BAGHDAD - U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kevin J. Butler received a Joint Service Commendation Medal at Forward Operating Base Union III April 7, for accomplishments during his most recent deployment.

Butler received the medal for distinguished service during three months in Iraq's Kurdistan Region where he served as an advisor to the Ministry of Peshmerga's Directorate of Training. There he advised the directorate on its Basic Combat Training Program and Basic Combat Training Instructor Course.

"The last time he left Iraq, he didn't walk out," United States Forces-Iraq's Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter said during Butler's award ceremony here.

Butler's last deployment came to an unexpected end when his patrol was attacked by enemy forces using an Improvised Explosive Device in Baghdad May 24, 2007.

After the IED detonated, his team evacuated him to the Green Zone.

"I was conscious up until I got to the Corps Support Hospital," Butler said. "I was injured. I woke up on the street in Baghdad, once I got evacuated to the CSH they sedated me and I woke up in America."

Butler was in a drug-induced coma during his evacuation to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany before being moved again to the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

"Once I figured out where I was, I was good with it," Butler said.

While unconscious, Butler underwent a number of skin grafts, he is unsure of how many were done in total. After two weeks he was placed into an outpatient status, and began another step in his long road to recovery.

"I spent a significant time going through physical therapy," he said. "There were periodic reconstructive surgeries that went on throughout that process."

In total he underwent 22 surgeries, the last of which was January 2010.

After more than a year in the hospital Butler was ready to leave, but had to await an Army Medical Evaluation Board's decision on his future in the military.

"There is a difference between being ready to leave the hospital and being ready to come back to combat," Butler said. "I didn't see myself getting much better in the hospital."

What Butler wanted, was to get back to a unit.

"I thought being surrounded by like-minded individuals who are committed to a mission, and the daily activities of a unit, would probably provide a stimulus that I couldn't get in the hospital," he said.

Butler referred to this as "phase II," saying he thought it would be essential to move him to a new level in the recovery process.

The board decided to medically retire Butler with a 90-percent disability rating. A decision he found unacceptable because he was not ready to retire, so he appealed the board's decision.

"I knew I was going to face an uphill battle because I was really injured," Butler said.

He was aware that the hospital's typical response was to discharge seriously injured Soldiers, and give them as much of a disability rating as their injury warranted.

"I was really a war-fighter at heart and wanted to stay in the Army and continue to serve," Butler said.

His determination and persistence paid off.

"There were a few officers who took up my cause," Butler said. "The end result was that the board saw the error of their ways, reversed their findings, and declared me fit for duty about two weeks later."

From the hospital Butler went to Fort Benning, Ga.

"I was fortunate enough to get an assignment as Brigade S-3 for the 198th Infantry Brigade," he said referring to his assignment as the brigade's operations officer. "Being surrounded by infantrymen gave me an opportunity to continue my rehabilitation and test my limits."

Being a part of an infantry brigade drove Butler to push himself physically to a level of excellence.

"Nobody likes to be last, or the weak one, or the guy who can't do something," Butler said. "When you put yourself in an environment where physically, you are the guy who can't do something that provides motivation for you to put the extra effort forward so you are no longer that guy."

Butler credits the strong personality types of infantrymen for motivating him to succeed.

"It is very clean cut, either you can perform or you can't perform," he said. "It was healthy for me to be in that environment."

Before he could consider deploying again, Butler wanted to be sure that he wasn't going to be a liability from a physical standpoint.

"Physical training was coming along pretty good, but I wanted to be sure that I could exert myself in a significant fashion," Butler said. "The benchmark for me became successful completion of the Marine Corps Marathon, which I ran in October 2009."

Butler learned that with his promotion to lieutenant colonel he would soon be taking on a command position as well. He sought out a challenging role he could take on between serving as the brigade operations officer and his command.

"It was time for me to get back down-range and refresh myself on what is going on in the fight prior to taking command," Butler said.

Like Fort Benning, the training in the Kurdistan Region is focused on what it takes to produce a good infantryman. However, the experience and resources available at Fort Benning were not available to him here.

"Going up there, and having to do without, forces you to focus on the basics," Butler said. "If I have a limited amount of resources, what are the key essential tasks that I need to put them against so that I get a good product at the end'"

Butler said that he is better off for having to conduct training with restricted resources and infrastructure limitations. This experience has shown him that he can perform critical training tasks in a challenging environment.

"I am just grateful for the time that I've had here in Iraq on this last deployment. It was an awesome opportunity, and I am thankful to have come over here," Butler said. "It has made me a better Soldier, a better officer and a better leader."

Editor's note: Hudson is a member of the Maryland Army National Guard's 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment attached to the U.S. Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training Public Affairs Office.