Fellow service members, friends, family and officials gathered at the Westhampton Beach Volunteer Fire Department to remember Tech. Sgt. Dashan Briggs, a Riverhead native who died in a helicopter crash along the Iraq-Syria border March 15 along with six others.
Tech Sgt. Briggs, 30, was a full-time member of the Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. The funeral procession after the service passed Pulaski Street School, the Riverhead Middle School and High School where students lined the streets to pay respects to Tech. Sgt. Briggs, a 2007 graduate.
His grandfather, Eli Briggs of Riverhead, was the last of three speakers at the service, which was also attended by officials such as Congressman Lee Zeldin, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legislator Al Krupski. Members of fire departments from around Long Island, military members and local veterans stood before a raised garrison flag at the fire department.
Eli Briggs raised his grandson, who is married with two children, ages 1 and 2, and had recently purchased a home Port Jefferson Station.
“I know a lot of credit goes to me,” Mr. Briggs said of Tech. Sgt. Briggs becoming the man he was. “I see a lot of people who were a part of it.”
Mr. Briggs spoke of how he lost his own father early in life, about the same age as his great-grandson, Jayden.
“We’ll be there for him, he’ll be all right,” he said.
He said he was thankful to have Dashan in his life and said his grandson “did a wonderful job.”
Mr. Briggs said he and his grandson shared a saying: “Life is like a freeway, you never know when your exit is going to come up.”
Before closing he led a prayer, asking that everyone “just keep loving one another.”
Close friend Andre Galarza said he looked up to Tech Sgt. Briggs, calling him a “straight up guy,” a “family guy” and a “tech-savvy person.”
Mr. Galarza started a GoFundMe page on behalf of Tech Sgt. Briggs’ wife, Rebecca, which as of Thursday morning raised nearly $38,000.
John Turner, friend and retired Master Sergeant in the 101st Rescue Squadron, said he flew with Tech. Sgt. Briggs.
“Dashan was a phenomenal person,” he said while speaking to reporters before the service. “He was a team player, but most importantly we have to honor his sacrifice. Everything he did — flying, deploying — before his country, came his family. He loved his daughter, Ava, and his son, Jayden, and Rebecca. He was hard-worker and did everything for his family.”
The bodies of Tech. Sgt. Briggs and fellow 106th members Maj. Christopher T. Zanetis of Long Island City, a HH-60 rescue pilot, and Master Sgt. Christopher J. Raguso of Commack, a HH-60 rescue pilot, arrived at the base at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach Tuesday afternoon. They first returned to the United States early last week at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
A military helicopter circled above as the funeral procession left the firehouse in Westhampton Beach and headed toward the Riverhead schools before reaching the final destination at Calverton National Cemetery where Tech. Sgt. Briggs was laid to rest.
Members of the Riverhead NJROTC and the football team lined the entrance in front of the high school where the procession, which stretched dozens of vehicles, passed.
Riverhead senior Michael Daniel, the Commanding Officer of the NJROTC unit, said it was important for the members of the unit to pay respect to Tech. Sgt. Briggs and his family.
“I feel like we did a great job showing that no matter who you are, if you’re from Riverhead you’re part of a family,” he said. “And when you leave that family you’re never forgotten.”
Tech. Sgt. Briggs was a standout football player during his high school years, helping lead the Blue Waves to an undefeated regular season in 2006. After the procession passed, the football players each hugged varsity coach Leif Shay, who remained close with Tech. Sgt. Briggs in the years after he graduated.
“It’s important to most of the players that we come out here, show support,” said junior Jaheim Woodson. “He was a great impact for the Riverhead Blue Waves. He stood out to us. Having Coach Shay asking us to come out here, you know, with the respect we have for him we’ll do anything for coach.”
Anthony Fata of Hampton Bays, whose son Anthony played football alongside Tech. Sgt. Briggs at Riverhead, stood among the large crowd gathered to witness the procession. Wearing a Blue Waves varsity jacket, Mr. Fata said it was important for him to be there.
“These guys are dying every day in these faraway places,” he said. “When it happens at home, it hits a little closer. You really realize what these guys are going through. I felt like I should pay respects to his family for what he did for our country.”
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