Coast Guard Family Month: Cadets new “families” at Thanksgiving

Like other military members, Coast Guard Academy cadets are often far away from their family during their intense four-year academic journey. Some cadets are even from outside of the U.S. This is why the camaraderie is strong between cadets, and why the families that surround the Academy are so important. Many cadets that live close to the Academy will take friends home for weekends and holidays by the vanload, and Academy staff and local community members also open their homes to cadets, which helps ease homesickness for those cadets that are unable to spend holidays with their own families. Read a couple of cadets’ thoughts about this new take on “family.”

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These are just a couple of Coast Guard Academy cadets’ thoughts on what family means to them this holiday season. 

Thanksgiving is for Family and Friends

sakowiczEmily Rose Sakowicz
Brewster, NY 
Class of 2017
Major: Civil Engineering

The greatest thing about the Coast Guard Academy is not the beautiful river view, or the extremely devoted teachers; it is the family you get when you join. On R-Day you have 30 brothers and sisters in your company and a thousand cadets in the corps that have your back. With each cadet, teacher, officer, and sponsor parent, you gain their entire family as well, and are accepted as one of their own.

As a cadet that lives relatively close to the Academy, I have, on many occasions, told my parents that not only was I coming home, but my entire entourage would be joining me as well. No grunts or anger from my mother, just how many blankets and packages of Oreos was she going to need to buy. My home is no longer my home, but a home-away-from-home for all of my friends that live on the West Coast. My two closest friends no longer ask me when I am going home, but call my parents asking if they can crash for the weekend, even if I am not going to be there.

Thanksgiving is one of the better examples of cadet adoption. This year my wonderful parents are managing to fit in seven cadets from both the Coast Guard and the Air Force Academy into their home. Thanksgiving is one of the three holidays I get to see my entire extended family, which can be anywhere from 15 to 30 people at a table. Our family tradition starts with a turkey trot, which I am so excited to share with my friends. My cousin is a Division I runner at University of Albany and one of my Coasties is one of the fastest on our cross country team. My family has a small pool on who will take first. My brother and his Air Force friends will blast past the rest of us, saying something about the air being so much easier to breathe. All that matters is when the last of us cross the finish line, there will be a group of my friends and family in matching Flash t-shirts cheering as hard as they can. Dinner will be similar, with every member cooking something different, from the turkey, (and the backup turkey my Dad got before we left), to my aunt’s corn and saltine chowder, the cadets cleaning all the dishes and chasing the smaller kids around the yard. When we all fight over chairs and couches in my aunt’s living room, there is no difference between my friends and my biological family, they are all just my family.

Thanksgiving Away From Home

culpAbby Culp
Bellevue, Nebraska 
Class of 2017
Major: Marine and Environmental Sciences

The Coast Guard Academy is a wonderfully diverse collection of people. We have cadets studying here who hail not only from all corners of the United States, but from the globe as well! Unfortunately, that geographic dispersion can make one week of leave in particular a challenge for cadets from faraway places: Thanksgiving. In this month of the Military Family, that pain of being separated from your family, especially during a holiday that is traditionally revered as a celebration of such, is heightened a little bit more. The reality is that many cadets don’t get to travel home for Thanksgiving, simply because they live too far away. And speaking from experience, it is tough to imagine your family sharing that time without you there.

And yet, if you were to walk through the halls of Chase during the Thanksgiving holiday, you would hear the cacophonies and chaos of… silence. Not a cadet to be seen. If I’ve just been talking about all of these cadets who can’t go home, why isn’t Chase filled with their presence on that fourth Thursday? Simple. It’s because the military family that we are celebrating this month takes a unique form in the lives of cadets. In fact, you could venture to say a cadet has multiple military families: our own families, then those who have adopted us and care for us over the four years we study here.

One example of that latter is the Crabtree family. Carl and Christy are the field leaders for the Officer’s Christian Fellowship (OCF) chapter at the Academy; and during Thanksgiving, they embrace numerous cadets as part of their own family at their home, Shepherd’s Fold. The house is designed to be a retreat center for OCF, and as such can welcome a plethora of cadets at any time of the year; weekends, holidays, summer trainings. Thanksgiving is a particularly lively time for the household. In the past, Carl and Christy have hosted international cadets from such countries as Rwanda and Honduras, and other cadets whose distance from home precludes travelling back to their families. I’m always amazed at the love they show for all of us here. When I asked Carl about opening up his house, he told me, “My wife and I enjoy the privilege of mentoring cadets and giving them a home away from home. Each Thanksgiving we are blessed to have some cadets that do not journey home.” Read that again: blessed. If you want to talk about a loving adoptive military family…there you have it. It’s incredible to see how close these adoptive families grow to us, and how easily they assume a special spot in your own heart. Lives change because of our adoptive families. I am forever grateful for the love and support of my family back home; but in addition, I realize I’m extremely blessed to have met the families who take me and my classmates under their wings when my parents aren’t right there; people who, just by letting me into their house, have become people I trust and care about. I think Carl hits the nail on the head: “We adopt them for the week and some of those relationships last a lifetime.”

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