Military News

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

NY Air National Guardsman posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor

by Staff Sgt. Michael O'Halloran
105th Airlift Wing

4/14/2015 - STEWART AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. -- Staff Sgt. Todd "T.J." Lobraico, a member of the 105th Airlift Wing who was killed in action in Afghanistan 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, 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 in June 2013 as part of a team of 105th Base Defense Squadron Airmen whose mission was 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 the ceremony by Col. Timothy LaBarge, 105th Airlift Wing commander.

Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York, Maj. Gen. 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 were also in attendance for the presentation.

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, where he served 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, Lobraico placed himself directly between his fire team and the insurgents who unleashed a hellish barrage of rocket, grenade, and small arms fire. 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.

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," LaBarge said. "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 as well."

Tech. Sgt. Michael Pacenza, Lobraico's squad leader, remembered him as a person who was always smiling and willing to volunteer. 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," he said.

"Lobraico was a great NCO," said Staff Sgt. Juan Ospina, who deployed with Lobraico on multiple occasions. "He was upbeat and he always made you laugh when you were down. 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. It makes me proud to have known him as a person and fellow NCO," he added.

Ospina and Lobraico joined the Air Guard together in 2008. They deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq together in 2010 and then deployed again to Afghanistan in 2013.

Shortly after the award ceremony, the newest building erected at Stewart, the 105th Base Defense Group Headquarters was officially opened. Master Sgt. Todd Lobraico, the longest serving member of the unit and T.J.'s father, and Airman 1st Class Jim Byrne, the most junior member of the unit, cut the ribbon opening the new facility. A plaque at the building marks Lobraico's sacrifice.

Lobraico's death brought to 33 the total number of New York National Guard combat deaths since 2001. Lobraico was the first-- and so far only-- member of the New York Air National Guard killed in action in Afghanistan or Iraq. 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.

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