It was the last salute for Riverhead High School students.
Over 150 members of the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and the football team formed an honor guard to salute alumni and fallen Air National Guardsman Tech Sergeant Dashan Briggs as the funeral procession escorting his remains passed by the school Thursday morning.
The hearse escorting 30-year-old Briggs, who grew up in Riverhead and was one of seven airmen killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq, passed by his high school alma mater in observance of a military tradition before making its way to his final resting place at Calverton National Cemetery.
A police escort, including New York State Troopers, and Patriot Guard Riders, led the procession past the lines of students under a giant American flag displayed between two Riverhead Fire Department trucks.
Seventeen-year-old Michael Daniel, commanding officer of the school’s NJROTC cadets, said he was so extremely proud to be able to experience giving the order to salute for his cadets as well as members of the Riverhead Fire Department. To him Briggs was a great role model for the Riverhead community.
“I believe he was a role model because he kind of exemplified what we can do following high school,” said Daniel in an interview after the procession. “Nowadays, there are so many wrong paths you can follow and he followed his heart and his heart brought him in the right direction. He joined the military. He touched so many people.”
Daniel said the number of mourners showed the amount of lives Briggs life touched.
“He shows what you should try and strive to be as an adult and as a Riverhead High School alumni,” he said.
Dozens of cars followed with mourners, some of whom honked their horns, waved or gave the thumbs up sign. One mourner shouted, “Thank you,” to the students.
The procession also included representatives from ambulance companies from Riverhead and Westhampton.
Riverhead Fire Department Public Information Officer Bill Sanok said that about a dozen firefighters turned out to show their respects for Briggs because he was a member of the community and from an organization similar to theirs. He was a member of the Westhampton Beach Volunteer Fire Department.
“There is a respect there,” he said.
The students hung yellow, black, and green ribbons and crepe garlands along the football field fence in honor of Briggs, who played on the school’s 2006 undefeated football team. Small American flags dotted the grass, blue carnations were laid down beside them.
The NJROTC and football team were joined by other students and faculty from the high school, as well as students of Riverhead Middle School and the Pulaski Street School who stood outside their school buildings. A helicopter performed a final flyover in honor of Briggs, who was a HH-60G special mission aviation flight engineer, as the last mourner passed through the honor guard. Briggs, who lived in Port Jefferson, died when the HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopter he was flying in crashed in western Iraq near the city of Al-Qa’im.
Briggs and his fellow guardsmen, three of whom were also stationed with him at the ANG’s 106th Rescue Wing at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, were operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition operation aimed at defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
There has been no evidence of enemy action in the crash, however, the cause is still under investigation, according to the US Department of Defense.
The father of two, who grew up in Riverhead, joined the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton in 2010. He was a career soldier who was previously deployed to Afghanistan as a munitions specialist with the 106th Maintenance Group, and to Texas and the Caribbean for hurricanes Harvey and Irma, respectively. He was among the airmen to receive medals for their service during Hurricane Irene.
During the Southampton Town Board work session Thursday morning, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman informed colleagues about attending the solemn ceremony earlier in the week, when the bodies of the fallen airmen arrived at Gabreski.
“It was very moving and such a tragic thing,” he said. “It’s terribly sad. They paid the ultimate price and we’re forever thankful for their service.”
additional reporting by Kitty Merrill