Retired Chief Petty Officer Jim Butz stood center stage at the Cody, Wyo., rodeo grounds during intermission of the Xtreme Bulls event, believing he was there to address the crowd about the Wounded Warrior Project. His right leg was encased in a solid core carbon graphite brace with titanium hinges and his left hand held a cane for stability.
The 45-year-old father of five was expecting the microphone, but instead, Lee Kirgan, Operation Finally Home director of housing, arrived with a framed poster from the rodeo. Handing it to Butz he said, “This will look great in your new home.”
Operation Finally Home was gifting the Butz family with a mortgage free, custom built Americans with Disabilities Act compliant home.
The stadium erupted, excitement filling the air as the realization set in that one of their own residents, in the small town of nearly 10,000 people, was going to receive a new home.
“I couldn’t be happier for the Butz family,” said Cmdr. Rosemary Firestine, Butz’s last commanding officer at Maritime Safety and Security Team San Diego. “They have faced incredible challenges over the past few years and you won’t find a more deserving family.”
When the American public thinks about the military and disabled Veterans, the Coast Guard may not be the first service that comes to mind. Yet each day, Coast Guard men and women conduct operations that place them in harm’s way.
Pacific Ocean, May 23, 2003
Butz, then a boarding officer aboard cutter Hamilton, lead an eight-man team on a response boat bound for a container vessel suspected of harboring questionable cargo.
The sea-state, playing havoc with the coxswain’s approach, made the impending transfer treacherous. A voice crackled across the radio,“This is a high priority boarding; we need you to get aboard that vessel.” Moving to the bow of the response boat, Butz waited for the peak in the swell, stepped off the boat onto the ladder and started to climb.
Moments later, the unthinkable happened. Just three rungs up the ladder, a larger swell lifted the 5,000-pound response boat, slamming the boat into his right knee and back, leaving him crushed, dangling on the ladder.
Pain radiating through his back and leg, Butz’s only option was to climb. Utilizing all his strength and his one good leg he climbed 40 feet up the ladder, secured the area and waited for the rest of the boarding team to arrive.
His 40-foot assent that day was just the onset of a 10-year journey that would require 20 surgeries and three complete knee replacements. He retired from the Coast Guard after 24 years of service but continues his calling to help others by supporting veterans and other wounded warriors in the Cody area.
Butz, like many disabled veterans, quietly struggle each day. He, along with millions of other veterans, joined the military to serve their country – so others may live. No longer in uniform, those embers of service continue to burn in these patriotic Americans and instead of complaining about their predicament or ailments, they serve.
They serve their community through organizations, like The American Legion, USO, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Home Front and Operation Finally Home to name a few. Veterans also work in local communities, raising awareness of the sacrifice our veterans have made and in some cases raising money to pay bills, medical expenses or provide ADA housing for our disabled Veterans.
The Butz’s new home is scheduled for completion Mother’s Day 2014. The honor of a new home has emboldened Butz to continue and pay it forward on behalf of the veterans who call Wyoming home.