by Thea Skinner
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
Seventeen year-old Heather Wincapaw is leading the way among Peterson youth by receiving the honor of the 2009 Air Force Space Command Youth of the Year. More than 47 applicants were vying for this major command title.
“I was so excited. I was jumping around the house — that’s awesome,” Heather said.
Nominees submitted personal essays and information packages describing their involvement with home and family, moral character, community, school, service and life goals.
Heather ‘s largest contribution is her generosity, said Chris Gunn, 21st Force Support Squadron R.P. Lee Youth Center youth programmer.
“She is a mentor to the kids here,” he said. “Her application was very strong. This past year she completed 19 college credits. In our line of work, you don’t come around a teenager that has those qualities — she is focused.”
As recognition Heather attended the Gen. H. Hugh Shelton Leadership Challenge Institute at North Carolina State University in Raleigh N.C. in July. The challenge is a six day residential experience. Youths of the year from Arkansas, Virginia, Germany and North Carolina also attended the institute, in which the mission is to inspire, educate, and develop value-based leaders committed to personal integrity, professional ethics, and selfless service.
“I got to become really close to three other youths of the year,” Heather said. “I made a lot of life-long friends. We did a lot of team building activities.”
As a Colorado Wing Civil Air Patrol cadet tech sergeant, she plans to wear the YoY hanging medal she received along with the title on her Civil Air Patrol uniform.
“I like working with kids,” she said. “I teach piano and whatever home school group I am in, I volunteer.”
She has numerous volunteer experiences including the Special Olympics, library preschool story hour, and assistant coach for youth basketball at Vandenberg AFB. Also, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where the Wincapaws were stationed for four months, Heather volunteered spending time with wounded warriors.
Heather’s father is Maj. Troy Wincapaw, 2nd Space Company, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. Stationed at Peterson for more than a year, the Wincapaws make service to others a priority.
The family immediately jumped in and wanted to be a part of the youth center after they arrived at Peterson, Mr. Gunn said.
“The entire family assisted with the American Kids Run on base,” he said. “You don’t meet people like that often. Heather has influenced the teenagers — we have a poster of Heather placed as the children go upstairs at the youth center.”
Heather also participated as stage director for the Peterson Missoula Children’s Theater play on base during the summer.
“I have always enjoyed acting and being creative,” Heather said. “Being different is much more fun than being the same as everybody else.”
For two years the family has compiled packages for troops overseas through Freedom Alliance.
“We enjoy it a lot here,” Nadeen Wincapaw, Heather’s mother, said. “There are a lot of things to do outside. We try to find out about the place we are stationed and do things. I don’t think that there is any place that we have not enjoyed. Service is a major part of our lives — we try to give back as much as we can, because we know we have been blessed.”
The family received one such blessing when they moved into a new, roomy home on base, as part of the Tierra Vista Communities housing project.
“There is a lot more floor and storage space,” Mrs. Nadeen said. The kitchen is amazing. This is different than any other base house I have been through. With three teenage girls I am looking forward to the tankless water heater.”
Heather plans to enlist in the Army after she turns 18 years old in July 2010. She also plans to apply to the Air Force Academy later.
“I want to try doing the hands on dirty work first before I become a cadet,” Heather said. “I would like to work on being a doctor — medicine fascinates me. I want to first be a medic, but outside of that I love volunteering for military functions.”