During the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, it is predicted that more than 20 percent of the Naval Academy’s Midshipmen will not make the journey back home. However, for these Mids, there is still a chance to celebrate with friends and family.
The United States Naval Academy’s (USNA) Sponsor Program provides more than 2,200 Midshipmen with a home away from home. The surrounding community of Annapolis knows the sacrifices of those attending USNA, and more than 750 families are enrolled in the USNA Sponsor program, to be there for Midshipman when they need them.
Midshipmen come to USNA from all over the world. From the day they arrive, they are immersed in a new environment. The transformation and development into the USNA standard of a naval officer takes years of training, and is challenging. Having a family support network nearby can prove to be helpful during difficult times.
“Families sponsor Midshipman when they enter USNA as plebes (freshmen),” said Rose Clark, USNA Sponsor Program Coordinator. “These families know the Midshipmen are away from home, some for the first time, and do what they can to help support and assist them here at USNA and in their personal lives.”
In many ways, sponsors take on a second-family-type role, encouraging the Midshipman in their private lives, supporting them in their activities and acting as a liaison between Midshipman and their families.
“These families selflessly open their homes to the Midshipman,” said Clark. “I see them on the bleachers at sporting events, I hear the appreciation of home cooked meals and on the opposite end, I hear the sincere gratitude from families knowing their children are being looked after by people who genuinely care.”
In years past, the radius of the Sponsorship Program was measured 22 miles from USNA’s Chapel dome. Due to the demand of families wanting to sponsor, it has been extended to 30 miles. The program’s popularity spread mostly through word of mouth.
“We had heard about the program in 1994 from someone who was a sponsor,” said Ken Ochs, a 20-year sponsor and retired Captain of the Baltimore County Fire Department. “Sponsoring has been very rewarding for my wife Kathi and me. We have sponsored two or more Midshipman every year and we keep life-long connections with them. When our only son was married, officers, who were like his older siblings, came in from all over for his wedding.”
Sponsors receive mandatory training from USNA to facilitate and encourage success of sponsors with their Midshipman.
“The training sponsors receive has a kind of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for aiding a Midshipman,” said Clark. “These families understand this is not a typical learning environment, there are rules for conduct outside the walls of USNA. That being said, these families do as much as they can to make sure that it feels as much like home as possible.”
“Most years we have had one or two stay with us over Thanksgiving, and that’s not even including their classmates and friends” said Ochs. “We want to be able to give them that feeling of the holiday. They are like family to us. Even after they spend holidays and the years at USNA, we keep in contact with them and we watch them progress in their lives and careers. The program is equally rewarding for us as it is for them.”
Plebes entering USNA are able to request a sponsor. Interested in sponsoring a midshipman? Visit the Sponsor Program website or the Sponsor Program Facebook site for more information.