CAPE MAY, N.J. – The Coast Guard and American Red Cross placed more than 300 Coast Guard recruits with several dozen South Jersey families for Christmas as part of Operation Fireside, Sunday.
Operation Fireside has placed recruits with South Jersey families during the holiday season since 1981. It allows recruits to celebrate the holiday with a host family while they’re separated from their loved ones during the rigorous basic-training program.
“This holiday season, our recruits are here preparing for their futures in the Coast Guard,” said Capt. Owen Gibbons, commanding officer of Coast Guard Training Center Cape May. “While they may not be able to spend time with their own families this Christmas, thanks to the generosity of these host families, they will get to celebrate the holiday in a way they will never forget.”
Operation Fireside has been coordinated annually by the American Red Cross Southern Shore Chapter in Cape May Court House, N.J., 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.
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.