Cypress teen helps friend, wins award
Sometimes Gabe Roberts has a little trouble wrapping his mind around the idea that he was selected to receive the Boy Scouts of America's Honor Medal.
The award goes to Scouts who demonstrate unusual heroism and skill in saving — or attempting to save — a life despite extreme risk to self.
While approximately 56,176 boys in the United States earned the Boy Scouts' Eagle Award in 2010, only 37 received the Honor Medal.
"I look at that, and I think, 'Did I do that?'" the 13-year-old Fairfield resident said.
Roberts was selected to receive the medal for saving longtime friend Idris Joseph, 14, from drowning last August.
Joseph was struggling in a river during an evening swim in New Braunfels.
Roberts managed to bring Joseph to safety, despite being pulled under the water twice himself.
"I think he was very brave," Roberts' father, Brian Roberts, said. "Even though it was a situation where he could have been in danger, he stayed calm.
"He feels anybody would have done the same thing. I'm not so sure."
Gabe Roberts has questioned the need for special recognition for helping his friend.
"I was thinking the only prize I needed was he was alive," Roberts said. "The award was just an add-on."
Roberts, who holds the rank of Life Scout, one level below Eagle, serves as the senior patrol leader for new Boy Scout Troop 1907, which meets at Fairfield Baptist Church.
He was a member of Troop 533 last August, at the time of the rescue.
The Spillane Middle School eighth-grader has been active in Scouting since the first grade.
Since advancing from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, he has earned 55 merit badges.
"When I started on the merit badges and the stuff we did, I realized it would come in handy and help me be a proper leader," Roberts said.
"I've gained tons of knowledge from each badge. I think it improved me as a person."
On the night of Aug. 15, when Roberts helped Joseph, the boys were with Roberts' family at a New Braunfels rental house.
The boys decided to go for a swim. Roberts crossed the river and returned, and Joseph was following him at a slower pace.
"When he got to the middle, he gave up and went under," Roberts said.
Joseph managed to surface and called to Roberts for help.
Roberts swam over. Joseph, in his desperation to stay afloat, started pulling Roberts beneath the water.
Roberts didn't panic. "I thought, 'Take a breath'," Roberts recalled.
Somehow, while the water was just above his nose, Roberts managed to position himself behind Joseph and push his friend to the side of the river.
Gradually, Joseph realized what he was doing and stopped struggling.
Roberts pulled Joseph to safety, made sure he was breathing normally and then swam across the river to get an inner tube so he could bring Joseph across the river to safety and help.
Joseph was fine, and the boys remain good friends, Roberts said.
Roberts' actions are an encouragement to the adults who've worked with him in Scouting and an example to other Boy Scouts, said Bill Furlong, who was Roberts' Scoutmaster with Troop 533.
"It's exceptional what Gabe said," Furlong said. "What he did was quite selfless. It's a fundamental Scouting ideal."
Roberts continues his activities with the Boy Scouts. He switched to the newly formed Troop 1907 a couple of months ago when he realized the unit had a shortage of older Scouts who could teach and mentor the younger boys.
"I thought I might as well help them out."
As the troop's senior patrol leader, he runs meetings and troop campouts. Leading effectively takes thought and practice, he said.
"You can't use force. If you just plain yell at them, they're not going to listen. It's better to connect, rather than barking orders."
Roberts also enjoys playing the drums. He earned a black belt in taekwondo at age 9 and also performs in theater productions.