RICHMOND, Va. -- It was well over an hour before the 380th Army Reserve Band was slated to perform for guests during the 64th annual Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial. In walks the band’s tuba player, U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Jason Butler. He’s the first of the ensemble to arrive.
“The military has helped make me more responsible with everything I do in my life,” said Butler. “Even as simple as making sure I’m at places on time.”
This is just one of many examples Butler gave of how being in the military builds your character and offers a foundation for everything you do in life.
“I think joining the military is one of the best decisions you can make,” said the 27-year U.S. Army veteran. “Even if you only spend a few years on Active Duty or the Reserve, I think you just get a good base. Anything else you do in your life is going to be improved on once you get those core military values.”
Butler made his decision to sign a four-year active duty contract right out of high school, instead of going to college. Nearly three decades later, he is still convinced that was the right choice.
“I think I enlisted because I knew deep down I just wasn’t ready, responsibility-wise, to handle adult life on my own,” said Butler. “I needed something to get me on the right track.”
After his four years of active duty service, he went to college and earned a Physical Education degree, but he insists it was his initial decision to serve in the military that set him on the right path.
“I don’t think I would have done well if I had gone straight to college right out of high school,” said Butler. “I’m glad I [enlisted]. It worked out for me. I always recommend to kids that just aren’t sure to take a serious look into the military.”
A promising musician and an aspiring athlete in high school, Butler’s life path was still unclear as a 17-year old senior. He knew his career prospects were likely between music and athletics, but he never could have imagined he would get to do both. In addition to serving in the Army Band, Butler teaches physical education and coaches high school tennis.
Many Army recruiters circled his town trying to talk to as many high school-aged kids as they could, said Butler. But the one that approached him was different – he had “done his homework.”
“Most recruiters didn’t even know about the Army Band system, but this recruiter did,” said Butler. “As soon as he heard that I was a really good musician for my high school band, he was like, ‘Hey – you know they’ve got an Army Band…you ever thought about going in there? You could keep playing your instrument and get paid to do it.’”
Upon telling the recruiter “that sounds pretty cool”, the recruiter drove the 17-year-old Butler to Fort Lee, Virginia where he auditioned for the Army Band.
“I got in [to the Army Band program] and I went off to Basic Training that summer after high school graduation,” Butler said. “On my 18th birthday, I was on the plane to Fort Sill [Oklahoma].”
Butler would serve his four active duty years (1993-1997) with the Fort Drum Army Band, part of the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York. While with the 10th Mountain, he went to Haiti for Operation Uphold Democracy – a military intervention designed to remove the military regime installed by the 1991 Haitian coup d'état that overthrew the elected President Jean—Bertrand Aristide. He’s also been overseas to Germany and Egypt during his Army Band career.
“I have been a lot of places over the years,” he said. “It’s been really neat to experience travel like that.”
But more important than the travel missions he’s enjoyed over the years, Butler says what he’s always appreciated most about the military is its stability.
“[The military] is a place where I feel like everybody truly has equal footing,” he said. “You do a good job, you get recognized. That’s why I’ve stayed in as long as I have.”
On this particular day, Butler and his fellow Soldiers/band members perform patriotic music as part of a ceremony honoring and thanking our country’s military veterans for their service and sacrifice. When the performance ends, Butler immediately starts packing up his instrument and music stand with careful urgency.
“I’m off to go teach PE for the 2nd half of the day…don’t want to be late,” he says.