Operation Fireside: A home away from home

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On a typical day at boot camp, recruits wait in line for “chow,” at the Coast Guard’s Training Center in Cape May, N.J. standing in a straight line, with shoulders to the “bulkhead” as Company Commanders bark orders. This past Thursday, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, recruits found a small reprieve from this daily routine at boot camp as they settled onto comfortable sofas, surrounded by the aromas of a home-cooked meal.

The recruits, who have endured weeks of grueling training, earned the privilege to go off base on Thanksgiving Day as part of Operation Fireside. A holiday tradition since 1981, Operation Fireside is sponsored by both the Cape May County chapter of the American Red Cross and the Coast Guard and allows recruits to spend time with families in the community for a break from their now regimented lives.

Recruits at Kaufman's house
A total of eight recruits visited the home of Dr. Jim and April Kaufman, a host family participating in Operation Fireside. The recruits were able to visit homes of the local community in celebration of the holidays. Photo courtesy of Fr. Miles Barrett, CDR CHD USN.

This year, Operation Fireside matched up 372 Training Center Cape May recruits with 111 host families who took in the recruits for a day of food, fellowship, and of course well-deserved rest and relaxation

Used to starting their day at the crack of dawn and not hitting the rack until 10 p.m., the recruits’ day off started at 9:00 a.m. where they were picked up by a host family and soon found themselves in the warm homes of the local community where smiles and handshakes were a welcome replacement from verbal commands and orders.

The recruits who participated called home to talk to loved ones, watched television, especially football, or for many recruits who welcomed the break from their regulated schedule, just sitting and talking felt good.

One of the participants was Seamen Recruit William Sinclair, who traveled off base with one other recruit to enjoy amenities that were dearly missed. Originally from Whitney Point, N.Y., this was Sinclair’s first time away from home for Thanksgiving, so being able to talk to his family was a highlight of his day.

In between eating both breakfast and a traditional thanksgiving meal and watching television, Sinclair found time to video chat with his family who was back home and eating their Thanksgiving dinner without him for the first time.

“It really means a lot to share in something like this after being stuck here for so long,” said Sinclair. “Here at boot camp everything looks exactly the same as every other room, so it was great just being able to get off the base and being in a home atmosphere.”

The home-cooked food that nourished the recruits was only part of the affects the day had on the recruits. For many of the young men and women, who arrived in Cape May from all across the country, missing family and friends was a daily occurrence.

Recruits served dinner
A highlight of the day for many of the recruits included the delicious dinners the host families served. The relaxation and camaraderie around the dinner table was a welcome break from their typical boot camp routine. Photo courtesy of Fr. Miles Barrett, CDR CHD USN.

Seaman Recruit Christopher Stevenson was far from his hometown of Chicago, but his participation in Operation Fireside surrounded him with the comfort and hospitality that can only come from close friends.

“From the time we stepped into the house until they dropped us off back at the base, they acted like we were family,” said Stevenson. “It was such a great thing to go off base and have someone welcome you with open arms and make you feel like you are home, when you are so far from it.”

Stevenson was overjoyed with the camaraderie he shared with his host family and their generosity, but also made sure to note how delicious the food was.

“I think it was the best turkey I’ve ever had in my life,” said Sinclair.

Being away for the holidays is something that often comes with service, and for both Sinclair and Stevenson, recruits from Delta 184, this may not be the last time they are not home for the holidays. Delta 184 will be graduating this Friday and both recruits will be stationed at units far from their hometowns. For them, this holiday and Operation Fireside, was a reminder that despite the fact they are away from their own families, they can still find their way “home.”

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