From an early age, Dashan Briggs accepted the fact that anything he wanted in life had to be earned.
Instilled with a strong work ethic by his grandfather, Eli Briggs, who raised him from a baby, he grew up from humble beginnings with an eye toward achieving his goals one at a time.
In his early 20s, after playing football at Morrisville State College, he began to think about the next chapter in his life. He decided to join the military.
“I remember that decision for him and he was real excited about it because he just needed something so he could achieve his goals and his dreams in life,” said Daniel Jones, one of his closest friends. “He just needed the right avenue. It gave him everything that he wanted.”
A self-motivated, disciplined man who could light up any room with his smile, Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs was one of seven service members killed aboard a military helicopter in Iraq last Thursday night while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. He was 30.
A 2007 graduate of Riverhead High School, where he was a standout football player and member of the lacrosse team, Staff Sgt. Briggs was a full-time member of the Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. He served as an HH-60G special missions aviation flight engineer assigned to the 101st Rescue Squadron.
The HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed near the city of Al-Qa’im in western Iraq. According to the Department of Defense, the incident did not appear to be the result of enemy activity and is under investigation. The military declined to elaborate on the mission, citing the safety of service members still overseas.
Three other members of the 106th also died in the crash.
“He was a good son to me,” Mr. 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.”
Mr. Briggs, 81, said his grandson, who was married with two young children, had recently bought a home in Port Jefferson Station, a milestone moment as he achieved one of his goals.
The news struck Mr. Briggs so hard, he was forced to go to a local hospital, he said.
“That kind of tells the story there,” he said.
The remains of the four members of the 106th Rescue Wing returned to the United States at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware early Monday morning. Col. Michael Bank, commander of the 106th Rescue Wing, and key members of the 106th’s leadership were on hand, along with Air Force representatives and family members.
The other members of the 106th who died were Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; and Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack. The Department of Defense identified the three other service members killed as Master Sgt. William Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Fla.; Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Fla.; and Capt. Mark Weber, 29, of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Photographs provided by the Air Force show military members in camouflage carrying the flag-draped caskets of Master Sgt. Raguso and Capt. Zanetis at the base in Dover. The Briggs family declined to release the staff sergeant’s photo.
Mr. Briggs remembered his grandson as a hard worker who was always there to support his family.
“He loved his family,” he said. “He did everything he could to take care of them. That’s why he was in the Air [National] Guard.”
Staff Sgt. Briggs joined the 106th Rescue Wing in 2010. He was 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 was one of 12 local Air National Guard members to receive the New York State Humane Service Medal in 2011 for their service during Hurricane Irene, the News-Review reported at the time.
“He exemplified what it is to be a man,” said Leif Shay, who coached him on the Riverhead varsity football team.
It was during his military career that Staff Sgt. Briggs met Rebecca, the woman he would marry and begin a family with. A GoFundMe page was started this week to support Rebecca and their two children, Jayden, 2, and Ava, 1. It has already raised more than $20,000.
Mr. Briggs said Friday that the children didn’t yet know what had happened.
“That’s a good thing that they don’t know, right now,” he said. “I went through the same thing. I was 3 years old when I lost my father to an accident.”
Captain Michael O’Hagan, the 106th Rescue Wing’s public affairs officer, said a team of professionals will assist the families.
“We will mourn the loss of this seven-man team from active duty, Guard and Reserves,” he said at a press conference Saturday night in Westhampton Beach. “As said best by one of our brothers in arms, we will continue your legacy that others may live.”
In a statement from the Pentagon, Army Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga, director of operations for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said: “This tragedy reminds us of the risks our men and women face every day in service of our nation. We are thinking of the loved ones of these service members today.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin issued a statement describing the seven service members as “selfless, heroes, patriots and everything we aspire to be as a people, as a nation, and as Americans.
“Their families have the undying thanks and appreciation of every American across our nation, but most of all they have our utmost respect,” the congressman added.
Staff Sgt. Briggs was a man always willing to sacrifice, even beyond his duties as a military member, said longtime friend Jordan Harden.
“He was someone we all looked up to,” Mr. Harden said. “He knew exactly what he wanted in life and was willing to work hard for it. He never bragged about his service, but he was always looking to help people. He was a loyal friend.”
WITH TAYLOR K. VECSEY
Top photo caption: A photo of Dashan Briggs that was used on a GoFundMe page to raise money for his widow and children. (Credit: GoFundMe)
Editor’s Note: This is the print version of a story that first ran online March 16.