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My Coast Guard
Commentary | March 16, 2021

Dear Coast Guard Family - Command Edition:  How to establish, enhance your Ombudsman Program

By Rachel Conley, MyCG Columnist

“Ombudsmen are instrumental in assisting commanding officers and officers-in-charge in maintaining a mission-ready total workforce and optimizing military family readiness by preventing, identifying, and addressing family readiness challenges.”  - Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard

The morale and mission readiness of Coast Guard personnel relates directly to the health and well-being of their families. That’s where the Ombudsman Program comes in!  The unit ombudsman serves as the commanding officer’s or officer in charge’s primary advisor for ensuring families have the information and support necessary to meet the challenges of a military lifestyle.

Coast Guard area, district, sector, and base commanders, and the Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy must appoint an ombudsman; and all commanding officers and officers-in-charge (COs/OICs) must ensure that unit family members have access to the services of an ombudsman. Access to an ombudsman can be achieved by appointing a unit ombudsman (e.g., a unit spouse) or appointing another unit’s ombudsman to provide services.   

Ombudsmen serve the Coast Guard’s most valuable and important asset – our people. They will support members and families in their most joyous moments and in their most challenging – a global pandemic, the loss of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, or perhaps they will speak to a victim of violence or someone who is contemplating suicide.  

Some of the most important roles in life don’t come with a paycheck – and that’s especially true of our ombudsmen.

About the Ombudsman Program

Ombudsmen are volunteers appointed by the unit CO/OIC. All ombudsmen have these major responsibilities:

  • 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.    
  • Communications Link: Ombudsmen function as a communications link between the command and unit families.  
  • Resource and Referral Specialist: Ombudsmen provide resources and referrals to assist unit members and families.  
  • Crisis Response: Ombudsmen respond to crises affecting the unit and/or unit members/families.  

These support services are applicable to all unit types – not just cutters or deployable units.  All families need – and deserve – information, support, and advocacy.  

To avoid conflicts of interest, to protect the Coast Guard from liability, and to maintain compliance with policy, 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 (i.e., a private Facebook Group for unit families/spouses, etc.).  

Selecting and Appointing an Ombudsman

The ombudsman is a reflection and representative of your command and the U.S. Coast Guard, careful consideration should be given to the selection of your ombudsman. It is imperative to choose someone who can fulfill the roles and responsibilities of this important position and who will hold themselves to the highest standards.  

  • Eligibility: The Ombudsman is most often the spouse of a unit member. If the CO/OIC is unable to select a unit spouse (after a diligent search), there is a waiver process for appointing other individuals (e.g., an auxiliarist, reservist, etc.). While command cadre/leadership spouses are invaluable assets to the Ombudsman Program and Coast Guard families, they should not normally serve as the ombudsman. Appointing a command cadre spouse could potentially be viewed as a conflict of interest.    
  • Recruitment: Market your need for an ombudsman. Express the significant role that an ombudsman fulfills for the command and emphasize your support of the program.  
  • Application: All interested candidates must submit CG Form 6078, Application to Volunteer as a Coast Guard Ombudsman. The command must forward this form to the Ombudsman Coordinator for a Family Advocacy Central Registry Check.
  • Interview: Selecting an ombudsman is perhaps the single most important decision that a CO/OIC will make about the Ombudsman Program. Interviewing all candidates (even if it’s just one) is an essential component of the selection process.  

Once the ideal ombudsman is identified, the appointment process consists of the following components:

  • Completed Application to Volunteer: The CO/OIC must have a completed Application to Volunteer as a Coast Guard Ombudsman signed by the serving HSWL Family Advocacy Specialist.  Ombudsmen must have no record of family violence.
  •  Volunteer Agreement: Prior to performing ombudsman duties, completion of part I and II of DD Form 2793, Volunteer Agreement for Appropriated Fund Activities and Non-Appropriated Fund Instrumentalities is required. A copy of the signed DD Form 2793 will be given to the ombudsman and Ombudsman Coordinator. The original will be maintained in the command/unit administrative file.
  • Letter of Appointment:  The CO/OIC must provide the ombudsman a signed appointment letter.  A copy of this letter must be maintained in the unit’s ombudsman file and given to the Ombudsman Coordinator.

