New WCSU scholarship honors ‘service above self’
Upcoming events support Staff Sgt. TJ Lobraico Memorial Scholarship
DANBURY, CONN. — TJ Lobraico Jr. was a carefree 10-year-old boy when the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred during the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
A dozen years later on an early September evening in Afghanistan, Lobraico made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his country during his second tour of duty with the New York Air National Guard as a participant in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Recently, Lobraico’s mother Linda Rohatsch, chief operating officer of PhysicianOne Urgent Care of Connecticut, reflected on her son and the values that he carried from his childhood into his early adulthood.
“Even before 9/11, we were a very patriotic family,” Rohatsch said. “Memorial Day was always important to us as a day to acknowledge the service and sacrifices that are made by many families on behalf of our country. But 9/11 is why TJ chose to serve.”
Rohatsch, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Western Connecticut State University in 1998, is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. She commands the 105th Medical Group at Stewart Air Base in Newburgh, NewYork, the same base that TJ was assigned to, and served a tour of duty in Balad, Iraq. TJ’s father, Todd James Lobraico, is an Air Force veteran of the first Persian Gulf War who serves as a master sergeant with the 105th Security Forces Squadron. He also is a Stamford police officer.
In addition to his parents both continuing to serve their country, TJ also has roots in military service with his stepfather, Dr. Rob Rohatsch; and his grandfathers, Frank Lobraico and Bob Rohatsch, all proud veterans of the military.
Therefore, it came as no surprise, given his family history, when TJ announced his plans to enlist. He joined the New York Air National Guard in 2008 after graduating from New Fairfield High School
“TJ was always full of life, happy and joking around,” Rohatsch said. “He was attending community college and having a good time. He did his first tour of duty in Iraq in 2010-11, and when he came home, he was more mature and ready to focus on his future.”
That enhanced focus led him to transfer to Western to pursue a degree in Justice and Law Administration in preparation for a career in law enforcement, like his father.
“He loved going to school at Western,” Rohatsch said. “He had a job and his classes, and he greatly enjoyed both.”
TJ volunteered for his second deployment in 2013, this time to Afghanistan. Due to his previous experience on his first deployment, TJ knew the dangerous mission he faced. A staff sergeant in the 105th Security Forces Squadron, he was assigned to a Reaper team tasked with patrolling areas outside the base near Bagram Airfield. He died a hero at the age of 22 after saving several members of his squadron when they were ambushed on Sept. 5, 2013.
“We decided as a family immediately that we didn’t want flowers at the funeral,” Rohatsch said. “We asked ourselves, how do we not let people forget him?”
The answer became clear: a memorial scholarship.
“Like TJ, I worked my way through college,” Rohatsch said. “I was able to attend Western because of the G.I. Bill and deferred tuition. We wanted to help a student — someone in their junior year of college, possibly a commuter and definitely committed to graduating. We wanted to help someone like TJ. The scholarship could make or break it for that student.”
Rohatsch said the family created the scholarship for a student in the Division of Justice and Law Administration because at the time of his death, TJ was a JLA major who had completed his junior year. It was also important to the family that the recipient, like TJ, had demonstrated active participation in community service and held a part-time job. Qualified applicants are required to submit a short essay that answers the question, “What does service above self mean to you?”
The TJ Lobraico Memorial Scholarship will provide a $5,000 scholarship annually, beginning in the 2014-15 academic year, to a Western student who meets the stated criteria.
“We’re excited about the scholarship,” Rohatsch said. “Our goal is to get it endowed by the end of the year. We want his legacy to last. Someday, years from now, it will be TJ’s sister and her children awarding the scholarship.”
Upcoming and ongoing events in support of the Staff Sgt. TJ Lobraico Memorial Scholarship include:
• On Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, there will be a ride, barbeque and 50/50 Raffle at the Maybrook VFW Post #2064, 209 Main St. in Maybrook, New York. Registration will be from 9 to 11 a.m., kickstands go up at 11:15 a.m. and the BBQ will start at 1 p.m. Tickets are $20 for a motorcycle rider, $10 for a passenger and $15 for a non-rider. All proceeds will support the TJ Lobraico Memorial Scholarship Fund. Call (914) 204-0529 or (845) 590-5260 for more information.
• A raffle, with the drawing to be held on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, is ongoing. A $25 ticket offers a chance to win a Harley Davidson FXSTC 2008 Softail Custom. Tickets are available in New Fairfield at Villa Pasta, 249 state Route 39; Biscotti’s, 4 Cotton Tail Road; Alfredo’s, Village Hardware, 1 Brush Hill Road; Gil’s Auto and Truck Repair, 7 state Route 37; and at Cruise Night every Tuesday in the New Fairfield Food Center parking lot, 1 Brush Hill Road. Other special events are being scheduled. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/livefortj/.
For more information about the Staff Sgt. TJ Lobraico Memorial Scholarship, contact the WCSU Office of Institutional Advancement at (203) 837-9805.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.