CAPE MAY, N.J. – The Coast Guard and American Red Cross will place more than 150 Coast Guard recruits with several dozen South Jersey families for Thanksgiving as part of Operation Fireside Thursday at 8:30 a.m.
Coast Guard Training Center Cape May has approximately 160 recruits in training from more than 29 states and U.S. territories including five from Texas. 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.
“Whether conducting counter drug operations off the coast of South America, ice breaking missions in the Arctic or other critical missions, the Coast Guardsmen who graduate here will all have one thing in common – they’ll remember the love and support demonstrated by their Fireside host this Thanksgiving,” said Capt. Todd Prestidge, commanding officer of Training Center Cape May.
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 Thanksgiving Day.
The families and the recruits will meet 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 that same 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.”
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.