Today is Ombudsman Appreciation Day and Compass would like to honor all those who have served as unit ombudsman. As we reflect on the vital support ombudsmen provide, Compass reached out to key players in the service’s ombudsman program to see just how much these volunteers do for military families.
You are not alone. That is the one key message Christine Degraw, the Coast Guard’s ombudsman program manager wants all families to know.
Acting as the vital link between the command and families of crewmembers, the ombudsman serves as the source of assistance and support to Coast Guard families. Looking after the health and welfare of Coast Guard families, ombudsmen are at the heart of keeping the Coast Guard ready.
During 2011’s “Year of the Coast Guard Family” the service resolved to put a renewed emphasis on the support all Coast Guard families deserve, ensuring military members and their families have the resources they need to be their best.
Leading the way is Degraw, a U.S. Navy spouse who spent 14 years working with Navy family programs. Degraw said the Coast Guard’s ombudsman program is modeled off the Navy’s program but one of the biggest differences is family resources in the Navy are base-centric while in the Coast Guard that is not so. A point Degraw says emphasizes how it’s even more important for each unit to have a strong ombudsman.
“With many families not having access to a work-life center, its even more important for ombudsman to be information and referral specialists,” said Degraw. “By listening to families and providing them resources they serve as a vital communication link.”
Along with the national program coordinator, two other full-time ombudsman positions were established; one at each area to guide the program and address issues and support volunteer ombudsmen in the field. Lori Carrington is one of these full-time ombudsmen and serves as the Atlantic Area regional ombudsman coordinator.
Carrington has a unique perspective on connecting families with servicemembers as she herself was on active duty. While stressing the importance of an ombudsman’s role at a unit she also acknowledged sometimes their job could be as simple as identifying breakdowns in communication from the command to families.
“A lot of time information doesn’t get home or families are left out,” said Carrington. “Getting the information to families about what is going on in the area and lead them in the right direction is so important.”
Assisting both Degraw and Carrington is Linda Papp, wife of Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp. As a military spouse and mother for more than 35 years, Linda Papp serves as an ombudsman-at-large for the program and has been visiting Coast Guard housing, clinics and schools to hear from families.
“One of the most indispensable aspects of reaching out to an ombudsman is their valuable network of resources,” said Papp. “When you talk to a unit ombudsman about a challenge your family is having, they can bridge your concerns to the command, or tap into community resources. When you reach out to one ombudsman you are reaching out to a network of hundreds of individuals who are standing by and ready to help.”
With the years of experience many ombudsmen bring to the table, they look to the future for how to make improvements to the program.
One of the program’s newest initiatives, helping to fill gaps in information flow, is to focus on building an ombudsman registry. The registry will keep track of ombudsmen at each unit and will streamline information being passed on to the families. They hope by consolidating issues and concerns individual units are having, they can better serve all military families.
While there are many initiatives in motion to enhance the program, at the end of the day it comes down to supporting members and their families. Maintaining resiliency after frequent deployments, months apart, countless moves and career and school changes is no easy feat. But with the help of ombudsmen, Coast Guard spouses and children remain steadfast, serving and sacrificing alongside their service members.