South Jersey families host Coast Guardsmen for Thanksgiving

Coast Guard Training Center Cape May NewsCAPE MAY, N.J. – More than 220 recruits from Coast Guard Training Center Cape May had Thanksgiving dinner with 92 families in Southern New Jersey as part of Operation Fireside Thursday.

Families eager to host recruits lined up outside of Coast Guard Guardian Chapel aboard Training Center Cape May where they were met by representatives from the American Red Cross and Coast Guard chaplains. The Southern Shore Chapter of the American Red Cross coordinates the community’s involvement in Operation Fireside.

“(It feels) fantastic to be involved in Operation Fireside,” said Donna Croskey, the Operation Fireside coordinator for the Red Cross. “It’s a gift that I can give back to the military and the community.”

Since 1981, Operation Fireside has placed thousands of recruits with South Jersey families during the holiday season. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May can have up to 600 recruits training at any given time from all 50 states and U.S. territories. Operation Fireside allows the recruits to celebrate the holiday with their host family while they’re separated from their loved ones during training.

“This is one of the best ways the community can give back to the military,” said Cmdr. Miles Barrett, the chaplain for Training Center Cape May. “It shows the most junior and newest military members that people care about them and their missions.”

The families walked into Guardian Chapel where the recruits were seated straight up with their eyes dead ahead waiting quietly for their host families to arrive. Company commanders paced the halls to ensure the recruits maintain military bearing up to the moment they left with their host family. Many people pick up the recruits in the family car, and others go the less conventional route.

Dr. Jim Kauffman arrived to Guardian Chapel with a stretch limousine and representatives from the Atlantic County Toys for Kids Program. Eight recruits piled into the limo and were led by police escort through Somers Point, N.J., to Kauffman’s home in Vineland, N.J. Kauffman’s wife, April, was waiting for the recruits when they arrived with trays of food, computers and phones to call home.

“What better way to show your appreciation for people who serve than to give them a great meal, give them shelter for the day, some TV, a computer and a chance to call home,” said April Kauffman.

The home office at the Kauffman’s was buzzing with recruits calling family and friends, emailing girlfriends, and devouring candy. The young men who were marching in formation and preparing for service in the U.S. Coast Guard just hours earlier were now enjoying Thanksgiving in a warm and welcoming home. If it weren’t for the uniforms and the short hair cuts, an outsider could believe the young men lived with the Kauffmans. The recruits were grateful for the hospitality and a break from training.

“I’m just really looking forward to having the day off and getting to hang out with some really awesome people,” said Seaman Recruit Michael Mehr, a recruit in basic training. “I’m really appreciative for what I’m getting because I know a lot of people aren’t gifted with this.”

The recruits were required to report back to Training Center Cape May Thursday at 8 p.m. However, according to Croskey, many of the host families attend the recruits’ graduation ceremonies and stay in touch long after boot camp.

Training Center Cape May is the Coast Guard’s only enlisted basic training program, and more than 83 percent of the Service’s workforce receives basic instruction here to become Coast Guardsmen. The recruits are trained in everything from firearms familiarization to basic water survival skills. Most graduates from Training Center Cape May will be conducting front-line Coast Guard missions within a week of graduation.

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