Missoulian: Hamilton High School senior gets Air Force appointment

HAMILTON – Hamilton High School senior Caitlin Gillespie has received an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy. She is already a licensed pilot and wants to use that love of flying in the military.

“It’s amazing,” Gillespie said. “I knew when I got the principal nomination from Sen. (Steve) Daines in December that I was going to get an appointment, but now that it’s real I can start preparing. My family is all very proud. It makes a big difference.”

Gillespie’s appointment pays for college, then she will serve in the military for five years.

“I’m not sure what I want to do,” she said. “I know I’d like to be a pilot, but if not then I’m not really sure.”

Gillespie said she was inspired to fly by her grandfather and father, both pilots.

“My older brothers, Tyler and Justin, and I fly with my dad and then last summer I started flying lessons and really got into it. I soloed in August in a Cessna-152,” she said. “I would love to be an Air Force pilot even if I couldn’t fly an F-16, but like a bomber pilot would be super cool.”

Gillespie will share the military service of her grandfathers; Larry Higginbotham served in the Army Reserves, Roy Brown served in the Navy and Sterling Wetzsteon served in the Air Force as a pilot. Gillespie said she looks up to her brother, Tyler, who is serving in the Air Force in Spokane.

“He trains pilots and members of the crew so if they had to eject from the airplane or crashed behind enemy lines they could survive,” Gillespie said.

During high school, Gillespie was captain of the Bronc volleyball, track and field and Class A state champion basketball teams. She is on the school honor roll, was homecoming royalty and served as a delegate for the American Legion’s Girl’s All State.

Gillespie said her favorite subject in school would help her in life.

“I like calculus because it is challenging,” she said. “English is probably my stronger subject, but I like the challenge that calculus presents.”

Gillespie was nominated to the academy by the entire Montana congressional delegation – Daines, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke.

Daines said he was proud to congratulate Gillespie on her appointment to the Air Force Academy.

“She is a hardworking student and demonstrates leadership inside and outside of the classroom,” Daines said. “I’m looking forward to watching Caitlin’s next (step) in a long line of accomplishments as a future leader of our country.”

Tester said, “Caitlin’s leadership, dedication, and willingness to step up and serve her nation should be commended. I’m proud that Caitlin will be joining thousands of other courageous Montanans who proudly answer the call of duty.”

Zinke, a retired U.S. Navy commander, said he was honored to nominate outstanding young men and women and help them pursue a career in the U.S. military.

“Bravo Zulu, Caitlin,” Zinke said. “Caitlin has proven she has the physical and mental toughness to excel and lead; she represents the absolute best of her peers and I know she will make all Montanans proud.”

The last time a Hamilton High School student received an appointment to the Air Force Academy was in 2003. The Air Force Academy is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.