U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May and the American Red Cross will place more than 300 Coast Guard recruits with South Jersey families for Thanksgiving as part of Operation Fireside, resuming the in-home part of the program after suspension the last two years due to COVID.
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.
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 more than four decades ago. The Red Cross solicits and tracks volunteers and host families, while Training Center Cape May pairs each recruit with a family on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The families and the recruits will meet at Training Center Cape May’s Flores Gymnasium before departing the training center. 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 firearms familiarization to basic water survival.