COs/OICs that do not have an ombudsman must ensure that unit family members have access to another appointed ombudsman within their geographic area by sharing ombudsman services with another command. Such agreements must be at the concurrence of all commands and ombudsmen involved. An appointment letter must be provided to the ombudsman from each command/unit sharing services.

Ombudsman Training

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

  • Ombudsman Online Core Training: Ombudsmen must complete online training within four weeks of receiving their Coast Guard Auxiliary Learning Management System (LMS) account, and again annually while serving as an Ombudsman. (This account is established by the Ombudsman Coordinator.)
  • Coast Guard Ombudsman Training (now also offered virtually!): COs/OICs must coordinate with their Ombudsman Coordinator to ensure their ombudsman attends training within three months of appointment.  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.  
  • District Ombudsman Community of Practice (CoP): Ombudsmen are required to participate in the District Ombudsman CoP - these meetings provide a forum for advanced training and professional development.

How to Support Your Ombudsman and Enhance your Ombudsman Program

The Ombudsman Program is a command program. Command support and implementation is key to Ombudsman Program success.  

  • Ensure that all current and incoming personnel (including single personnel) and their family members know the name of and contact information for the ombudsman and are aware of the services the ombudsman provides.
  • Ensure the ombudsman receives a regularly updated command roster of unit personnel (active duty and reserve), family members’ names, addresses, and phone numbers. The Privacy Act provides for release of command roster information to ombudsmen without the consent of the individuals listed when the ombudsman is acting in an official capacity. It is advised that addresses should also include email addresses, as this is a primary form of communication for the ombudsman. The Family Check-In Form for Ombudsmen can be used by the command and the ombudsman to collect contact information.  (Tip:  Collect family contact information when members check into the unit, during semi-annual weigh-ins, unit events, all hands, etc.) It is critical that ombudsmen have access to the contact information of unit personnel and their families to carry out their essential duties.
  • Communicate regularly with your ombudsman.
  • Ensure your ombudsman has contact information for all key personnel within the command (including after-hours contact information) and guidance on deployment communication (if applicable).
  • The ombudsman is an important member of your command staff – utilize them in this capacity.  
  • Invite the ombudsman to all hands, check-in meetings, and other unit events.
  • Include the ombudsman in unit disaster plans and exercises.
  • Seek ways to market and endorse the Ombudsman Program – members who see a command that believes in the benefits of the program are more likely to utilize the services that an ombudsman provides.
  • Ask your ombudsman to serve as a consultant on boards or committees that provide support to unit families. (Note: an ombudsman must not serve as a Spouse Club/Association officer.)
  • As appropriate, ensure that your ombudsman remains informed on all matters affecting the unit or unit personnel.
  • Add your ombudsman to the unit distribution list and sign-up for theirs.

Ombudsman Recognition

Commands are encouraged to host appropriate functions that express gratitude and appreciation for their ombudsman, recognizing them at a unit luncheon, reception, all hands meeting, or other appropriate gathering.  

Each year, March 26th is designated as Coast Guard Ombudsman Appreciation Day to publicly recognize the dedicated service of these selfless volunteers.

Ombudsman recognition may include:

  • A letter of recognition 
  • A certificate of performance
  • A challenge coin
  • A special mention in a newsletter
  • A Swivel Shot Award submission
  • Nomination for the Wanda Allen-Yearout Ombudsman of the Year Award

References and Tools

  • Ombudsman Program Commandant Instruction: This policy governs the Ombudsman Program and provides specific guidance on your roles and responsibilities, and the roles and responsibilities of your ombudsman.
  • Command Cadre Toolkit: The Command Cadre Toolkit is designed to provide command leadership with Coast Guard Ombudsman Program information and support. It includes information, checklists, and forms to assist the command with all aspects of the Ombudsman Program – including selection, appointment, and support of the ombudsman.
  • Ombudsman Training Student Guide:  The Coast Guard Ombudsman Training (CGOT) Student Guide serves as a detailed learning tool and reference for ombudsmen and commands.