It’s called the most difficult job in the military and for good reason. Being a military spouse is challenging and made more challenging when your significant other is a Navy Reserve Sailor called to active duty. Where do spouses and other family member supporters turn for help when they are miles away from a command and have no connection? The answer is the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman program has been around since 1970 when then Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Elmo Zumwalt issued the first Navy Family Ombudsman Program Instruction which adapted the concept of a spouse-to-spouse agent and representative for the command’s families. Every Navy command is required to appoint an Ombudsman to serve as the first resource for Navy families. They are volunteer family members who serve as communication links, information and referral resources, and supporters for command family members.
Ombudsmen receive standardized training in the form of Ombudsman Basic Training (OBT). It is mandatory of all new Ombudsmen upon appointment, and serving Ombudsman must recertify every thirty-six months. Quarterly on-going training and assemblies are also required to ensure Ombudsmen are up to date on the most current resources available to military families.
“As the commanding officer of a Navy Reserve Center, I find that the Ombudsman is a critical element for my command,” said Cmdr. Patrick Griffin who oversees Navy Reserve Center Las Vegas. “They understand to a greater degree what a Selected Reserve Sailor goes through both on their weekends where they serve, or on their deployments, and how it affects their families and employers.”
In February, Navy Reserve Center Las Vegas hosted an Ombudsman training opportunity with the support of Navy Reserve Region Readiness and Mobilization Command San Diego (REDCOM San Diego) which brought more than 30 people together from around the country to better understand their new roles as an Ombudsman and to reinforce the importance of the program to those within leadership.
For Cmdr. Christopher Kucala, the commanding officer at Navy Reserve Center Salt Lake City, what makes a good Ombudsman is their availability, relatability, and a heart to serve. But before that can happen the command has a responsibility to set the Ombudsman up for success.
“I think maximizing visibility is the biggest suggestion I have for any Ombudsman,” said Kucala. “The command certainly has a duty to assist via platforms on the plan of the month, Sailor indoctrination and introduction at family friendly command activities. A lack of awareness of what an Ombudsman does and who is the Ombudsman is often the largest barrier to providing great family support.”
Providing great family support is the key to the program according to Susan Hare who has served as an Ombudsman trainer for over twenty years.
“I’m passionate about military families because I’m the spouse of an active duty Sailor that served for 33 years, and the mother of a Sailor who completed a tour with the Navy,” said Hare.
“During my husband’s career, I served as an Ombudsman and was ultimately the Force Ombudsman for Naval Surface Force Pacific (SURFPAC) for seven years. I understand the role and responsibility of the Ombudsman Program and I want to make sure those spouses that want to participate are properly trained and know where they can turn to for assistance.”
The Ombudsman program is not unique to the Navy. All branches have a similar program to improve communication and assistance between commands and families. With the Reserve Center located on Nellis AFB and a large Air Force presence in the Las Vegas area, Griffin invited Col. Joshua DeMotts and his wife Patti to speak about the Air Force’s program and how they take care of their families.
“With the diverse talent and experience in the room, it made for an outstanding class,” Griffin said. “Navy Ombudsmen asking questions of Air Force Ombudsmen gave the class a unique perspective that is not normally found in a typical Ombudsman training.”
The next in-person Reserve OBT will be hosted by REDCOM GREAT LAKES 4-6 AUG 2023. Registration is currently open at www.yellowribbon.mil.
If you are interested in becoming an Ombudsman contact your command’s Ombudsman or your Reserve Center for more information.