HomeNewsArticle Display

From high-risk youth to national award winner – One Airman’s inspirational journey

From high-risk youth to national award winner – One Airman’s inspirational journey

From high-risk youth to national award winner – One Airman’s inspirational journey

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) --

Maj. Michael Butler has many accomplishments, including five Air Force-level awards, and soon he will add recipient of the prestigious, national Arthur S. Flemming Award to the list.
 
The annual Flemming award honors outstanding federal employees who made significant and extraordinary contributions to the federal government. Butler, a Buffalo, New York, native, won in the leadership and management category.
 
Butler’s contributions came about while he was chief of the Space Situational Awareness Branch assigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center, with duty to the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Directorate for Science and Technology. There, he led a large joint sensor development and operations team with members from multiple national agencies. Together, he and the team rapidly fielded unique methods of intelligence collection to fill key intelligence community capability gaps, according to his nomination for the award.
 
As a result of Butler’s work developing new algorithms and processing techniques, space objects that used to show up as “fuzzy blobs” when viewed from earth are now viewed in spectacular detail. He was able to improve images to the equivalent of what a large sensor with a dish diameter hundreds of meters wide would produce.
 
Butler, who graduated from Penn State University, loves the work he does for the Air Force and his country, but things did not always come easy to him.
 
“I overcame a high-risk upbringing – both parents had substance abuse issues,” Butler said. “That was a very toxic environment for a kid to grow up in.”

His absentee father passed away from his addiction, and his mother did not get sober until he was 20 years old. He said the only positive role models in his life were his grandparents, who looked after him in his later teens.  
 
“I graduated high school in the bottom third of my class,” Butler said. “I was inspired by my grandparents and had the potential to do very well but, statistically, high-risk kids are lucky if they graduate high school.”
 
One teacher even told him that he would never amount to anything in life, but he was determined to prove her wrong.  
 
“I knew I needed to move out of my grandparents’ house and do something with my life after high school. I felt my grandparents should be enjoying their retirement, not raising another teenager,” Butler said.
 
At the age of 18, Butler enlisted in the Navy and aced the Nuclear Field Qualification Test.
 
“That is a very elite career field; only three percent of the entire Navy fleet is nuclear trained,” he said. 

The job involved completing two years of technical school, which included operating a nuclear reactor. Unfortunately, Butler was disqualified from the career field after completing the training due to a color vision issue.
 
“It was in the Navy that I developed the discipline, structure and study habits that I needed in my life,” he said. 

At that time, he transferred to the Naval Reserves as a Seabee and was mobilized in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
 
“While deployed, my sister, who was an Air Force veteran, told me she was thinking about applying to Penn State and enrolling in its (Air Force ROTC) program,” he said. “I thought this was a great idea, and I decided to do it too. I was not on an ROTC scholarship my freshman year due to my high school grades, and I was lucky to get accepted to Penn State at all because my high school grades were poor. My SAT scores were high and my admission letter detailing my struggles and how I overcame them convinced them to take a chance on me.”
 
During his freshman year, Butler worked as a janitor through the university’s work study program to pay his out-of-state tuition, which was double the normal tuition rate.
 
“During my freshman year, I was so broke trying to pay tuition that I used my janitor master key to do laundry at the campus gym at night when the gym was closed,” he said. “The cafeteria workers would leave me leftover food at night, instead of throwing it away like they were supposed to, because they knew that would be the only food I would eat that day.”
 
Toward the end of his first semester is when he said he started believing God had a plan for him. 
“I was $1,500 short of paying that semester’s tuition bill and I could not register for the following semester’s classes until the current semester was paid in full,” Butler said. “I did not know how I was going to come up with the $1,500, and I remember thinking at the time, ‘I gave it everything I got; maybe it is not meant to be.’ Then, right before the deadline to pay my tuition, I found out the Navy underpaid my per diem and allowances while I was deployed. This reimbursement helped pay my tuition and allowed me to enroll in classes for the following semester.”
 
