Raef Schmidt receives the Civilian Superior Service Award from Lareina Adams, Project Manager, Terrestrial Sensors. (Photo by Jorge Parrado)

Raef Schmidt: a life of Service on Fort Belvoir

On April 2, the U.S. Army honored Raef Schmidt for his nearly 40-year career at the place where it began for him – Fort Belvoir, VA.

Dozens of Schmidt's colleagues joined his father, wife, children, and daughter-in-law, as he accepted the Army’s Civilian Superior Service Award at the Fort Belvoir Officers’ Club from Lareina Adams, Project Manager, Terrestrial Sensors (PM TS).

“The sheer volume of people gathered here today is a true testament to the reach and impact that you had, not just in the 40 years of your career, but in your lifetime,” Adams told Schmidt at the ceremony.

“You have been a true tireless advocate for the needs of the Soldier, imparting your technical and acquisition expertise on to so many others who have also gone on to make significant contributions,” she said. “If I could, I would bottle up your knowledge and wisdom to pass on to future generations.”

The Civilian Superior Service Award Schmidt received is one of the most prestigious medals the Army awards to civilian employees and is comparable to the Legion of Merit awarded to Armed Forces members.

During the ceremony, Schmidt thanked his family and those he was worked with over the years. Most of all, his thoughts remained with the soldiers that he served to protect for decades.

“I want to thank our warfighters for all they do and for all they give up and sacrifice,” Schmidt said. “Being from an Army family, both my father being in the Army and my grandfather being in the Army, it means a lot to me to have enjoyed working with those who wear the green suit.”

As the ceremony progressed, Schmidt's colleagues shared stories about his engineering knowledge and dedication to mission. Former Project Manager Terrestrial Sensors Edward Stawowczyk emphasized that Schmidt's work supported the soldier.

“It was always about the Army, it was always about the soldier,” Stawowczyk told Schmidt. “A noncommissioned officer told me he wouldn’t be here today, nor would his platoon because, when he was in Afghanistan, one of the systems that you were responsible for saved his life, and the life of his platoon, and that really struck me.”

Schmidt launched his Department of the Army Civilian career in 1985 as an engineer supporting the Marine Division of the Fort Belvoir Research, Development, and Engineering Center. In 1992, he joined the Army Night Vision Laboratory where he served as the first Laboratory Liaison to the Mounted Battle Laboratory at Fort Know, Kentucky.

Early in his career he wanted to contribute more to the mission.

“I asked leadership about opportunities where I could learn more, that were more competitive, that would help me advance,” he said.

And advance he did.

In 1995, Schmidt was assigned as a matrix engineer to support the Product Manager Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) as the “B-kit Lead” on the Horizonal Technology Insertion (HTI) 2nd Generation FLIR (HTI SGF) Development Program and in 2000 became the first Deputy Product Manager FLIR.

In 2004, Schmidt was named the Technical Director at Project Manager Night Vision/Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (PM NV/RSTA) (now known as Project Manager Terrestrial Sensors). From February 2013 through July 2015, he served as the Deputy Project Manager, Terrestrial Sensors. In July 2015, he resumed the Technical Director Position with PM TS.

Working nearly two decades with PM TS turned out to be an excellent fit for him, as it combined his engineering knowledge with a sense of duty to serve the warfighter.

“I am a mechanical person and get into technology and the nuts and bolts of things,” he said. “I like that we develop and deliver equipment to the warfighter, and that’s what I liked most about working with PM TS.”

A graduate of Mt. Vernon High School, Schmidt grew up on and around Fort Belvoir where his father taught at the U.S. Army Engineering School. Learning to ride a bike at Fort Belvoir’s River Village in the 1960s, he refused to learn with training wheels, instead, taking the hard way.

“At first, I rode into the trunk of a small tree in the backyard and then I went on the sidewalk, turned right, and ran into a fire hydrant,” he said. “That’s how I learned to ride a bike and I never needed training wheels.”

This tenacious spirit drove him to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Technological University in 1985 and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Catholic University in 1998. During his pursuit of the Master of Science degree he even took classes on Fort Belvoir.

Over the years Schmidt’s ties to Fort Belvoir deepened. Beyond working and living in the area, he and wife Donna held their wedding reception at the Fort Belvoir Officers’ Club – the same place of his retirement ceremony.

He plans to stay in the Fort Belvoir area he has called home for the past five decades and spend time with his wife and three children, who still live in the area. Even in retirement, he plans on putting his engineering skills to work.

“I’ve got a long list of things that need to be fixed around the home.”

By M. Scott Bortot, PM TS Support