Is Our Ombudsman Lazy?

marine in wheat

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.

 

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • becky long

    wow, as with everything, there is good and bad. I have been with numerous commands. Some ombudsman just wear the title, others are there to relay information. In my experience people get FRG people confused with ombudsman. FRG are allowed to take money, they are able to set-up babysitting. Ombudsman are choosen by the command, FRG are not. Ombudsman area requirement from the Navy. A command does not have to have FRG. Ombudsman usually get phone calls when spouses are upset or things are not going wll. They also have to tell families about longer deployments:(
    My thing is support whoever is in that position,.If you do not “know” who the ombudsman is ask your spouse, CMC or command representative. FRG people are usually out there via family support meetings. Ombdsman have a phone and able to give advice on family services. Ombudsman usually are the “go between” with the spouse and command.

  • LauraV

    If you would like to know what an Coast Guard Ombudsman does…perhaps asking one would help?

    We have Ombudsman that welcome families to their area even before they arrive (if they are notified they are coming), arrange Command sponsored morale events, assist and participate at Pre-deployment gatherings, send out weekly newsletters (detailing local events, news from the Command, and things of interest to the families), refer spouses/family members to needed resources, and in those times when the worst happens, helps facilitate however the Commands need them to. Coast Guard Ombudsman are the voice and liaison for both the Command to the families and the families to the Command.

    The biggest problem (as far as I have experienced) is finding out who the families are…we cannot know a new spouse has arrived unless someone (the AD member or the spouse themselves) let us know. We try our best to find out who they are, and only hope they show up to Welcome Aboard functions, Pre-Deployment get-togethers or morale events so that we may meet them and introduce ourselves.

    • jacey_eckhart

      Laura: This is exactly why I wrote the article. I think people don’t understand that they have to engage with the Ombudsman first!

    • HeatherLGrant

      Yes, but one does need to know what an Ombudsman is to some degree in order to contact them. I wouldn’t know how to even find their number if I had never heard of the term, had no idea what they did, and didn’t know where to find the number anyway.

  • Tips From The Homefront

    I’ve been a Navy Ombudsman for two commands. One didn’t have me do the welcome thing. There was a letter from in the welcome aboard packet with my job description and contact information. This was at the command’s request. The command I’m with now wants me to do welcomes. It’s an overseas duty station and so families coming to the airport need the help getting their hotel.

    The most important thing to remember is that the CO decides which direction the Ombudsman will take. Some commands are way too large to greet everyone and more times than not the OMB has no idea who is coming or going. There is the great site called the Ombudsman Registry and anyone can look to see if their command. Because it is possible the command doesn’t even have an Ombudsman to do a welcome call.

  • Amanda Satter

    I am proud to be a Coast Guard Ombudsman and I am proud to know many fantastic Coast Guard ombudsmen who are the furthest from lazy that someone could be, especially in a volunteer position.

    I will reiterate what LauraV stated: the hardest part of being an ombudsman is reaching out to the families. The service member doesn’t always bring all the info home or pass along his family’s info to the ombudsman or vice versa.

    The Coast Guard Ombudsmen program has grown in leaps and bounds in the past few years. The whole program has been revamped with new and improved training, new direction and new regional ombudsmen coordinators. The new CG Ombudsman Registry is a great tool as well to help anyone find their ombudsman.

  • CA PantinoPhDUSAret

    Very interesting and informative. Thank You.

  • Pat

    I was a Navy Ombudsman for my husband’s squardron once. My job consisted of being there for a spouse when needed. It is especially hard in war time. I am thankful that I did not have to fill those shoes at the time. But we did what the squadron needed us to do to make it easier on the military spouse. We can only do what we are trained to do. It has been many years since then a I felt honored to be asked to become and ombudsman for my Husbands squadron. We aren’t lazy and we too have families to tend to including our military family as well.

  • Eleanore Webster

    is there an Ombudsman for a widow of an retired Air force officer?

  • Christina Karsen

    Jacey,
    Does the Coast Guard have an FRG program? What is in place to help military spouses connect? I know that with other branches, FRG is an actual requirement….why not with the Coast Guard? With the First Ladies committment to Military Families, how are they falling through the cracks?…if they are.

    Thank you,
    Christina

    • HeatherLGrant

      I would contact the Spouse’s Club and also the Ombudsman. This way, you will be invited to connect both with families who are looking for social support and staying informed of events that you may meet other families at that are not participating in the Spouse’s Club.