A month later, due to his high grades, he was awarded an AFROTC scholarship that began his sophomore year.
 
Butler continued to do whatever it took to get through and graduate. While his classmates were out enjoying themselves after finishing a big test or project, he would routinely be at the library until 2 a.m. studying for the next test.
 
His hard work paid off.  He graduated in the top 20 percent of his class with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. 
 
“The night before my graduation and commissioning, I did not sleep… not even for a minute. I was so overcome with emotion and joy, reflecting on the obstacles and mountains I climbed,” Butler said. “My commissioning ceremony was very emotional. Everyone in the room had tears in their eyes as I detailed my struggles and expressed my deepest appreciation for everyone’s love and support in helping me overcome these struggles. My mother, along with my grandparents, pinned on my rank. I was hesitant to have my mother involved, but I knew if I was going to be an effective leader I needed to have compassion and forgiveness.”
 
As Butler continued into his Air Force career, he made a point to inspire high-risk youth by sharing his experiences through various local and military base programs.
 
At his last duty station, Butler tutored students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at one of the most underperforming and impoverished elementary schools in Florida.
 
As a result of his hard work and dedication to the students, Butler was selected by the school’s vice principal to mentor 12 of the most troubled and underperforming youth. He tutored them through STEM-related team building activities and helped them overcome their behavioral problems and lack of interest in academics.
 
“These kids did not get the attention they needed at home, so they could not focus on learning. I knew that I had to make learning fun for them by creating problem-solving activities that also enabled them to build interpersonal relationships and self-esteem,” Butler said. “Everyone has obstacles and challenges to overcome, some more than others. You can let these experiences make or break you. To be able to overcome the obstacles that I had to overcome, I had to be committed every single day to give my very best in everything I did. Once I had built enough sweat equity, it rewired my DNA. I cannot quit or give less than my best, even if I wanted to. I have too much sweat equity invested.”
 
Butler was recognized by the Arthur S. Flemming Award Commission June 4, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
 
“I thank God every day for the position he has put me in. So far, God’s plan has led me to a career that I absolutely love, and to my wife and three kids,” Butler said. “I did not have parents that were role models that I could build my own parenting skills off of, so probably my biggest achievement is that my kids already think I am a superhero. I think going through my upbringing has made me a better father and husband, because I do not take anything for granted.”

