STEWART AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, NY (NYANG) -- Staff Sgt. Todd "T.J." Lobraico, a member of the 105th Airlift Wing who was killed in action in Afghanistan on Sept. 5, 2013, was honored with a posthumous award of the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, during a ceremony held at Stewart Air National Guard Base on Saturday afternoon April 11, 2015.
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 to react during a mission outside Bagram Airfield.
Lobraico, a Sherman, Connecticut resident, had deployed to Afghanistan at the end of June as part of a team of 105th Base Defense Squadron Airmen whose mission is to secure air bases, train, and, fight much like Army infantry. This was his second deployment. He had served in Iraq in 2010/2011.
His Bronze Star and citation were presented to his parents, Lt. Col. Linda Rohatsch and Master Sgt. Todd Lobraico Sr.--both members of the 105th Airlift Wing, like their son--during a ceremony here by Col. Timothy LaBarge, the commander of the wing.
Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York, Major General Verle Johnston, the commander of the New York Air National Guard, and members of the 820th Base Defense Group, the active Air Force base defense force that the members of the 105th Base Defense Force Squadron were serving with that day.
Nicknamed "TJ" -- short for Todd James -- Lobraico was the first and so far only member of the New York Air National Guard killed in action in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Lobraico was assigned to the 755th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron of the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Group, a part of the 445th Air Expeditionary Wing, and was serving as a vehicle commander.
According to his medal citation, On Sept. 5, 2013 Lobraico volunteered to establish a listening and observation post eight miles outside the Bagram Airfield perimeter in order to deter enemy mortar and rocket attacks. Lobraico took the point position on the mission, scouting ahead and providing security for his fire team. While moving he discovered an insurgent force which was in the process of setting up to ambush his fire team with rocket propelled grenades, small arms, and an improvised explosive device.
"With total disregard for his own safety he placed himself directly between his fire team and the insurgents who unleashed a hellish barrage of rocket, grenade, and small arms fire," the citation says. "Sergeant Lobraico took immediate and decisive actions while braving this intense enemy fire, and was mortally wounded while directing the maneuver of his fire team to covered positions from which they could effectively defend themselves and return fire on the enemy positions.""His actions were instrumental in gaining fire superiority and the survival of his team," the citation says.
LaBarge praised Lobraico for his courage and said that his death had an impact throughout the wing. "When "T.J." was killed over in Afghanistan that ripple resonated through the organization," La Barge said.
"The impact of his death was immediate, profound, and specific, and we will feel it for a long time. However, this does not mitigate the amount of pride we feel for "T.J." and the Lobraico families. "This ceremony today was something that basically allowed us part of the healing process and I think it was important for the families' also, LaBarge said.
Tech Sgt Michael Pacenza, Lobraico's squad leader, remembered him as a person who was always smiling; always volunteering for stuff. He would always help out someone in need.
"T.J." is our hero; he gave his life for us that dark night outside of Bagram airfield," Pacenza said.
Lobraico was a "great NCO", said Staff Sgt. Juan Ospina. He was "upbeat and he always made you laugh when you were down," he added. He and Lobraico joined the Air Guard together in 2008, deployed to Balad Air Base in Iraq together in 2010 and then deployed again to Afghanistan, Opisna said."
By all definitions he was true American hero," Ospina said. "He saved his team; he saved a lot of lives that night. He sacrificed himself; put himself in harm's way, a selfless act. It makes me proud to have known him as a person and fellow NCO. He was awesome," Ospina added.
Lobraico's death brought to 33 the total number of New York National Guard combat deaths since 2001. Shortly after the award ceremony, the newest building erected at Stewart, the 105th Base Defense Group Headquarters was officially opened. The longest serving member of the unit -- Master Sgt. Todd Lobraico, TJ Lobraico's father -- and the most junior member of the unit -- Airman 1st Class Jim Byrne -- cut the ribbon opening the new facility. A plaque at the building mark's Lobraico's sacrifice.
Thirty-two members of the New York Army National Guard have been killed in action or died in a combat zone since Sept. 11, 2001. Ten of those deaths were in Afghanistan and 23 were in Iraq.
The Bronze Star Medal is an individual military award of the United States Armed Forces. It may be awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone. The Bronze Star Medal is the fourth-highest individual military award and the ninth-highest by order of precedence in the US Military. When awarded for acts of heroism, the medal is awarded with the "V" device.