Del Rioan Benjamin Rawald is having an award-winning year.
Rawald, 17, has this year already been named Operation Homefront’s Air Force Military Child of the Year for 2019 and earned the William T. Hornaday Silver Medal, scouting’s highest conservation award, which Scouting Magazine calls “one of Scouting’s rarest and most prestigious honors.”
Rawald was born near Orlando, Fla., and said he “bounced around for three years in Europe at seven different military bases.” He began attending school at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany and is currently a junior at Brackett High School in Brackettville.
Rawald and his family moved to Del Rio in 2007 when his father was stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base.
Rawald’s Hornaday award was based on four projects, each on the scale of an Eagle Scout project, and the four projects submitted were a Monarch butterfly project that dealt with planting milkweeds, a large-scale printer toner cartridge recycling project, a wetlands reclamation project on Laughlin Air Force Base and a several plastic bag recycling initiatives in Del Rio.
Rawald is also an Eagle Scout and has been a Boy Scout since fifth grade and in scouting since first grade. He is currently a member of Troop 280 and Venture Crew 280.
He earned his Eagle in 2015 when he was only 13 years old with a documentary video on Del Rio’s Laughlin Heritage Foundation Museum.
Since earning the Eagle Scout award, Rawald has completed all of Boy Scouting’s merit awards, 138 in all.
In addition to being an Eagle Scout, Rawald is now a member of the Venturing, a co-ed scouting and self-improvement program for teenagers to further interact with the world and explore their own personal adventures. Rawald is also a Summit Scout.
Rawald said of the four projects for the Hornaday award, he most enjoyed working on the Laughlin canal project.
“There’s a wetlands or a marsh next to Laughlin, and whenever the wetland dries up, the wildlife scatters throughout the base and could go onto the runways, so to keep wetlands wet and the wildlife in the wetlands, there was a quarter-mile canal dug, and when it rains, it slowly drains into and replenishes the wetlands, so even during dry times, it’s still getting water,” Rawald said.
Rawald worked with the base’s civil engineers to create the canal, which is termed a bioswale.
Dr. Kevin Young a biology professor at Sul Ross State University’s Del Rio campus, helped mentor Rawald through the conservation projects.
According to an article in the Concho Valley Homepage, “Rawald is the first scout to ever earn (the Hornaday) award in the 108-year history of the Texas Boy Scouts of America Southwest Council, headquartered in San Angelo.”
Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year award, Rawald said, came about because his mother, Katherine Nielander, had received an email several years ago informing her that this program “is great for military children,” so she applied.
“He’s made the semi-finals for the last two years,” Nielander said.
Rawald persisted and applied again in October 2018 and learned he had received the honor in February.
Each branch of the military is represented by its own “Child of the Year,” and the winners are flown to Washington, D.C., in April for a ceremony to receive the award.
“I was definitely surprised. I was really expecting to be rejected for the third time,” Rawald said with a laugh.
The award also came with a $10,000 scholarship and a laptop.
“We also got a signed guitar, donated by Country Music Television, and we were awarded a Carnival cruise for seven days, anywhere they go,” Rawald said.
But the young man isn’t resting on his laurels and said it might be awhile before he’s able to take the cruise.
“This summer, I’m going to be staying in Uvalde, in the college dorms, going to college full time and trying to take chemistry,” he said, noting he plans to achieve his associate’s degree two weeks before he graduates from Brackett High School next year.
Rawald said eventually he wants to earn a dual degree from the University of West Florida with degrees in computer hardware engineering and computer electrical engineering.
Rawald said after college, he is considering going into the military or working for a “name-brand” software company like Intel or Google.
“I’d like to work as a computer engineer. I started watching videos on Youtube, and that appealed to me,” Rawald said.