Military Considering Promotions For Airmen Killed In Iraq Helo Crash

Tech Sgt. Dashan Briggs, Capt. Christopher Zanetis, Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, and Capt. Andreas O'Keeffe.
New York National Guard

Dashan Briggs, a National Guard aviator from Port Jefferson Station who was killed last week in a helicopter crash in Iraq along with three other members of the 106th Air Rescue Wing, has been posthumously promoted to the rank of technical sergeant, according to a Guard spokesman in Albany.

Spokesman Richard Goldenberg said the other three members of the 106th who perished — Capt. Andreas B. O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches, Capt. Christopher T. Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City, Queens, and Master Sgt. Christopher J. Raguso, 39, of Commack — also have been recommended for posthumous promotion.

Briggs, 30, held the rank of staff sergeant when he died.

The airmen, based at Gabreski airfield in Westhampton Beach, were among seven U.S. service members killed March 15 when their helicopter crashed near the Syrian border in western Iraq. Military officials said the crash did not appear to be caused by hostile fire.

Members of the 106th — who specialize in rescuing downed aircrews and other American forces trapped behind enemy lines — were sent to Iraq in late January in support of American efforts to confront ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The bodies of the airmen are currently at the Defense Department mortuary at Dover, Delaware, and are not expected to arrive on Long Island until sometime next week, according to National Guard officials.

The promotion recommendations for Briggs’ three comrades must go through a different approval process because of their higher ranks — a process that has not yet been completed, Goldenberg added.

“There is no prediction right now of how long those promotion requests may take as they are processed down at the Pentagon,” Goldenberg said in an emailed statement.

Those procedures are governed by Air Force instructions, which are different for officers and enlisted personnel, based on time in grade, years of service, military education, and their commander’s recommendation, Goldenberg said.

Briggs’ family could not be reached for comment Friday.

At the time of his death, Briggs was on leave from Newsday, where he worked as a security guard, according to the company’s human resources department.

Briggs joined the 106th as a part-time soldier in 2010, according to the National Guard, and had been on military leave from Newsday since he left for higher-level training at Lackland Air Force Base in February 2014.

Last week’s helicopter crash in Iraq, which came just shy of 15 years to the day after President George W. Bush first sent troops to Iraq in 2003, serves as a grim reminder that local National Guard members continue to serve in harm’s way.

Two days after the crash in Iraq, some 330 members of the Yonkers-based 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion left to train for a deployment to Afghanistan scheduled within the next few weeks, Goldenberg said.

Goldenberg said more than 100 New York Guard members are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, including 106th Rescue colleagues of the soldiers who perished last week. Goldenberg said there are more than 100 New York Army National Guard soldiers now serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Some 200 New York Air Force National Guard members, which include members of the 106th Air Rescue Wing, “are serving overseas in support of contingency operations,” he said, although he did not specify how many of them are in Iraq or Afghanistan.


©2018 Newsday. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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