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Full-time dad receives President’s Volunteer Service award

  • Published
  • By Nicole Singer
  • Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs
Michael Winton looked on as his 14-year-old daughter Natalee engaged in conversation with President George W. Bush on Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Mr. Winton and his family, who are currently stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, were invited to the White House in May to accept the President's Volunteer Service Award for Mr. Winton's volunteer efforts. He and five other military spouses received this award from President Bush in the East Room of the White House.

"Military spouses tend to have to go an extra mile," said President Bush. "They raise their own families and they find ways to help others as well.

"Military service is a family commitment," President Bush continued. "Military spouses do not raise their right hands and take an oath of enlistment. Yet, their service begins as soon as they say two words: 'I do.'"

The President's Volunteer Service Award honors Americans who have devoted a minimum of 100 service hours and have set an example of commitment to inspire others.
Mr. Winton, a retired Air Force flight instructor and husband of Air Force Materiel Command Inspector General Col. Joan Cunningham, has spent his retirement doing just that.

Mr. Winton retired in 1994 after 15 years in the Air Force to be a full-time dad. He began helping at his daughter's school and coaching sports teams. He graded papers and taught the kids an hour of science every Friday.

"They called me Captain Science," he recalled.

As his daughter grew older, he spent more time volunteering.

"It's always been something that I have done but until I retired I didn't have enough time," said Mr. Winton.

His volunteering grew into building homes for families in need through Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together.

While at Tinker AFB, Okla., Mr. Winton and his golden retriever, Jenny, became a registered therapy team. They visited the Norman Veteran Center to help in the physical therapy department.

"Anything as simple as having them throw a ball for my dog, or brush her, helped," he said.

Word caught on and they also began to visit at-risk elementary school children. Mr. Winton started a reading program for third and fourth graders where each child would read to Jenny weekly.

Mr. Winton also has volunteered at the Fisher-Nightingale Houses, which provide a place for the families of injured patients to stay. He also helps with the Sew Much Comfort program that makes specialized clothing for injured soldiers and he has been a mentor for new Air Force spouses.

Mr. Winton continues to add to his volunteer work, serving as a coach for a local swim team and as an official for the United States swim teams. One of his most memorable volunteer moments occurred when he stepped in to coach a swim team at Scott AFB, Ill.

"There was one little girl who could only swim about three strokes and had to be right next to the wall," recalled Mr. Winton. "It was so amazing to see how happy she was the first time she finished the full length of the pool."

As for the award, "I feel that there are many people who give more of themselves than I do," he said. "I was up there representing all of the other spouses who give their time."

He said he was happy that his family could share the experience with him. "What a cool opportunity for my family to be there, especially my daughter," Mr. Winton said.

He encourages others to try volunteer work.

"If somebody thinks that they might have the time to give, they ought to give it a try," Mr. Winton said, "There are all kinds of volunteer opportunities. You can find something you really enjoy."