60 pounds of gear and ran from the Battery Tunnel to the Towers, and 14 years later I was joining thousands of others in retracing his steps.

Duffle bag on my shoulder filled with water, snacks and extra clothes, I headed to the Mastic Fire Department to meet up with some of my colleagues from the Brookhaven Lab and friends from the fire department for our journey to Brooklyn, where the 5K begins.

While waiting for the race to start, standing amid 30,000 people, my eyes teared up during a beautiful rendition of “God Bless America.” The anticipation filled my senses and I wasn’t sure what to expect, as this was my first time at this event. When I saw nearly 7,000 American flags lining the starting line of the race — each flag representing a member of the military who has died for our nation since Sept. 11, 2001 — the tears came once again. It was heart-wrenching.

Soon, we turned a corner and walked under an arch of red, white and blue balloons to start the 5K through the Battery Tunnel. I walked, others ran, and as we all entered the tunnel, we heard hundreds of people chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” in unison.

Cheerleaders lined the streets. Musicians played on corners. It all gave me goose bumps and prompted me to pick up my pace. Before I knew it, I started running — something I don’t typically do. When we reached the end of the tunnel, we saw streams of sunlight and were greeted by 343 firefighters in their formal uniforms, each holding a flag with an image of a firefighter who perished on 9/11 — 343 heroes who never went home. I proudly high-fived each firefighter standing in line along the route, saying thanks over and over and how much I appreciate all they do every day.

Five kilometers from the start and I was no longer the same person.

When I boarded the bus early that morning I knew how brave these men and women are. I knew that they go to work every day not knowing whether they or a fellow firefighter may not make it home, and I knew that their passion is only felt by a few. You see, I am the sister of an FDNY captain and I am the daughter of a volunteer firefighter who gave the ultimate sacrifice 26 years ago while fighting a fire in my hometown of Sayville. I know personally of their sacrifices and the countless hours they spend training and helping others. During Tunnel to Towers I felt the indescribable deep passion of what it must be like to be a firefighter. And, on the bus ride home, I had time to tuck away the memories of the day for an entry that will have a dog-eared page in my journal.

I salute all of our firefighters, emergency responders, police and military personnel.

I promise I will never forget.

The author works in the Media & Communications Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory.