Coronavirus halts Coast Guard recruit families from attending graduation, but NJ residents step in

Graduates from recruit company Oscar 198 complete basic training at U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, during a graduation ceremony, April 22, 2020.


By CHRIS FRANKLIN | NJ Advance Media Group | Published: April 23, 2020

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CAPE MAY, N.J. (Tribune News Service) — During a typical Coast Guard graduation period in Cape May, the area buzzes with families, friends and graduates moving about the seaside city’s beaches, restaurants and sights. Many of them are from out-of-state.

At Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, the night before graduation is a time for parents of graduates to meet the center’s command staff and share training stories.

For the latest classes, though, who graduated in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, no parents, friends or loved ones were in town for the ceremonies. The latest was Wednesday, when 86 men and women of class Oscar 198 graduated basic training.

But the town, the adoptive, “Coast Guard Community” of Cape May is stepping in to make sure the new members of the Coast Guard receive a rousing send off.

For the last three classes over the past few weeks, vehicles line up along Philadelphia and Pittsburgh avenues to honk their horns and cheer the graduates as they leave the training center for the next part of their Coast Guard journey. A police car leads the bus full of graduates out of the center.

They will do it again, Friday, at 11 a.m for the class, Oscar 198, that graduated Wednesday.

“It was exciting because you saw all of the people out with the trucks, the cars, and their kids,” Cape May City Mayor Clarence “Chuck” Lear said of the honking event.

“Even in spite of the lockdown, people came out while being responsible and staying away from each other, but still showing their patriotism and love of the Coast Guard families here. Many of the people do not know who those recruits are because they come from all over the country, but they are out there, and they are supporting them, and I think it sends a real message to these recruits who are probably scared to death and been through all of this training,” the mayor said.

“Here they are going through a community that they probably barely seen during their recruit training. To go out and see the streets lined with people waving at you. I think it is a great send off, and hopefully, they will be home soon. I think those who go through it will appreciate it,” Lear added.

Cape May County received the designation of being a “Coast Guard Community” from Congress in 2015 — one of only 28 locations in the country to receive the designation.

The training center is the Coast Guard’s fifth largest base and where every enlisted member trains. “This is why we consider the training center the birthplace of the enlisted corps and Cape May County, the Coast Guard’s Hometown,” the center says on its webpage.

And the recruits are not the only ones feeling the pinch of the pandemic influencing the normal way of life. The virus has forced restaurants to become takeout only locations, and other shops have been forced to close, Lear said.

“You think of all the families and friends that typically come here to see their son or daughter or somebody graduate,” Lear said. "The restaurants and hotels have definitely been impacted. People would probably have made a weekend out of it, even during the offseason.”

Training center spokesman, Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Tamargo, says the makeshift appreciation for the recruits does not go unnoticed. He said parents often comment on the training center’s Facebook page thanking the city and county for supporting their recruit children when they spend time in the area.

“It makes the command feel good,” Tanargo said. “It is good to know that you have value in the community and that you can be a support to them as well. We have helped them out, and they have helped us out over the years with all kinds of projects and community events.”

©2020 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

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Graduates from recruit company Oscar 198 complete basic training at U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, during a graduation ceremony, April 22, 2020.