CAPE MAY, N.J. – The Coast Guard and American Red Cross placed more than 400 Coast Guard recruits with dozens of South Jersey families for Thanksgiving as part of Operation Fireside, Thursday.
Operation Fireside has placed recruits with host families during the holiday season since 1981. It allows recruits to celebrate the holiday with a local family while they are separated from their loved ones during the rigorous, 8-week-basic-training program.
“Training during the holidays is tough on a recruit,” said Capt. Owen Gibbons, commanding officer of Coast Guard Training Center Cape May. “Most of these young men and women are away from home for the first time and while they may not be able to spend time with their own families this Thanksgiving, thanks to the generosity of these host families, they will get to celebrate the holiday in a meaningful and unforgettable way.”
Operation Fireside has been coordinated annually by the American Red Cross Southern Shore Chapter since the program started three decades ago. The Red Cross solicits and tracks volunteers and host families, while Training Center Cape May pairs each recruit with a family for both Thanksgiving as well as on Christmas Day.
“The American Red Cross began providing services to armed forces during the World War I,” said Laura Steinmetz, communications director for the Red Cross. “Operation Fireside is one of the ways we’ve continued compassionate care and service to our military. It’s a team effort between our volunteers, the local host families and of course the Coast Guard Training Center’s administration and recruits. Everyone comes together in the true spirit of the holidays for the recruits.”
The families and the recruits will meet at Training Center Cape May’s gymnasium, and the recruits will be with the families until ? p.m. While the recruits are off base, they will be allowed to eat as much as they want, call home, and relax before beginning training again the next day.
Training Center Cape May is the Coast Guard’s only enlisted basic training program, and more than 80 percent of the service’s workforce receives basic instruction here to become Coast Guardsmen. The recruits are trained in everything from fire-arms familiarization to basic-water survival.