CAPE MAY, N.J. – The Coast Guard and American Red Cross placed more than 200 Coast Guard recruits with several dozen South Jersey families for Christmas as part of Operation Fireside Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.
Thousands of recruits have spent Christmas with hundreds of volunteers from South Jersey since the Operation Fireside program was established in 1981. It allows recruits to celebrate the holiday with a host family while they’re separated from their loved ones during the arduous basic training program.
“One of the greatest gifts a servicemember can receive on Christmas is a loving home for the holidays,” said Capt. Todd Prestidge, commanding officer of Training Center Cape May. “This is only made possible because of the generosity of our community and the support of the American Red Cross.”
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 Christmas Day.
“We’re proud to say supporting military members is just one of our many Red Cross missions, and the families who host these men and women are also honored to have them in their homes,” said Donna Croskey, the Operation Fireside coordinator for the Red Cross. “Even after the Holidays, many of the host families attend the recruits’ graduation ceremony and stay in touch long after boot camp.”
The families and the recruits met at Training Center Cape May’s Guardian Chapel, and the recruits will be with the families until 8 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 same day.
Training Center Cape May is the Coast Guard’s only enlisted basic training program, and more than 83 percent of the Service’s workforce receive basic instruction here to become Coast Guardsmen. The recruits are trained in everything from fire arms familiarization to basic water survival. Most of the recruits will be stationed around the world conducting frontline Coast Guard operations days after graduation.