Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, commanding officer of Air Station Miami, for nearly 13 years and currently serves as chapter director for Blue Star Families in Miami, Fla.
Written by Shelley Kimball.
To me, ombudsmen are the superheroes of the Coast Guard. They step up and are willing to extend a hand in time of need, no matter what it is.
One of the first things I do at a new duty station is find my ombudsman. I make sure that he or she has my contact information right away. I do it when I don’t need help, when the waters are calm. Because you know as well as I, as soon as something happens in your personal life or in our Coast Guard lives, things get crazy. That’s not the time I want to be scrambling around looking for my superhero.
Ombudsmen are the direct connection between families and command. And that communication goes both ways – the ombudsmen can alert command to a particularly difficult issue families are facing. They play a vital role in ensuring families are not only supported, but heard.
So what kind of person decides to volunteer to advocate for our families? Let me tell you about some ombudsmen who were honored in one way or another this year and why they chose to become an ombudsman.
Casey Van Huysen was selected as the 2012 Wanda Allen-Yearout Ombudsman of the Year for her work with Sector New York. Van Huysen said she became an ombudsman because she wanted to have a more active role with the Coast Guard.
“I am able to have a voice regarding issues that impact our families,” she said.
Her devotion was tested this past year when Hurricane Sandy came ashore in her area.
“If I had to pick a difficult time, it was following Hurricane Sandy and seeing the devastation it caused for our Coast Guard families. Coast Guard members and their families that lived off-base in Staten Island and on- and off-base in Sandy Hook received a lot of damage to their homes and belongings,” she said. “I will always be amazed by these individuals’ resiliency and the response by the Coast Guard members and families to render assistance.”
Another ombudsman honored for her devotion during a difficult time was Morgan Knauss, the ombudsman for Aviation Training Center Mobile. Military Spouse Magazine honored Knauss as the Military Spouse of the Year for District 8. She was nominated for her compassionate and supportive response in the wake of the loss of the crew of CG-6535, an experience she said has been the most challenging of her term as an ombudsman.
Knauss said emergencies like that are highly unusual and most of her time is spent disseminating information to families in an effort to keep their connection to command and helping them navigate Coast Guard life. This is the part of the job that fulfills her the most, she said.
“I love having the interaction with people and making contacts in all different places. I think the best part is knowing I’ve truly helped someone when they are facing difficult circumstances,” Knauss said. “Being able to give them resources or help them in some way is rewarding.”
Marjorie Luster echoed the sentiments about how gratifying it can be to provide support to families. She, too, was honored by Military Spouse Magazine as Military Spouse of the Year for District 11 for helping Coast Guard families in the Los Angeles area, especially families with children with special needs. She was an ombudsman for two years and said she felt compelled to volunteer to support spouses.
“I am very passionate about the needs of military spouses, especially Coast Guard spouses, because I feel like many of us are very isolated. We often live far away from our spouse’s base in all different directions. I wanted to get involved and create a network of Coast Guard spouses and try to unite us all,” she said. “I wanted to let them know that there is help and support when they need it, and even when they don’t need it.”
Providing a way to unite spouses was also the guiding factor for Kara Odom when she chose to serve as the PATFORSWA ombudsman. Odom was also honored by Military Spouse Magazine as a district Military Spouse of the Year for her outreach to the Coast Guard community. Odom had a unique challenge in that the spouses of PATFORSWA are scattered all over the United States while their active duty members serve in the Middle East.
“My number one reason [for becoming an ombudsman] was because I knew this deployment, for a lot of spouses, would be the hardest one they experienced through their [active duty] member’s career,” Odom said. “I wanted them to know they weren’t alone, and someone cared how they were doing.”
Her experience taught her the importance of developing a bond of trust with the families she served. She said ombudsmen are required to keep confidential the personal issues facing the families they assist.
“This made me aware since none of my unit would ever meet me face to face that reaching out to a person you have never met would be difficult,” she said.
Odom said she wishes family members knew that even in those moments when ombudsmen are juggling their own families and personal lives, they are still looking to respond to families’ needs.
“If they don’t respond immediately please don’t assume they don’t care,” Odom said. “They care more than you know and wouldn’t dedicate the time needed for this position if they didn’t.”
Danielle Medolla, who recently completed three years as the ombudsman for Air Station Miami, was lauded for her accomplishments by the committee that chose the ombudsman of the year. She said she became an ombudsman because she loves doing research and helping people, and this undertaking gave her the chance to do both. She said she has watched the ombudsman program gain ground in past years and the information and assistance they provide families is vital.
“The program is growing and stronger than ever,” Medolla said. “We are connected and supporting each other.”
So, no excuses. Go find your own personal superhero on the U.S. Coast Guard Ombudsman Registry!
Don’t see one for your duty station? Join their ranks. All of these ombudsmen said they would encourage spouses to join the program – the personal satisfaction has far outweighed the effort.
“Do it with your whole heart,” Medolla said. “Help your military family like you would your own.”
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.