Cape May County is a proud Coast Guard Community; one that embraces its Coast Guard personnel and their families as they move to our area year after year. When they relocate here, whether they live on or off base, these families live out their daily lives among us: working at local businesses, enrolling their children in local schools, and enjoying everything our unique county has to offer.
While every enlisted member of the Coast Guard serves their country with pride, military spouses have made it their goal to become a part of and serve their communities, too. No matter their profession, their background, or their level of contribution, every Coast Guard spouse is an integral part of our county’s community as a whole. The members of both Cape May County and the Coast Guard Community have worked to build and maintain a special relationship with those who live in our community, a relationship that some communities are not fortunate enough to experience.
“I think there’s a good variety of base support that we get in Cape May, but also the community support that ties it all together,” said Lacey Milligan, a nurse at Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House and a Coast Guard spouse. “The base normally has a ton of events for our families, which are a little delayed this year with everything going on, but with events like Morey’s Piers Days for the Coast Guard, we all really do feel welcome here.”
Milligan, who began her nursing career at Cape Regional last year, has dealt with COVID-19 on the frontline over the past few months. While her husband was dealing with recruits on base at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May (TRACEN), Milligan was at the hospital, caring for her patients, FaceTiming families who were not allowed to visit, and serving as a support system for her patients through this difficult time.
“In the last few months, giving that support to families and patients, it reminds me a lot of the Coast Guard. We aren’t with our families all the time, but our friends, our Coast Guard support in the communities we live in… not every town is like Cape May,” said Milligan. “We all work together, we support each other, and we become each other’s families.”
Milligan isn’t the only Coast Guard spouse who works at the hospital: over a dozen Coast Guard spouses are also on the front line showing patients the same support through these unprecedented times. But healthcare is only one area where spouses can find a connection with their community outside of the Coast Guard.
Alexis Lake, the President of Jersey Cape Military Spouses Club (JCMSC), fosters both relationships between military spouses in the area by giving back to the Coast Guard Community, while also giving back to the community they live in.
“The Coast Guard supports the [Cape May] community year-round, and the community supports us. We wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t have the support from the community during the shutdown,” said Lake. “And we try to do our part to support our local businesses year-round, as well.”
The non-profit, which mainly focuses on bringing spouses together for support, engaging in charitable and social activities for members, and providing educational information in areas of concern for military families, focuses on scholarships for dependents within the Coast Guard community, while also branching out to help Cape May County when they are in need. During the government shutdown in late 2018, they received an outpouring of support from the Cape May County community members, who donated to the food pantry on base while enlisted members were not getting paid.
Earlier this year, the club donated $1,000 to Cape Regional Hospital to support the nurses when the virus hit.
“We become a part of the outside community when you live somewhere. When COVID-19 hit and we were all staying home, it was really, really difficult. We weren’t able to take our kids to programs at the library, the schools immerse our kids into the community as well,” said Lake.
But despite the guidelines in place to keep everyone safe, the Coast Guard families were able to find support in their close-knit community to get through these difficult times.
“Some people in Cape May County don’t realize how many Coast Guard families are here, and I think it’s important for community members to realize that the Coast Guard is more than just a training center. There are a lot of units and a lot of families here,” said Lake. “These families do become a part of the community and immerse themselves once they get here. We may only be here for three years, but we really are a part of the community while we are here.”
Although the Coast Guard Festival, which usually facilitates strong engagement between the Coast Guard families and Cape May County, was cancelled this year, the Coast Guard Community Foundation continues to nurture strong relationships between Coast Guard members, their families, and the local community. The Foundation’s goal is to enhance Cape May County’s understanding and respect for their work of the Coast Guard, while making the families feel at home in Cape May as soon as possible, even if they are here for a short period of time.
“Cape May is unique, you’re not going to find that support everywhere. That’s why families come back here,” said Milligan. “In terms of a Coast Guard family, it’s a good place to be.”