A Riverhead native was among the seven service members killed aboard a military helicopter in Iraq Thursday, a family member confirmed to the News-Review.
Dashan Briggs, a 2007 Riverhead High School graduate and full-time member of the Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton, was killed in the crash, according to his grandfather, Eli Briggs, who raised Dashan. He was 30.
The U.S. HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in western Iraq Thursday night and the incident did not appear to be the result of enemy activity, according to the Pentagon. The crash is under investigation.
“He was a good son to me,” Eli Briggs said Friday afternoon at his Riverhead home. “I didn’t treat him like a grandson because I raised him. He had his life put together.”
Eli Briggs, 81, said his grandson, who is married with two young children, recently bought a home in Port Jefferson Station. The news struck Eli Briggs so hard, he was forced to go to a local hospital, he said.
“That kind of tells the story there,” he said.
Eli Briggs said he had just returned from Port Jefferson Station where his grandson’s widow, Rebecca, was struggling to deal with the sudden loss.
“She’s not taking it well,” he said.
He remembered Dashan as a hard worker who was always there to support his family. At the Air National Guard, Dashan worked on search and rescue missions.
“He was a real man,” he said. “I’m not saying that because he’s my grandson. He loved his family. He did everything he could to take care of them. That’s why he was in the Air [National] Guard.”
Dashan is survived by his two children, ages 1 and 2.
“They don’t know what’s going on yet,” Eli said. “That’s a good thing that they don’t know, right now. I went through the same thing. I was 3 years old when I lost my father to an accident.”
In a statement from the Pentagon, Army Brig. Gen. Jonathan P. Braga, the director of operations for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, confirmed “all personnel aboard were killed in the crash.”
Other members of the 106th were killed, according to published reports. A firefighter from Commack was among the victims, the department announced Friday.
“Christopher Raguso, a New York Air National Guard flight engineer, died while protecting our freedom, when his helicopter crashed in Iraq killing all seven on board,” the department posted online. He was a member of the FDNY and Commack Fire Department.
The identities of the other victims were not yet available.
Eric Durr, the public affairs officer for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said the Pentagon doesn’t release names of those killed in action until 24 hours after family has been notified.
Dashan was one of 12 local recipients in 2011 to receive medals for their service during Hurricane Irene, the News-Review reported at the time. In high school he was a member of the Riverhead football team, playing defensive end and fullback, and lacrosse team.
Riverhead varsity football coach Leif Shay said Dashan “exemplified what it is to be a man.”
He was the type of player who never made excuses and through determination and sheer will, transformed himself into a key player on the Blue Waves’ undefeated 2006 team. Mr. Shay said he would use Dashan as an example for younger players in the years after he graduated for what to aspire to and even encouraged him to join the team as a coach. But as he continued his military career and started a family, he didn’t have the time for football.
“He was something special,” Mr. Shay said.
Friends of Dashan began to express condolences on social media as word spread Friday of his death.
“Keep his family in your prayers,” a friend posted in a Facebook page for the Riverhead Class of 2006.
An accompanying U.S. helicopter immediately reported the crash Thursday and a quick reaction force comprised of Iraqi and coalition service members secured the scene, Gen. Braga said.
Officials declined to provide further information.
Congressman Lee Zeldin issued a statement Friday afternoon.
“While I cannot get into further details yet due to the process of notifying next of kin, I just want to extend my deepest condolences to the families of the great American heroes lost in yesterday’s helicopter crash on the Iraq-Syria border,” he said. “These lives represented the best of the best of our proud nation.”
President Trump offered condolences in a Twitter post, saying: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the brave troops lost in the helicopter crash on the Iraq-Syria border yesterday. Their sacrifice in service to our country will never be forgotten.”
Eli said he knows there are six other families dealing with the same pain he’s feeling.
“I’ll get through it,” he said. “I just have to help the family get through it,” he said.
Top photo caption: Eli Briggs, the grandfather who raised Dashan Briggs, shows a scrapbook of photos Friday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)
Second photo caption: Mr. Briggs pictured in a 2016 photo. (Credit: Facebook)
WITH JOE WERKMEISTER