Lt. Andre Jones Butler, Safety Officer, Aviation Projects Acquisition Center (APAC), is the Coast Guard recipient of the 2023 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award.
The NAACP recognized Jones Butler for his exceptional character and firm commitment to civil rights and equal opportunities within the Coast Guard. Jones Butler’s journey towards this achievement, and his overall success in the Service, are reflective of his personal journey through adversity and hardship.
As a youth, raised by his mother in Tyrone, Georgia, Jones Butler experienced instability and hardship. His father was absent from his life and upbringing, limiting his access to positive, male role models. Jones Butler recalled that his future seemed bleak and without purpose until he was sent to Randolph Macon Academy, a military boarding school in Front Royal, Virginia, at the age of 14.
When Jones Butler walked through doors of the academy, he found himself drawn to the powers of discipline and structure; The academy became both a crucible and a sanctuary for him. Within its walls, he found a refuge from the adversities that had defined his formative years and, through rigorous training, relentless challenges, and growing camaraderie between cadets, his character grew stronger. So, too, did a budding desire for military service.
“It was probably [through] a combination of the value and discipline that I realized a career in the military could bring me through Randolph Macon,” said Jones Butler.
In terms of selecting the Coast Guard, he credits his aunt, “a former Coastie, [who] always spoke extremely highly of the Coast Guard and insisted that I send an application to the Coast Guard Academy (CGA) in addition to the other colleges and universities that I was applying to.”
Additionally, Jones Butler was drawn to the notions of challenge, adventure, and educational value that he saw embedded in the fabric of the Coast Guard.
He notes, “While applying to the Coast Guard Academy, I got to sit down and talk to a graduate. What he had to say about the challenge and adventure offered by a commission in the Coast Guard, as well as value of an education from the Academy, convinced me that the Coast Guard was an organization that I would be lucky to be part of.”
It was not just Jones Butler who was lucky to have found a community of service and value. The Coast Guard has been endlessly lucky to have him, his devotion, his service, and his character. The efforts Jones Butler has made to improve and work towards inclusivity and equal opportunity, for which he is honored with this award, have had a major impact on the dynamic and focus of the Coast Guard.
During the award period, Jones Butler raised awareness about the Coast Guard and its mission among individuals from underrepresented communities and provided unique opportunities for them to join the Service. He mentored four current Academy cadets and two College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) officer trainees, cultivating their personal and professional development while helping them to find themselves and solidify their identities within the Coast Guard.
“I really set out to highlight what a career in the Coast Guard or the military at large can do for someone’s future prospects,” said Jones Butler. “That change in my own life’s trajectory from troubled youth to who I am today is living proof of what value that service can bring to your life.”
Jones Butler now strives to provide the same sense of enlightenment and purpose to those he mentors and guides in their journey to service.
Lt. Jones Butler has not stopped there, though. He is also an active member of the CGA's Minority Outreach Team, as well as the Equity Core and Strategic Action Teams, and his input and leadership have been instrumental to shaping plans and policies that foster equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“Anytime I meet someone who has an interest in the Coast Guard and who I think can thrive in our organization, I really try to establish a personal connection with them and shepherd them through the process of making the decision to join or not,” Jones Butler explains.
With an open heart that seeks to support others and provide experiences like those that have shaped his own life, he continually gives back to communities such as the one he himself was raised in, aiding individuals in discovering their potential, despite initial circumstances. Jones Butler completed 11 Officer Candidate School and CSPI interviews and actively sought out talented individuals from diverse backgrounds to enrich the Coast Guard's talent pool, helping to reinforce the Coast Guard's commitment to creating a diverse and welcoming organization.
When asked how he felt about receiving this distinguished award, Jones Butler responded with characteristic humility.
“I was extremely surprised,” he shared. “To receive an award named after the legendary Roy Wilkins is truly a career high point. To even have my name in the same sentence as a man who played a key role in organizing the March on Washington and who dedicated his life to pushing our country closer to living up to its professed values is an unbelievable honor.”
The connection between Jones Butler and Wilkins is an apt aspect of this recognition. Jones Butler continuously strives to uphold and emphasize Wilkins’ ideals.
“I believe that it’s my duty to do my part to maintain the freedoms that previous generations so desperately fought for all Americans to have,” Jones Butler continues. “We sometimes forget that we are just over fifty years removed from the end of the Civil Rights Movement. The last few years have really opened my eyes to how diligently we must work to maintain the rights that were fought for then.”
In fact, Jones Butler is far from finished in his efforts. “The thing that I ultimately hope to do is find the next generation of young individuals that will take up the torch and bring these messages back to their own communities.”
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