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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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Family, friends mourn death of soldier, 22, in Afghanistan

Updated 8:46 am, Wednesday, September 11, 2013

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  • Todd James "T.J." Lobraico, 22, of New Fairfield, left, and his father, Todd Lobracio, a Stamford police officer and Air Force veteran.

Facebook photo Photo: Contributed Photo
    Todd James "T.J." Lobraico, 22, of New Fairfield, left, and his father, Todd Lobracio, a Stamford police officer and Air Force veteran. Facebook photo Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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An American flag at the Lobraico family home in Sherman was flying at half-staff Friday, Sept. 6.

Cars were lined along the long driveway leading to the white-siding house.

Friends and family quietly talked, hugging occasionally.

Once again, war had come home to Connecticut.

Staff Sgt. Todd James "T.J." Lobraico, a member of the New York Air National Guard and a 2008 graduate of New Fairfield High School, was killed in action a day earlier in Afghanistan, the governor's office had announced.

He was 22.

Lobraico's father, Todd, an officer with the Stamford Police Department and an Air Force veteran who served in the first Persian Gulf War, was notified early Friday morning.

The Lobraico family is well-known in Sherman and in New Fairfield, where T.J. Lobraico grew up.

The towns of Sherman and New Fairfield held a joint candlelight vigil Sunday at the Senior Center in New Fairfield to honor Lobraico's memory, said New Fairfield First Selectman Susan Chapman, preceding the town's 9/11 memorial ceremony.

Memorial services have been set for the 22-year-old soldier. Funeral services will be held Friday, Sept. 13 at 11 a.m. at the O'Neill Center on Western Connecticut State University's westside campus in Danbury.

Burial will follow in North Cemetery along Church Road in Sherman.

Lobraico's family would receive friends at the O'Neill Center, off Lake Avenue Extension, Thursday, Sept. 12 from 3 to 7 p.m.

The owner at an automotive shop where Lobraico had worked after graduation said the young man had hoped to become a police officer and joining the military had been a first step toward that goal.

"We're all really sad here today," said Tom Hicks, who owns Gil's Auto and Truck Repair. "He was just an overall good kid, an unbelievable kid."

Lobraico was remembered Friday as "always happy," confident and smart.

"He always liked to have fun. He was pretty much always in a good mood," said Joe Pacheco, a cousin who also lives in New Fairfield. "His English mastiff, Gus, and his tricked-out car, Subaru STI, were his pride and joy."

"We pretty much just grew up together," Pacheco said. "We'd have family parties every year, and he's who I would remember the most."

Being in the military was something Lobraico always wanted to do. He enlisted right after high school, Pacheco said.

"He wanted to do it career-wise, and to keep a little family tradition going," his cousin said.

The Facebook pages of Lobraico family members were flooded with condolences. Just about everyone in New Fairfield and Sherman seemed to know the family or know someone who did.

"What a wonderful family," said Judge of Probate Marty Landgrebe of New Milford, who did not know T.J. but knows Todd and T.J.'s mother.

"God bless them," the judge said.

T.J.'s mother is Linda Rohatsch, who lives in New Fairfield with her T.J.'s stepfather, Dr. R. Robert Rohatsch.

Dianne Lobraico of Sherman is T.J.'s step-mother.

A fellow airman who served with T.J. and was sent home early because of a combat injury said he "couldn't have known a better individual my age."

"T.J. was a determined and awesome kid, everyone loved him and will miss him," Matthew Travis Zuniga told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers in an email Friday.

"I'd trade in all my medals to go back and trade places with him," he added. "That's how much I respected and loved him."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered Connecticut and U.S. flags to fly at half-staff in honor of Lobraico.

"The loss of this brave, young man is a sad reminder that hundreds of Connecticut military men and women are still in danger overseas even as our involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan approach a conclusion," said Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman on Friday.

"I hope that all Connecticut residents take a moment to recognize the sacrifice in defense of our freedom made by Airman Lobraico," she said, "and the other 64 heroes from our state lost in battle since Sept. 11, 2001."

The New York Air National Guard said Lobraico, in his second overseas deployment, died Thursday as a result of wounds sustained when his unit near Bagram Airfield was attacked with small arms fire, the Associated Press reported.

Chief Fontneau said Friday he had just returned from visiting the Lobraico family and family members were "crushed" and in a state of shock after being notified of T.J.'s death.

"On a personal level, I can fully understand what Todd and his family are going through," Fontneau said. "As for the Stamford police family, we are devastated seeing the loss to Todd's family and the loss to the United States."

"Honestly, my heart is broken for them," said a Lobraico cousin, Lisa Weir.

A scholarship fund has been established in his name. Donations may be sent to SSgt. T.J. Lobraico Jr. Scholarship Fund, c/o Wells Fargo, 1 Eagle Road, Danbury, CT 06810.

Staff reporters Robert Miller, Dennis O'Malley and Susan Tuz contributed to this report.