By Pfc. Matthew Rabahy | 14th Public Affairs Detachment
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles that will run during March to commemorate Women’s History Month.
FORT CARSON, Colo. — On a cold February day in Colorado, Staff Sgt. Christeen Butterfield, Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard, stands by her horse, Rowdy, slowly running her hand along its mane and recounting her journey in the Army thus far.
With the musk of hay and mud heavy in the air, and frost almost emanating from the stable’s metal rails, Butterfield couldn’t have looked more at home on Turkey Creek Ranch.
In 2018, just two years before the idyllic situation she finds herself in, Butterfield, now assigned to Headquarters and Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, had no idea she would one day be riding horseback in parades instead of in Chinooks on the other side of the world.
She was deployed in Afghanistan, and a horse ranch in mountainous Colorado was an oasis far away from the severe and arid lands of southern Asia.
She deployed with 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div. She worked for the battalion as a multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer. As a female in this position, participating in firefights was not a task most people would think to include in a job description, but Butterfield had no problem adding extracurricular activities to her resume.
One day during her deployment, Butterfield and her unit were attacked by Taliban insurgents. Amongst the chaos, she steeled herself and proved her mettle.
“There I was in Afghanistan with the 2-12th Infantry,” Butterfield said. “We had gone outside of the wire and we had these three little buildings that were made out of plywood. We (were) shot at, and I went up on the wall and shot back with all of the infantry guys.”
Her story quickly reached the ears of Command Sgt. Maj. Anton Hillig, senior enlisted leader, 2nd IBCT. He was impressed by her bravery and asked Butterfield to work for him.
At this point, Butterfield had already been in the Army for five years and was unsure about her future. She expressed to him that she was considering leaving the Army and finishing her education as a civilian.
Butterfield was still weighing her options when she redeployed back to Fort Carson at the end of 2018. Hillig, sensing her potential, spoke with her again about her future.
Retelling their conversation, Butterfield began with Hillig’s question: “‘Well what can I do to keep you in the Army? We need good NCOs.’”
She said she didn’t know.
“‘What about the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard?’”
“Humvees! How do you do that?” Butterfield asked.
“I’ve never ridden a horse in my life.”
“‘That’s okay. You don’t have to have horse-riding experience.’”
After this discussion, Butterfield was convinced to give the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard a shot.
“I decided to try out, and I fell off over and over and over again,” Butterfield said, describing the challenge she faced when riding a horse for the first time during the riding evaluation. “Despite that, my attitude was good, so they said I could join the team. In the last year I have learned everything I have ever known about horses, and it’s been a really awesome, invigorating experience.”
Staff Sgt. Dannelle Brown, the NCO in charge of the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard, was at the tryout and saw each time Butterfield climbed back onto the saddle. Her display of perseverance proved she had the resilience and humility the team needed. Since then, Butterfield has only further confirmed Brown’s first impression.
“The first time she had ridden was when she did the riding evaluation for the tryout,” Brown said. “She fell off quite a few times, but she got right back on and kept going. Falling off the horse is not necessarily a disqualification. As long as they’re not injured and they can still push through, that shows that they have a lot of determination and can be trained.”
Butterfield was now on the team, but still green. However, she quickly progressed and through her work ethic and character, provided plenty of evidence that supported Brown’s decision to let an inexperienced rider like Butterfield on the team.
When Butterfield initially joined, leadership was desperately needed in the Mounted Color Guard, as the team was understaffed. Brown needed the newcomers to become experts as quickly as possible. Butterfield did not disappoint.
“She hit the ground running,” Brown said. “I like to say she’s fearless. She soaked in everything we taught her really fast. She has come leaps and bounds from not being able to stay on a horse to doing some of our fast-charging events. I’d like to say she’s my right hand.”
In just over a year, to go from a state of uncertainty regarding her future in the Army to now being a section leader
in a field she previously had no experience in, speaks volumes about the type of person Butterfield is. Having had no clear path forward, she continued on anyway, and now she takes it upon herself to tell her Soldiers there’s always a better way.
“I definitely try to be the person showing people it is possible — you can be in a male-dominated profession and still shine,” she said. “And not just for the female Soldiers, but male Soldiers, too. Any good leadership I can provide, I try to.”
Butterfield is aware of the struggles female Soldiers may encounter in their Army careers, however she doesn’t see this as any reason for them to aim low. Rather, she believes they alone decide their future and no one else.
“If there’s one thing I learned when it comes to being a female in the Army, it’s that you are the only one who is going to set your limitations,” Butterfield
said. “Nobody else has that power but you. So don’t set limitations. Give yourself all the room in the world to grow.”
At the end of the day, no matter the situation or environment, Butterfield said she knows the most important piece of wisdom she learned from her time in service is the ability and desire to impact others in a powerful way.
“Before I got in the Army, I had a job. But I didn’t really know what it meant to be a leader. I’d say that’s the biggest quality I’m going to take away from the Army,” she said. “In my life outside of
the Army and in my life in general, being a good leader for people and teaching are the biggest things I’ve learned.”