SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — “It’s definitely been a humbling experience.”
A family from Yuma, Arizona has spent the last year stepping in for graduating Marines in San Diego. Since July of 2021, the Novera family has helped thousands of families and their recruits navigate boot camp and provide extra support during Graduation Week and Family Day.
John Noveras is a Marine veteran who served for 18 years. John began his service in 1990, at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma. After he was stationed in Camp Pendelton, Quantico, the Pentagon, and Japan.
Last year, his eldest son decided he would follow in his dad's footsteps.
“It was difficult for me to follow along his journey," explains John. "So I joined several Facebook groups and started helping people there.”
John then decided to create his own group called 'Lowcrawl Hugs'. The group consists of Marine parents who are looking for support, advice, or a little bit of help.
“My wife and I are on the phone all day long," explains John. "People are asking what’s my recruit doing, my recruit mailed me a letter saying he got hurt what happens then?”
“I don’t think I would have made it through boot camp without their group," shares Denise Parini.
Parini lives in Illinois. While her 17-year-old son was at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, completing his training, John and his wife Angie, were there for her.
“In those moments it’s like okay I need somebody," explains Denise. "They were able to provide that comfort of what my son was doing on the day to day, and not to worry about not receiving a letter because they are busy.”
But being there for loved ones of recruits both near and far is only a small piece of what the Noveras family does.
When John and Angie's oldest son graduated, they noticed that on Family Day, there were many Marines who did not have families present.
“I say to my husband 'This is what happens when you get graduated?' And he said yes this is what happened to me too," shares Angie. "And I was like that’s unfair, we have to do something about that because they deserve family with them.”
So that's what they did.
John quit his job, and for the roughly 40 graduations a year, the Noveras fill up their van with and leave their home in Yuma every Thursday to visit Marines in Yuma, Camp Pendleton, or MCRD.
Angie has become infamous on the three bases for her 'Free Mom Hugs'. They are hugs of praise for a job well done, for all of the Marines who were not able to have their loved ones show up on their special day.
“I’m very grateful," states Angie. "To be a really sad day for them, and we change that unexpectedly, and that’s my pay. To see that smile on their face and hear them say, I feel like I am home.”
The Noveras say that they get requests from parents or connect with recruits who know their families won't be there.
On a given Thursday on 'Family Day', the Noveras spend the day with recruits watching their training, and then hang out with them to give advice and parental love.
Sometimes, John and Angie get to stand in on the most important day, graduation.
“We believe in karma, we believe that if we do something good something good will come out of it," shares John.
And while it's hard, Angie says she thinks of the recruits.
“There’s so many, there’s so many," says Angie with tears in her eyes. "I just sometimes think sometimes I want to stop, I can’t go. But I can’t, I can’t.”
They hope that their simple act of just being there puts Marine families at peace, and recruits proud to share in the accomplishments they've achieved.