Sand In My Shoes

Daddy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Daddy doesn’t live here anymore.

And on Sunday morning, there was nobody else home at the Briggs home on King Street in Port Jefferson Station.

That’s because on Thursday, March 15, Sgt. Dashan Briggs, the man of the house, one of the best men of the United States of America, was killed with six other soldiers — three from Long Island — in a helicopter crash in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, age 30, an HH-60G special missions aviation flight engineer of the 106th Rescue Wing, was home based since 2010 at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach. He was a full-time husband, father, and military member. Sgt. Briggs previously deployed to Afghanistan as a munitions system specialist with the 106th Maintenance Group, and to Texas and the Caribbean for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma as a member of the 101st.

This time, Briggs’s mission was to Iraq in the endless war few Americans talk about anymore, and he was coming home in a flag draped casket.

And so, Daddy doesn’t live here on King St. anymore.

“For what?” asked Deny Leung, his next door neighbor on King St. where several American flags fluttered from a half-dozen ranch houses under a chilly sun, where anxious buds were trying to pop on skeletal trees, and where pleasure boats sat covered in driveways ready to glide back into the blue waters of Long Island in the coming spring that Dashan Briggs would never see.

“This wonderful young guy, this dedicated husband, father, soldier, neighbor dies all the way over there in Iraq and for what?” asks Denny Leung. “We have to start asking ourselves why our brave young guys are still dying over there. Listen, if Dashan were here, fighting to protect the homeland, his own home, his wife, his kids, his neighbors, it would make perfect sense. But 15 years after we invaded Iraq, my next-door neighbor dies over there? For what? Leaving a widow? Two beautiful little kids without a dad? For what?”

Leung was surprised to know that the shock and awe bombing of Baghdad — triggered by a series of blatant lies by men who never served — took place almost exactly 15 years to the day that the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in western Iraq near a town called Al Qa’im, killing Sgt. Briggs and Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches , Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack, and Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City.

“For what?” asks Leung, again. “That seems like a lifetime ago when President Bush announced the shock and awe. How is it possible that our troops are still there? Four more dead? For what?

Dashan was a great neighbor, a hard-working guy who flew to hurricanes to save the lives of strangers. His wife also worked a full-time job. They had a nanny, or babysitter, watching the kids every day so they could both work full time to pay off their home, chasing the American dream. On his days off, Dashan was always working on his house, doing repairs, mowing the lawn, shooting the breeze, and enjoying a beer with the neighbors. Good family man. Great guy. Playing with the kids who were his pride and joy, everything that he worked for. And now he’s just . . .gone. Gone from their little lives. So, I have to ask. For what?”

A half-block down sunny King St., Steve Morris and his wife and two daughters were piling into the family car. He glanced up the block where a soldier once lived to make the lives of strangers better.

“I found out about him dying from my daughter, who read about it on the internet,” says Jack Morris. “It’s an odd feeling when a guy from up the street dies in Iraq. You just never think that’s gonna happen all these years after that war started.”

“I have one daughter who was born in 2001, right around 9/11,” says Jack’s wife Lori. “She has no memory of America not being at war. How bad is that? Fifteen years and three presidents later and a neighbor up the block dies in Iraq? Awful.”

“I can’t remember a time when we weren’t at war, either,” says Amanda, 19, the daughter who discovered that Sgt. Briggs was killed.

“I didn’t know the man,” says Jack. “But he would always wave as he walked with his wife and kids. We always waved back. He was just a good guy from a fine family on this quiet suburban street.”
Yes, Sgt. Dashan Briggs was all that and he was also a graduate of Riverhead High School, where he was a tight end and a fullback on the football team. He was the grandson of Eli Briggs, 82, who raised Dashan and had to be hospitalized last week after hearing his grandson was killed.

Sgt. Dashan Briggs and his fallen comrades are also a grim reminder that although we all cheered and waved Old Glory during shock and awe and the invasion of Baghdadi in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the veterans of America’s longest war are now obscenely forgotten. Few know that 11-20% of Iraq/Afghan veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, that an average of 22 people commit suicide every day, and according to the Military Times, the number of homeless veterans rose last year for the first time in seven years to some 40,000 nationwide, 25,000 in temporary shelters and 15, 000 on the street.

They served, for what?

One neighbor on King St. told me he knew of a veteran who did so many “Stop Loss” tours of Iraq and Afghanistan that he was away from his wife and family for three years. When he returned, “suffering from that syndrome,” he discovered his wife was having an affair. He killed her. He’s now doing life in prison.

Worse, reports the Military Times, “in recent months, homeless advocates have expressed concerns with VA plans to convert funds dedicated to outreach and assistance efforts to general purpose money, with broader authority for regional directors over how to use it.”

As we have recently learned, general purpose VA money goes to things like First Class airfares for administrators and their wives who illegally accepted tickets to Wimbledon Tennis Tournaments, while veterans sleep under highways and take their lives to end their own private wars.

President Trump sent “thoughts and prayers” to the latest families of the fallen, which is an improvement on “he knew what he was getting into.”

The long war is now over for Sgt. Dashan Briggs. It is just beginning for his wife and children.

And so, 15 years after shock and awe, Denny Leung was packing up his house that he has lived in for 28 years to put it up for sale. “Since this war started, my wife passed on six years ago from cancer. My kids finished school, grew up and moved out. And I’m ready to move in with my girlfriend. And now my next-door neighbor is killed in the same war. For what?”

Next door, Sgt. Dashan Briggs’s gray Ram 1500 sits idle in the driveway, because Daddy doesn’t live here anymore.

To comment on Sand in My Shoes, email denishamill@gmail.com.