Chief Master Sgt. Donald C. Butler Jr., a Bowling Green native who has served in the U.S. Air Force for nearly 25 years, was awarded the Bronze Star on May 24 for meritorious achievement from Feb. 15, 2018, to Feb. 14.
About nine years after he graduated from Bowling Green High School in 1985, Butler joined the Air Force at 27 years old.
He said October will mark 25 years of service in the Air Force.
The citation that accompanied the award said Butler, 52, distinguished himself by meritorious achievement as Superintendent, 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, and Train Advise Assist Command-Air, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
“Wow, it was humbling and overwhelming,” Butler said. “I feel like I really only did what they asked me to do and to be recognized with the Bronze Star, it was just amazing. I didn’t feel like my work was that special, you know, and to be recognized like that by the Air Force and the U.S. Central Command for my work in Afghanistan was just overwhelming (and) unbelievable.”
Maj. Adam Pierce, Butler’s commander, pinned the Bronze Star and a Meritorious Service Medal on Butler during a presentation at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D. The Meritorious Service Medal was Butler’s seventh, he said.
“The Meritorious Service Medal was for my work I’ve done here at the 28th Munitions Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base,” Butler said.
During a yearlong period in Afghanistan, Butler worked in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. He endured 31 indirect fire rocket attacks and was exposed to persistent Green-on-Blue insider threats while performing 96 outside the wire key leader engagements.
Butler guided a team of 132 joint and coalition military personnel along with 235 civilian contractors spanning 30 occupational specialties in the execution of combat and training operations for the Kandahar Air Wing. Butler served as personal mentor and adviser to the Kandahar Air Wing’s Command Sergeant Major, driving improvements in mission effectiveness, personnel utilization and quality of life of 1,705 Afghan air force members.
“It was a really challenging and interesting year working with the foreign forces over there,” Butler said. “Trying to understand the way they thought about things was sometimes difficult because it didn’t make much sense to me, but when I stepped back and looked at the way their culture was over the last, gosh, two or three thousand years in that country, it started to make more sense and I was able to attack it in a little bit different manner.”
The citation said Butler’s mentorship efforts were instrumental to a $32 million dormitory and life support contract, adding 22 dormitories and three dining facilities that improved living conditions for the Afghan airmen.
Butler also made a recommendation to the Kandahar Training Brigade commander and sergeant major to certify enlisted airmen as professional military education instructors, institutionalizing professional development as a key pillar of leadership in the Kandahar Air Wing. The recommendation was “vital to the reduction in career progression stagnation,” the citation said.
“Basically what I’d noticed when I first got there is a lot of the folks had been there for a decade or more and they were still the same rank and doing the same type of jobs,” Butler said. “It was kind of a cultural thing – the officer side didn’t recognize the enlisted force as being vital to their success and their culture is really like, if you’re not an officer then you’re really not anybody at all, so I had to try to work to change that culture.”
On top of numerous advisory positions, Butler was actively engaged in the security and force protection measures for air advisers. He contributed to the execution of a $3 million security contract and the Air Force’s first in-flight Guardian Angel-Aviation program, safeguarding the group’s 31 coalition aircrew during 540 training missions.
Butler’s “guidance and advice invigorated the Kandahar Air Wing’s combat capabilities” – he helped facilitate the execution of 10,324 combat sorties, transporting more than 1,000 tons of cargo, 22,000 personnel and 3,149 casualties in support of two Afghan national army corps units.
“The exemplary leadership, personal endeavor, and devotion to duty displayed by Chief Butler in this responsible position reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force,” the citation said.
Butler said the year he spent working in Afghanistan was a “great honor and a privilege” because he had a hand in developing a “sustainable” air force.
“It was awe-inspiring because we had the power to shape and mold the way that their future air force was gonna look like,” Butler said.
A new position at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., awaits Butler in the near future – munitions and logistics manager for U.S. Air Force Central Command. The new spot, Butler’s first staff position, is an exciting prospect, but the decorated veteran made it clear his family is what drives him.
“Gosh, you know, I’ve served almost 25 years and I couldn’t have done any of this without my family’s support,” Butler said. “Multiple deployments over the years – they’ve always been there giving me the support and the help I needed to be able to accomplish my job or my duties.”
– Daily News reporter Drake Kizer may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 270-783-3257.