Generosity allows midshipman to go home for holidays

Classmates raised more than $2,000 so she could travel to the Philippines

December 29, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Before the holidays, many Naval Academy students undoubtedly spoke of going home and visiting family, but not Midshipman 3rd Class Katie Whitcombe. The sophomore had not seen her parents and two brothers since they moved from Washington state to the Philippines in June 2009. With airline tickets out of her reach, she figured home was out of the question.

And it would have been, had fellow midshipmen not banded together to raise money to ensure that Whitcombe wouldn't endure another holiday without her family.

They called it "Operation Whitcombe," an impromptu fundraising effort launched by a friend, Midshipman 3rd Class Lisa Worsham of Colorado. The fundraiser, which involved many midshipmen, including the men's lacrosse team, raised more than $2,300.

Whitcombe, whose parents moved to the Philippines a month before her Induction Day, spoke about her fellow midshipmen's generosity from her home last week. She spoke via the Internet, her primary means of communication while away from her family.

Upon arriving home, Whitcombe said, she stayed up all night talking to her brothers and parents.

"My little brothers had grown up so much," she said, "and we all had so many things to say to each other."

She also got to celebrate her mother's birthday, which is Christmas Day.

Whitcombe said she usually uses webcam chat, finding time each week to connect with family.

"When there are storms, sometimes I can't reach them for a few days up to a week because they lose Internet connection," she said. "But other than that, I have had the blessing of being able to reach them and see their faces even though we are so far apart."

She said her family doesn't do anything extravagant during the holidays. Financial burdens often prevent them from having big dinners or giving presents. Mostly, they spend time enjoying the simplest of family pleasures, like laughing and talking or staying up New Year's Eve watching the televised ball drop at New York's Times Square and the fireworks go off in the street.

Not only did she think going home was out of the question, her parents believed it as well. They thought she was joking when she told them what her fellow midshipmen had done.

"They knew it would be a while before I could come home, and hearing that I could this year was unbelievable," Whitcombe said. "I had to tell them a few times to make them realize it was not a joke."

Even she had trouble grasping it at first.

Whitcombe said she was called up front during morning quarters formation, unaware of what was going on. "I got to the center, my roommate [Worsham] was standing there," she said. "When she told me I was going home for Christmas, I could not believe it.

"I could never imagine that I would be going home this year, not until I had more money saved up to see my family," Whitcombe added. "I was blown away by the kindness that my whole company, as well as the men's lacrosse team, had showed me. Seeing so many people come together and do something so kind astonished me more than anything. I felt very undeserving of all of what they did, but extremely grateful."

In fact, one of the more difficult tasks for everyone involved was keeping the news from Whitcombe while they raised the money.

Senior Chief Jason Brown said Whitcombe told him in September that she had not seen her family in more than a year and added that she was considering going home next summer but didn't know whether she'd be able to because of her financial situation.

"The funny part is, I had just spoken to another midshipman the day before, and I was let in on the secret that they were raising money to send her to the Philippines," Brown said. "You can imagine how hard it was for me not to let her in on the secret."

But Brown said it is not unusual for midshipmen to go to such lengths.

"Midshipmen don't make a lot of money. Some of them only get $100 a month," said Brown. "What amazes me is their willingness to give to other people. [Whitcombe] is just one example of the giving that they demonstrate."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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