Citizen Airman scores as ‘coach-of-the-year’
By Tech. Sgt. Julie Parker, 116th Air Control Wing
/ Published January 30, 2015
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- An Airman from the 116th Air Control Wing was recently recognized at the 2014 U.S. Youth Soccer Awards Gala held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the Region 3 Boys Recreational Soccer Coach of the Year.
Master Sgt. Jason Butts, a ground explosives safety craftsman in the Georgia Air National Guard, turned community service into a winning combination garnering the top spot for the 12-state region after his Warner Robins team won three consecutive state championships.
The regional award came as a surprise to Butts.
"This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Butts. "The fact that I won for the state and my region is such an honor."
"Citizen-Airmen" is a term used often to describe Air National Guard members because community involvement is a key component of the guard culture.
For Butts, his Citizen-Airman role started taking shape seven years ago at a local soccer practice.
"I was watching my son's team practice, and I realized with my experience I should be the one coaching him," said Butts.
That experience started at age six when Butts first began playing soccer.
"I started when the sport was just beginning to become popular in the United States," said Butts. "I was about 10 when I scored a goal, and everyone was cheering--the feeling that came over me was amazing--that's when everything clicked."
At 15, Butts was picked up for a premier team based out of Atlanta, but after sustaining an injury he finished his career at the select level and thought his soccer days were over.
"After my son's practice, I asked if I could help coach the next practice, and by the end of the season I found myself as the head coach," said Butts.
The Master Sergeant recounted how the core values he learned in the military have played a vital role in his coaching abilities, which have spilled over into the development of his players.
"I expect professionalism, commitment, respect and integrity from my players," said Butts.
His high standards have not only resulted in three state championships and one regional championship, but also three members of his team have participated in the Olympic Developmental Program.
"The past seven years have been time consuming--balancing my military career and coaching in my community--but I wouldn't trade it for the world," he said.
As an added bonus, coaching the team offered the chance to reconnect with a teammate from his high school soccer team.
Butts shared how he and his now co-coach Chris Harris reunited.
"Chris' son was on an opposing team, and during a game he saw me coaching and approached me, asking if I'd be interested in coaching his son," said Butts. "I told him, 'Yeah, but only if you help me coach.'"
According to Butts, having two knowledgeable coaches that have played the game at high levels really speeds up the players' development.
"We have a good reputation in the soccer community," said Butts. "When people see Chris' and my names listed as the opposing coaches, they know it's going to be a tough game."
The team participates in several selective tournaments each year tailored to maximize the exposure of the players.
"We are sponsored by several local and regional businesses that have helped us get to where we are," said Butts.
Trophies are presented to sponsors after every tournament win.
To Butts, coaching is not just about winning soccer tournaments, it's also his job to help his players develop their skills and reach their individual goals.
He likens it to the progression of his career as a full-time member of the Georgia Air National Guard.
"The values and principles I'm teaching these kids are the same ones that have helped me progress to the ranks of a senior NCO while serving my country and my community," he said.
The real recipients of his award are the kids he coaches, shared Butts.
"I only coach because I have great, humble and coachable players. Without them, none of this would be possible," he said. "It's really their award. I just picked it up for them."