NEWBURGH, N.Y. — It was four years ago today that a 22-year-old man who "practically grew up" at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and for his comrades.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Todd “TJ” Lobraico was killed in action on Sept. 5, 2013, when his unit was ambushed by insurgents fire outside of Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
Lobraico joined the 105th Base Defense Squadron at the Stewart Air National Guard Base in 2008. He went on to deploy to both Afghanistan and Iraq, and quickly rose to the position of staff sergeant — a testament, said one superior officer, to his professionalism, hard work, and dedication.
Lobraico was killed in a "hellish barrage of rocket, grenade, and small arms fire" as he maneuvered against a Taliban ambush and bought time for the other members of his squad, the military said in posthumously awarding him the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.
"T.J. is our hero. He gave his life for us that dark night outside of Bagram Airfield," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Pacenza, Lobraico's squad leader.
The 22-year-old airman became the first from Stewart to die in battle since the Vietnam War. His actions prevented an ambush of his team and likely thwarted an attack on the Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.
"Please take a moment today to remember TJ and the sacrifice he made on 5 September 2013. He is forever on our minds and always in our hearts. #LiveforTJ," said a post on the Facebook page for the T.J. Lobraico Foundation.
"By all definitions, he was a true American hero. He saved his team; he saved a lot of lives that night. He sacrificed himself; put himself in harm's way, a selfless act," said Staff Sgt. Juan Ospina, who deployed with Lobraico on multiple occasions.
Lobraico, a Sherman, Conn. resident, had deployed to Afghanistan in June 2013 as part of a mission to secure air bases, train, and fight much like Army infantry. This was his second deployment. He had also served in Iraq in 2010 to 2011.
Both of Lobraico's parents served at Stewart. He would often tag along on drill weekends with his mother and father, who both served there.
The family’s military legacy began with Lobraico’s grandfather, a U.S. Air Force general. His stepfather also served in the Air Force.
Had Lobraico lived, he might have gone on to serve in a different way. After graduating from New Fairfield High, he attended Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. He was studying justice and law administration with an aspiration to follow in the footsteps of his father, Stamford police Officer Todd James Lobraico, who was a master sergeant with the 105th.
Lobraico's mother, Linda Rohatsch, was a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard.
The T.J. Lobraico Foundation was started by Lobraico's family and friends in his memory. It provides "educational scholarships or support to people and organizations who exemplify service before self," according to the Foundation's Facebook page.
A documentary on his life, "Family Mission: The TJ Lobraico Story," is available on iTunes. ( Click here to purchase.)
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