Engage

Facebook Twitter
DYK: Aircraft have lifespans! Like humans, they require check-ups in the form of maintenance inspections to prolong their ability to fly. These "checks" prevent in-flight system failures which ultimately protects aircrew and passengers. Learn more from the 86th Maintenance Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany on what it takes to correct issues so aircraft can stay airborne.
WATCH: United States Air Force pilots talk about the importance of Exercise Saber Strike 18 as they refuel over the Baltic Sea on June 18, 2018. Saber Strike 18 is a long-standing training exercise designed to enhance interoperability between the U.S. and our allies. The training focused on improving land and air operational capabilities between the U.S. and our NATO allies. (U.S. Air National Guard video by: Master Sgt. Wolfram M. Stumpf)
Check out some shots from yesterday's All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game in Washington, D.C. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals U.S. Army
Air Force and U.S. Army coed softball teams render military honors during the playing of the National Anthem during the All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game, Washington, D.C., July 13, 2018. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals
Great way to lead by example!
The United States Air Force is facing a pilot shortage. To help solve the challenge, the Aircrew Crisis Task Force was recently created to provide strategic direction and actionable recommendations to senior leaders on how to solve the aircrew manning crisis. FULL STORY: https://go.usa.gov/xUb3z
Your United States Air Force news: ✓ A B-52 crew assists in a search and rescue operation off the coast of Guam ✓ An Afghan pilot class graduates in the Czech Republic ✓ The Air Force is using innovative approaches to training pilots to make the process faster and more efficient
Now that’s how weathermen work! Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters fly weather reconnaissance missions into Tropical Storm Chris and Tropical Storm Beryl. http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1569944/hurricane-hunters-fly-tropical-storms-beryl-chris/
The F-22 Raptor's combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft. Maintaining these aircraft can involve a bit of a learning curve. Airmen at KadenaAirBase use past technology to help learn how to work with the undefeated Raptor. FULL STORY: http://www.kadena.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1567295/hard-to-raptor-head-around/
Help us out! Can you caption this photo?
The B-52 Stratofortress has sniper pods that provide improved long-range target detection/identification and continuous stabilize surveillance for all missions, including close air support of ground forces. Air Force Global Strike Command crew members on a B-52 were able to spot a historic Pacific Island style canoe so that the U.S. Coast Guard could rescue the six passengers!
For the past 60 years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has continually helped us maintain a technological edge against our advarsaries. Together with the Air Force Research Laboratory - AFRL, a fusion of ideas is leading to newly highlighted innovations.
SOUND ON! Celebrate freedom with the sound of freedom! Happy Independence Day!
.@388fw’s 4th Fighter Squadron became the first operational unit to fire the F-35A’s the #aircraft’s 25mm cannon on… https://t.co/J7hbXrCSCv
#DYK: The @22ARW is the host unit of McConnell AFB! Its mission is to conduct air refueling & airlift operations su… https://t.co/12bR9cwIuG
RT @71FTW: An aircraft crash has occurred approximately 50 miles west of Vance AFB. Pilot is conscious and with emergency responders. Follo…
.@HQUSAFEPA #Airmen & seven African partner nations strengthened relationships through the African Partnership Flig… https://t.co/FsvAK4n3i3
.@20FighterWing #Airmen learned how to be resilient by taking a leap of faith. https://t.co/WCgebfzEmj https://t.co/5JHPF7P1Px
RT @USAFHealth: A new transition cell was recently stood-up to coordinate and support ongoing transition efforts related to the NDAA and tr…
.@Travis60AMW #Airmen helped the Advanced Extremely High Frequency-4 program complete a major milestone by ensuring… https://t.co/yut12HK3M5
The School of Air Evacuation honored the history, present and future of aeromedical evacuation during their 75th an… https://t.co/5uYoyUwy9z
.@PANationalGuard #Airmen have new and improved parachutes. Read more about the lifesaving equipment:… https://t.co/QC1BGX8Fbl
At the @20FighterWing, munitions #Airmen train and work as a team to load 'em up & move 'em out.… https://t.co/9leaqRS8vI
Imagine trying to use a stethoscope on a plane. The noise makes the tool essentially useless. A new #technology aim… https://t.co/AYMf42Q0Wf
Read about this #Airman's experiences as he serves with the @Aus_AirForce through the Military Personnel Exchange P… https://t.co/6Td7p8u3ZO
RT @HQUSAFEPA: We. Are. NATO. U.S. Air Force F-22s and Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35s conducted training ops over Norwegian airspace toget…
Tune into this edition of Around the #AirForce https://t.co/SFdrh7AIIY
#DYK: Our #militaryworkingdogs are seen at veterinary treatment facilities, ensuring the #K9s are healthy and able… https://t.co/MZE22dcoZ1
The #USAF partnered with @DeptVetAffairs to implement the first Women’s Health Transition Pilot Program! Check out… https://t.co/mdlKYrV5Wg
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree! This Washington #AirNationalGuard #Airman followed her mother's footsteps… https://t.co/PCto8QNH9L
This year's #AirForce Legacy Series alternate uniform is so good looking, it's Spooky. #AC130 #LetsFly #Football https://t.co/MlBfXciboD
RT @HQ_AFMC: Check out the finalist video from @WrightPattAFB's Ryan Law and SrA Jean-Paul Arnaud-Marquez in the @AETCommand "We are Airmen…