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Coast Guard Recruits get home away from home for Christmas

December 25, 2014

CAPE MAY, N.J. – The Coast Guard and American Red Cross will placed nearly 300 Coast Guard recruits with several dozen South Jersey families for Christmas as part of Operation Fireside, Thursday.

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.

“This holiday season, our recruits are here preparing for their futures in the Coast Guard,” said Capt. Todd Prestidge, commanding officer of Training Center Cape May. “While they may not be able to spend time with their own families this Christmas, thanks to the generosity of these host families, they will get to celebrate the holiday in a way they will never forget.”

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.

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 the next day.

“Red Cross is proud to provide Operation Fireside for the Cape May Coast Guard Training Center recruits for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Carol Cohen,  executive director, American Red Cross’ Southern Shore Chapter. “This year over 500 recruits were invited to spend the holidays in the homes of local families who opened their hearts and homes to support military members from across the country.  We are grateful to the families who make this an annual tradition and invite new families to participate next year.  We also appreciate the Coast Guard Training Center's annual cooperation and participation for a very successful program in 2014.

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 fire arms familiarization to basic water survival.

Recruits stand ready to be taken by their host family during the annual Operation Fireside pick up process at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., Dec. 25, 2014. Nearly 300 recruits were assigned host families to spend Christmas Day with. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer John Edwards)

A member of the American Red Cross and a Coast Guardsman work to organize paperwork as Operation Fireside host families begin to line up, Dec. 25, 2014. Host families from across south Jersey have volunteered to take in recruits for Christmas Day to give them a home away from home for a day. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer John Edwards)

Cmdr. Shaun Brown, chaplain at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., addresses the recruits prior to the start of Operation Fireside, Dec. 25, 2014. Operation Fireside is organized by the American Red Cross and has been providing a way for recruits currently in training to spend a holiday with a host family since 1981. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer John Edwards)