A fundraiser for the families of the airmen from the 106th Air National Guard at Francis S. Gabreski in Westhampton who died in March when the helicopter they were being transported in went down in Iraq is in the works for September.
The fundraiser will be held on Saturday, September 22, at the Boardy Barn in Hampton Bays. The evening will include music by the Meade Brothers Band, as well as an all-you-can-eat barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers, and raffles. Tickets are $40 per person.
Seven airmen were killed on March 15 in a HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopter in western Iraq near Al-Qa’im on a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, a United States-led coalition operation with aims to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Four of the airmen were local, including Technical Sergeant Dashan Briggs, 30, a Riverhead High School graduate who lived in Port Jefferson Station; Master Sergeant Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack; Captain Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; and Captain Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City.
There was no evidence of enemy fire in the crash, however, it is still under investigation, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The fundraiser is being organized by the Fire Department of New York Foundation, which provides support to the families of New York City firefighters. Two of the four airmen killed were FDNY firefighters, including Raguso and Zanetis. Briggs was a volunteer firefighter with the Westhampton Beach Fire Department.
Funds raised from the event will go to the families of the airmen, some of whom include small children, according to Captain John Raguso, the father of Christopher Raguso.
“I think it is going to be for the families to use as they see fit,” he said, adding volunteers from FDNY’s Tunnel to Towers already raised enough money to pay off the mortgage of his son and Briggs.
“But, still, you have girls who are going to grow up without a Dad. You have expenses that they are going to incur and Chris isn’t around and Dashan isn’t around. So, I think that some of the money that they are going to raise is going to go for that,” said Raguso, who lives in Jamesport.
He said his son was the type of person who lived his life in service of others, not only serving in the military, but working as a firefighter, and then volunteering in his spare time with the Commack Fire Department, rescuing about 400 people in his career. He left behind a wife and two daughters.
“Chris was a larger-than-life cartoon character,” he said, adding that he was like The Hulk. “He touched everybody in a very positive way.”