The U.S. Coast Guard teamed up with the American Red Cross to place more than 200 Coast Guard recruits with around 80 South Jersey families for Christmas. It was all part of Operation Fireside, a program that has placed recruits with families in South Jersey during the Holiday season since 1981.
The program allows recruits to experience Christmas with a host family while they’re away from their loved ones during their basic training program.
“Our new Coast Guardsmen will be conducting dangerous frontline Coast Guard missions in the U.S. and abroad within days of graduation, and we make them Coast Guardsmen by pushing them to new levels of physical, mental and emotional toughness,” said Capt. Bill Kelly, the commanding officer of Training Center Cape May. “The volunteers of Operation Fireside make them feel at home, which is probably one of the greatest gifts for a service member separated from their family during the Holiday season.”
The American Red Cross Southern Shore Chapter in Cape May Court House, N.J. has coordinated Operation Fireside every year since the program began. The Red Cross solicits and tracks both volunteers and host families while the Coast Guard at Training Center Cape May pairs the recruits with a family.
The recruits met with their families Christmas morning and stayed through dinnertime. The recruits are allowed to spend the day relaxing, eating and calling home until they return to training after 8.
"There's no doubt in my mind, I can speak for every recruit that's come through Cape May, that we really appreciate this," said Ryan Perez.
“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.”