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United States Coast Guard CPO James Butz joined the military in 1985. During his time in service Butz received countless awards, including a Coast Guard Commendation Medal and a Coast Guard Achievement Medal. The majority of his military service was operational, comprising of three shipments, two years in the Caribbean Gulf for maritime law enforcement, and time spent in Japan, Russia, Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica. However, following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the primary focus of Butz’ unit was shifted to anti-terrorism force protection.
On May 23, 2003, Butz—then a boarding officer aboard the cutter Hamilton—led an eight-man team on a response boat bound for a Korean cargo tanker that allegedly contained questionable cargo. While attempting to board the ship via ladder, a large swell elevated the 5,000-pound response vessel, slamming the boat into Butz’ right knee and back, crushing him.
Despite the immense pain, Butz continued to climb 40 feet in order to secure the area and wait for the remaining boarding team to arrive. The injuries that Butz sustained that day have required him to undergo 20 surgeries as well as three complete knee replacements. Butz retired from the Coast Guard after 24 years of service and currently lives in Wyoming with his wife, Donna, and their two children, Amanda, 6, and Thomas, 5.