What is an Ombudsman really supposed to do? Heather is a new Coast Guard spouse. When she and her husband moved to Seattle last year, Heather thought there would be some kind of “welcome to area” person—an Ombudsman.
She thought that the Ombudsman might be the person to call when you are having big issues—legal trouble or marriage problems.
She thought that maybe an Ombudsman was the person who could hook you up with educational meetings where spouses get to learn self-defense or how to change a tire. An Ombudsman might be able to set up little support groups between the women who live closest to each other in order for them not to feel alone.
Then Heather met the command Ombudsman at the unit’s Christmas party. Heather wrote,
“She said she hasn’t been very active since her husband was transferred here. I wanted to agree. I wanted to ask her what her responsibilities were so I could be sure she had in fact been as lazy as I assumed. But that’s just rude. She’s not really being lazy if it is not her job to first reach out to me to let me know that she exists. But what is her job?
When I Googled ‘Coast Guard Ombudsman,’ I found the pdf Heather mentioned that was supposed to make the role of the Ombudsman clear. It doesn’t.
Instead it is very clear about what Ombudsmen do NOT do. Ombudsmen are not counselors or babysitters. They can’t give you money or pick you up from work. They are not the Welcome Wagon, party planners, or class teachers.
But the military’s official Ombudsman language about grievances and liasons and familiarization is all gobbledeegook to me. No wonder Heather can’t understand what an Ombudsman ought to do.
After 25 years as a military spouse, I understand the role of the volunteer Ombudsman in a different way. I think of a really good Ombudsman the way Holden Caulfield pictures the “Catcher in the Rye.”
“ What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”
So I think I would tell Heather that the job of the Ombudsman is to be there to help us catch ourselves before we accidently go over a cliff. They aren’t there to make life on the cliff all happy. They are available to catch you and turn you around.
Ombudsmen know the available programs to help you with your problems. They are there to make sure you can communicate with the command if something goes wrong with your family or your servicemember. They are there to let you know if the ship schedule changed so you aren’t standing on the pier in the rain.
It’s a job that comes with a lot of criticism and little praise. But when they make the catch and the turnaround, it is all worth it.