Flags at all state buildings flew at half-staff on Monday in honor of members of the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq last Thursday.
Throughout the weekend, local elected officials offered condolences and sympathy to the family members of those lost when the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in western Iraq, while friends launched funding drives in the name of Riverhead native Staff Sgt Dashan Briggs.
By Monday afternoon, a GoFundMe page in memory of Staff Sgt Briggs had already raised over $14,675. It was started just 24 hours earlier by Andre Galarza and reads, of the 2007 RHS graduate,
“Dashan has touched so many people in the community. Some many people loved him. I feel deep down in my heart this would only be right thing to do to help his family. You’ve protected us and now it’s our turn to protect you.” Briggs leaves behind his wife, Rebecca and children Ava and Jayden. The memorial fund is designed to help the family.
So, too, is one started on the youcaring website that raised over $6100 by Monday afternoon. It was organized by Dusti Napolitano.
She wrote, “Dashan was regarded as a man who would light up a room when he entered. He had an infectious laugh and great sense of humor. He was also the friend who would drop everything to help you in a time of need.
“Raised by his grandfather and star player on his high school football team, Dashan was determined to create the best life for his family. On the football field and in the Military, Dashan never complained and worked hard to make himself an asset to his unit and pushed those around him to do the same.
“Dashan served alongside my husband, and while I didn’t witness his military drive first hand, my husband had nothing but the best to say about him.
“On a personal level, we recently moved into a new home and I believe Dashan was the one who made it possible to move the entire contents of our home, 30 minutes away, in about 5 hours.”
Napolitano noted that while talking with Mrs. Briggs, she expressed concern about her children’s future. “As a mother, that is the last thing we should be worried about . . . We as a community need to honor Dashan as an American Hero by making sure his children have all the opportunities that he was working so hard to provide.”
Four airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing based at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton were killed in the crash. They were part of a seven-member team who died when the rescue chopper they were flying crashed near the city of Al-Qa’im in western Iraq. There is no evidence of enemy action involved in the crash and the incident is under investigation, according to the Department of Defense.
Staff Sgt. Briggs, 30, was an HH-60G special missions aviation flight engineer. He joined the 106th Rescue Wing in 2010. He was a full time military member with the wing and assigned to the 101st Rescue Squadron. He 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. He recently moved to Port Jefferson.
Other members of the Rescue Wing who died are Captain Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City, Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches, and Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack.
The 106th Rescue Wing personnel were operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the American-led coalition operation to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“Our National Guard family mourns the loss of the seven combat search and rescue Airmen in the HH-60 crash, including four members from the 106th Rescue Wing,” said Major General
Anthony German, the Adjutant General of New York. “This loss reminds us of the tremendous risks we take in serving our nation every day.”
The 106th Rescue Wing operates the HH-60G Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopter, which is a modified version of the Army’s UH-60 Blackhawk. The wing also flies the HC-130 search and rescue version of the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.
Airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing have deployed regularly to Afghanistan and Iraq and other areas in support of American and coalition combat missions since September 11, 2001.
Airmen from the wing also recently responded to Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in 2017. The members of the 106th are credited with rescuing 546 Houston area residents from flood waters with boats and their HH-60 Pave Hawks. They played a key role in evacuating 1500 Americans from the Dutch Island of St. Maarten following Hurricane Irma.
The four Airmen killed on March 15 brings the total number of New York National Guard members who have died in a combat zone since September 11, 2001 to 39. Of those, seven have been members of the New York Air National Guard. Since September 11, 2001, 27 members of the New York National Guard — including these four Airmen — have died in Iraq. These four are the first
New York Air National Guard Airmen to die in Iraq. The others were killed supporting operations in Afghanistan.
“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest condolences to the friends and family of these courageous New York National Guard members,” Governor Cuomo said in a press release over the weekend. “We join their loved ones and fellow service members in honoring the sacrifice they have made, so that others may live free in New York and across the entire nation.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin and County Executive Steve Bellone also issued statements of sympathy, as did Assemblyman Fred Thiele. Thiele said, “Our community has suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. Their commitment and sacrifice to our nation will never be forgotten. They are heroes in the truest sense of the word.”
Thiele continued, “As a state representative who represents our Air National Guard in Westhampton and as a part of the Friends of the 106th, I have seen the contribution these soldiers make to our community, state and nation. Whether it is deployment to the Middle East since 9/11, search and rescue operations during the recent hurricanes, their well-chronicled heroism during the ‘Perfect Storm’ or the multitude of other activities, near and far, that are part of their mission, the 106th makes us proud. Nothing expresses the commitment of these soldiers better than the motto of the 106th … ‘That others may live.’”
“We know the danger that they face,” the assemblyman concluded. “Still, when tragedy strikes, as it did this week, their loss shakes us to the core.”