My Coast Guard

Dear Coast Guard Family: Becoming an Ombudsman

By Rachel Conley

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Some of the most important roles in life don’t come with a paycheck – and that’s especially true of an Ombudsman. While their value cannot be measured in dollars and cents, it can be measured by their incredible impact. Ombudsmen serve members and families in their most joyful moments and during their most challenging – a global pandemic, the loss of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, or perhaps they’ve spoken to a victim of violence or someone who is contemplating suicide. Our Ombudsmen are changing lives, and they’re saving lives.  

The primary goal of the Ombudsman Program is to ensure that every member and their family has access to an Ombudsman and the helpful services that they provide. To reach this goal, we need compassionate volunteers who are dedicated to making a positive difference.  

About the Ombudsman Program

Ombudsmen are appointed by unit commanding officers or officers in charge, and have four major responsibilities:

  1. Command Representative:  Ombudsmen are official members of the unit’s command staff and act as representatives of the command – ensuring that both the command and unit families have access to a professional liaison.    
  2. Communications Link:  Ombudsmen function as a communications link between the command and unit families.  
  3. Resource and Referral Specialist: Ombudsmen provide resources and referrals to assist unit members and families.  
  4. Crisis Response: Ombudsmen respond to crisis situations impacting the unit and/or unit members/families.  

To avoid conflicts of interest and to protect the Coast Guard from liability, Ombudsmen must not:

  • Plan or hold social functions
  • Provide childcare
  • Loan money
  • Transport people in their privately owned vehicle
  • Provide temporary boarding in their home
  • Serve as a spouse club/association officer
  • Solicit for cash or non-cash donations from any non-federal source for the Coast Guard or any Coast Guard person
  • Promote/recommend “for profit” business or entities (example: car repair, babysitters, hairdressers, etc.)
  • Provide counseling 
  • Serve as an administrator of an unofficial Facebook Page/Group (example: a Facebook Group for unit families/spouses, etc.)

Note:  If you are seeking to support the Coast Guard community in ways that an Ombudsman cannot, you may be interested in serving with (or starting) a Coast Guard Spouses’ Club.

How to Volunteer

Eligibility:  Ombudsmen are most often the spouse of a unit member, but should not normally be the spouse or family member of the unit’s command cadre. If the commanding officer or officer in charge is unable to select a unit spouse, there is a waiver process for appointing other individuals.   

  • If you are interested in becoming an Ombudsman:
  • Determine if the position is open/vacant by contacting the unit command or the servicing Ombudsman Coordinator.  
  • If the unit is in need of an Ombudsman, submit an application to volunteer as a Coast Guard Ombudsman to the commanding officer or officer in charge. (If needed, the Ombudsman Coordinator can provide assistance with forms and command contact information.) This application will express your interest in volunteering (like a resume) and will be used to complete a Family Advocacy Central Registry Check. The command may also choose to interview you.  
  • If selected as an Ombudsman, you will complete a Volunteer Agreement and receive an official appointment letter from the commanding officer or officer in charge.

Training 

Ombudsmen serve in an official and professional position – training and knowledge of Ombudsman Program policy is required and essential.   

  • Ombudsman Online Core Training must be completed within four weeks of receiving a Coast Guard Auxiliary Learning Management System (LMS) account, and again annually while serving as an Ombudsman.  (This course takes approximately four hours to complete.)
  • Ombudsmen must attend Coast Guard Ombudsman Training (now also offered virtually!) or an approved alternative (such as Navy Ombudsman Basic Training) within three months of their appointment as an Ombudsman. Coast Guard Ombudsman Training (CGOT) provides detailed guidance on the Ombudsman Program, ethical standards, program management, representing the command, communications, resource and referral, and crisis response.  
  • Ombudsmen are also required to participate in their District’s Ombudsman Community of Practice meetings – these meetings provide a forum for advanced training, professional development and so much more.  

Keys to Success:  Simple steps that you can take to help ensure success as an Ombudsman 

  • Treat people as you'd wish your own family to be treated.  It's a simple concept, but such an important one. As an ombudsman, not every situation you encounter will be easy or stress-free.  Choose kindness, always.  "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou   
  • Always remember the impact. As an ombudsman, your actions are very impactful. Always remember the awesome responsibility that you've been provided and hold yourself to the highest standards. 
  • You're not "just" a volunteer. Don't view yourself as "just" a volunteer - remember that you're being trusted to serve the very best that our Coast Guard has to offer -- our incredible PEOPLE!  How amazing is that?!   
  • Maintain professionalism. You serve as an official member of the unit's command staff. As a representative of your unit's command and the United States Coast Guard, professionalism is imperative. Even if you feel that you're "off duty," those that you serve will still view you as an Ombudsman. Ensure that your words/actions do not discredit your professionalism or impact someone's willingness to seek the important services that you provide. 
  • Communication. Maintain an email distribution list and communicate with those whom you serve on a regular basis. Not only will this ensure that families are receiving essential need-to-know information, but they will view you as a trustworthy source of accurate, official information and they'll be more likely to come to you when needs or questions arise.
  • Know your roles and responsibilities. Ombudsmen have very specific roles and responsibilities - and there are also a number of services that an Ombudsman cannot provide. The Ombudsman Program Commandant Instruction (policy) and the Coast Guard Ombudsman Training Student Guide are great references for learning more.
  • Refer to the experts. As a resource and referral specialist, you aren't expected to have all of the answers - there are a variety of experts available to support you and those that you serve! At times, Ombudsmen may be asked seemingly simply questions -- perhaps something that appears easy to answer based off of personal experience, but it's possible (depending on the topic) that slight variations in circumstances can make a big difference. By referring members/families to the expert, you're helping to ensure that they receive accurate information based on their unique situation - from Work-Life staff members, to housing officers, to legal assistance (and so many more!), there's a wealth of knowledge, information, and support available.
  • Market your Ombudsman Program. Work with your command to market the wonderful benefits of the Ombudsman Program. By attending events/all-hands meetings, speaking about the services that you do and don't provide, sharing information through print or electronic messages, and participating in the unit check-in process (or providing other outreach to incoming members/families), you can increase awareness and use of the Ombudsman Program. Having an introductory letter/brochure, some Ombudsman business cards, and a nametag can be very helpful! This is also a great opportunity to share your confidentiality and reporting requirements.
  • ALL Ombudsmen are needed, regardless of unit type. There are many different types of units, but each has something in common - the need for an Ombudsman. The four major responsibilities that all ombudsmen have in common (command representative, communications link, resource and referral specialist, and crisis response) are not unit specific. All families need information (TRICARE changes, scholarship opportunities, command messages), any family can have a resource need (childcare, spouse employment, relocation, etc.), and crisis situations can occur at anytime, anywhere. YOU provide an incredible and invaluable service!   
  • You are not alone. Through the Ombudsman Program, you have a team of supporters ready to help (your Ombudsman Coordinator, Regional Ombudsman Coordinator, District Ombudsman Community of Practice Chairperson, peers) -- reach out whenever you need to!