April 7 was a busy day for Jenna Hall, the ombudsman of Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston.
While meeting with Capt. Jason Smith, the sector’s commanding officer, she brought up the needs and concerns of local families, a topic she discusses with the command every month. Jenna also shared her plans for an upcoming resource fair, an event designed to connect Coast Guard members and dependents with organizations like the USO, the Red Cross and United Way.
Thoughts of the resource fair lingered even as she headed down to the galley for lunch. As she savored shrimp étouffée, her mind swirled with emails she needed to send and phone calls she needed to make. So, when Smith suddenly said they needed to go back upstairs to meet with a planning team for the resource fair, she eagerly agreed, ready to get back to work.
Jenna reentered the captain’s office, thinking solely about meeting the team and conquering items on her to-do list.
Then she saw balloons. And cake. And an assortment of Coast Guard members smiling and clapping.
Oh, it’s somebody’s birthday, she thought, smiling excitedly, and clapping as she looked around.
When people started congratulating her, it dawned on Jenna that this wasn’t a birthday celebration after all. Bewildered, she glanced up at the screen mounted to the wall and was stunned to see Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the Coast Guard. Fagan, too, was clapping, smiling warmly at Jenna. Beside her was Carol Jones, the Coast Guard’s ombudsman at large.
Realization clicked into place just as someone announced, “You won Coast Guard Ombudsman of the Year!”
This was not the first time Sector Houston-Galveston’s teary-eyed ombudsman had won the top-tier award; she had previously been named the 2019 Wanda Allen-Yearout Ombudsman of the Year for her contributions at Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. Even so, winning a second time left her in shock.
“It’s very overwhelming and humbling to win twice,” Hall said. “I was shaking and trying to hold back tears because it was something I was not expecting at all.”
Those gathered around her, applauding and cheering her on, seemed elated, but not surprised.
“There is no question that Jenna has met all needs at one of the nation’s largest and busiest units,” said Smith. “Jenna has brought energy, initiatives, partnerships, and information sharing throughout the area. She is nothing less than amazing.”
Since stepping up as Sector Houston-Galveston’s ombudsman in 2020, Hall has supported and assisted more than 1,200 active duty Coast Guardsmen and their 2,500 family members assigned to the sector and its 14 outlying units. Her accomplishments include adding a family check-in form to the sector’s annual verification process, creating a family roster and distribution list to communicate directly with families, and setting up a monthly food pantry for Houston-based service members and veterans from all military branches.
Anticipating stressors facing Coast Guard members and spouses during hurricane evacuations, Hall helped establish a family service center, providing information, games, and other resources to make displaced dependents feel more comfortable. Additionally, she created a Facebook group to share critical information with other Coast Guard spouses and gather honest feedback on a variety of topics and issues.
Beyond social media, Hall has made a concerted effort to meet with Coast Guard members, spouses and families in person. She regularly appears at sector all-hands meetings, ceremonies, Leadership Diversity Advisory Council events, and community functions to build relationships and offer information about events and opportunities. She said she wants people to know her name, recognize her face, and trust her enough to ask for help.
“As an ombudsman, I serve as a communication link between the command and service members’ families,” Hall explained. “Being a voice for the spouses is a role I take very seriously.”
As a Coast Guard spouse herself, Hall said she remembers how daunting the military lifestyle first seemed when her husband, Lt. Coty Hall, joined the service in 2013. Although the Reno, Nevada, native was 27 at the time and already had life experience under her belt, she said she could imagine being an 18-year-old spouse and feeling lonely, lost, or overwhelmed.
It was this empathy that drove Hall to say yes when her husband encouraged her to volunteer as his unit’s ombudsman in 2017. She was slightly nervous, but Lt. Hall said he immediately knew she was the ideal candidate for the position.
“Jenna is a consummate professional and has a giant heart for our service members and their families,” Lt. Hall said. “She understands our culture, is more than capable of developing professional relationships with service providers, and knows how to connect people in big ways.”
Hall said she feels inherently compelled to help others and has been volunteering nearly her entire life. In fact, she described ringing the Salvation Army bell with her grandfather at Christmastime as one of her fondest childhood memories.
“I really feel like I have a servant heart,” she said. “The act of service is in my DNA.”
With Lt. Hall bound for graduate school at the National Intelligence University near Washington, D.C., the couple is due to soon depart Houston with Easton, their 5-year-old son, and Adilyn, their 6-month-old daughter. While it remains unclear where the family will transfer after Lt. Hall graduates, Hall said she will undoubtedly continue volunteering, supporting other spouses, and connecting people with resources.
“I would love to continue to serve as an ombudsman,” Hall said, smiling. “This is the best job in the Coast Guard.”