When Air Force recruiter Greg Butler arrived at a recent event in Springfield, Missouri, he found that the space reserved for his recruiting booth was right next to a display from a local gym.
And it had an open challenge: how many times can you bench press your own weight?
“Even though I was in my blues I had to try it,” Butler told Task & Purpose.
‘Blues’ is Air Force shorthand for the Class B duty uniform that Butler had on, replete with full ribbons and badges. Worn in ceremonies, offices, and other routine business settings, blues are, to say the least, not intended for PT.
And thanks to nearly a decade as a powerlifter after picking up a weightlifting habit on an Iraq deployment early in his Air Force career, Butler weighs 285.
Still, he handed his blue flight cap to his spotter and lay back under the bar.
Captured on a cell phone, Butler bench pressed his 285 body weight 15 times — a demonstration that easily puts him in the top five percent of all weightlifters on the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s matrix for bench press.
The video, predictably, went viral earlier this month, with commenters on social media ranging from those who admired his lifting form to others who were shocked by the display of strength from a member of the Air Force.
That reaction, Butler said, is one he sees often on the recruiting trail.
“I use it as an ice breaker,” Butler said “I’ll be like, ‘How much do you weigh?’ Well, here’s the video of me doing dumbbells with that weight.”
In his fourth year as a recruiter, he’s used his social media accounts to combine fitness and work, regularly posting pictures and videos of himself lifting weights alongside recruiting and Air Force pictures.
“I love being a recruiter,” Butler says. “I don’t just try to recruit people. I try to change lives.”
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Butler says he meets plenty of recruits who are considering joining the Air Force but might be drawn to a branch more closely associated with physical fitness.
“You’re looking at at least 15 to 20 percent are usually on the fence between the Air Force and another branch,” he said. “But usually we have that conversation, I think it gives them that comfort level. They’re like, ‘You’re huge, right?’ And they want to brag to their friends about it, ‘I got recruited by this guy.'”
Butler covers a wide swath of southern Missouri and Arkansas, including 49 schools. Though the Air Force, Army, and Navy all missed recruiting goals this year, Butler says he was 55% over his quota for his office in Springfield, Missouri
“I always tell them the Air Force is not for everybody, but it is for more people than who it is not for. I just give them my story,” Butler said.
In high school, Butler weighed just 180 pounds and played basketball. He was a good athlete, thanks to his mother, who spent 24 years in the Air Force and played on the Air Force’s all-Europe basketball team. But on an early deployment to Kirkuk, Iraq, he went to the gym with a friend who was already deep into weightlifting.
“They had big guys there, guys who were like my size now, and I didn’t want to work out with them,” Butler said. But his friend told him to give it a shot. “He told me, they don’t care about that stuff here, they just try to get their work in every day.”
“Everyone tells me I should do shows but I don’t want to do that,” Butler said. “If you’ve ever had a routine, if you miss a day it kinda throws off your whole week. And I don’t want to do that. To me, it’s a hobby and the gym is where I can just release. I can go there and lift and if I get tired I can rack it and rest.”
“You always hear that, ‘If I can do it, anybody can do it?’ But I can show them my videos to back that up.”
Beyond his fitness kick, Butler sells the Air Force using the same points as recruiters usually stick to: being part of a larger team, defending the nation, good pay and benefits, and a chance to see the world.
“It’s a big decision. We’re not talking about just working at McDonald’s, we’re talking about joining the military,” Butler said. “This is about to change your life and whether you stay in it or not for another four years, it will change your life.”
Correction, 11/1/23: This article has been corrected to reflect that Sgt. Butler exceeded his recruiting quota by 55%, not 5%.
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