2018 Public Servant of the Year: Dashan Briggs

On an overcast Saturday afternoon in October, longtime Riverhead High School football and track coach Sal Loverde held a microphone to share his memories of Dashan Briggs. It was in the hallways of Riverhead Middle School more than a decade earlier that Mr. Loverde first got to know Dashan as “a curious young man looking to build his knowledge.”

Mr. Loverde pointed over to the fields behind the middle school and noted it was there that he really got to know Dashan as he grew into a talented football player.

There have always been three traits that stand out for being a part of the Blue Wave family, Mr. Loverde said.

The first was to do his best. The second was to always do what is right, no matter how difficult a choice. The third was to treat people the way you like to be treated.

In each instance, Dashan exemplified those traits, he said.

“Today, when we stand to honor our flag, we take off our hats and listen to the national anthem, which is routine in athletic events, I ask everybody to pause and think of the ultimate sacrifice Dashan made,” Mr. Loverde said, moments before a No. 22 football jersey bearing Dashan’s name was formally retired.

In the nine months that have passed since news hit home that Tech. Sgt. Briggs had died in Iraq following a helicopter crash, his memory and legacy have been omnipresent in Riverhead.

For his dedicated service to his country, both abroad and at home in aiding with hurricane disaster rescues, and for his ultimate sacrifice, the News-Review posthumously honors Tech. Sgt. Briggs as its 2018 Public Servant of the Year.

In the years to come, a new generation will learn the name of Tech. Sgt. Briggs while driving down Lewis Street, which was renamed in his memory, or looking up at the retired jersey high atop the press box at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field. What he stood for — family, hard work, determination — are the lessons that will continue to inspire Riverhead’s youth. For all his success on the football field, Tech. Sgt. Briggs’ greatest accomplishments — and those ultimately worth emulating — occurred off the field.

“That No. 22 is going to serve as a reminder to all the youths and players that come through this field about how to be a great man, about how to service others, about how to be a man who is built for others,” varsity football coach Leif Shay said in October. “That is truly what Dashan was: somebody who built himself up so he can be a man built for others.”

Dec. 28 would have been Tech. Sgt. Briggs’ 31st birthday. He shared that birthday with his wife, Rebecca. In her late husband’s honor, she chose to collect donations for Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which came to her family’s assistance following the tragedy. The foundation began in memory of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who died on 9/11. The foundation has continued to support the families of military personnel and first responders who “make the supreme sacrifice of life and limb for our country.”

In April, Col. Michael Canders, commander of the 106th Rescue Wing from 2002 to 2009, wrote about how the families of those who perished bear “the unbearable burden.”

“Military families serve on equal footing with their loved ones.” Col. Canders wrote. “They experience the great anxiety of watching their soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coastguardsmen depart for long periods in harm’s way. They most often do not know the dangers faced and the incredibly difficult conditions of service. They wait in quiet solitude for their loved ones to return.”

Those who knew Tech. Sgt. Briggs always brought up his smile when they remembered him. It’s that smile they will always recall when they close their eyes and picture him. 

“He had that smile, those cheeks would go up into eyes, his shoulders would rise and his body would shake, especially if we were having some fun,” Mr. Loverde said. “I’ll never forget that.”

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Photo caption: U.S. Chief Master Sgt. Harold L. Hutchison, command chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, coins Airmen at New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, Westhampton Beach, New York on Oct. 3, 2017. Chief Hutchison thanked the members of the 106th for their hard work and dedication to saving lives during the Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma relief efforts. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel H. Farrell)