Ombudsmen Make a Difference for Navy Families

Story by Tim McGough, CNIC Fleet and Family Programs

If you’re old enough, or perhaps you’ve been in the Navy for awhile, try to think back to 1970. That’s the year when Adm. E.R. Zumwalt, Jr., then chief of Naval Operations, created the Navy Family Ombudsman Program. The majority of us weren’t even in the military, too young to remember or even born in 1970, but that year was a momentous one for the Navy family thanks for Adm. Zumwalt’s ambitious idea and forethought – and it all began with the below ‘Z-gram’ kicking off the Ombudsman Program.

Adm. Zumwalt’s Z-gram #24 from Sept. 14, 1970

SUBJ.: WIVES OMBUDSMAN

  • 1. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NAVY WIFE AS A MEMBER OF THE NAVY TEAM CANNOT BE OVER EMPHASIZED. ALTHOUGH THE WELFARE OF WIVES HAS ALWAYS BEEN OF GREAT CONCERN TO THE NAVY IT HAS BEEN NOTED THAT THESE DEDICATED WOMEN HAVE NEVER HAD AN OFFICIAL REPRESENTATIVE TO EXPRESS THEIR VIEWS TO COMMANDING OFFICERS AND BASE COMMANDERS.
  • 2. TO REMEDY THIS SITUATION ALL SHORE BASED COMMANDERS SHALL ESTABLISH PROCEDURES WHICH GIVE NAVY WIVES AN OPPORTUNITY TO PRESENT COMPLAINTS, VIEWPOINTS, AND SUGGESTIONS TO COMMANDING OFFICERS. IN PARTICULAR, SUCH PROCEDURES SHALL INCLUDE THE SELECTION OF A WIFE BY EACH LOCAL WIVES ORGANIZATION WHO WILL HAVE DIRECT ACCESS TO THE COMMANDING OFFICER. THIS NAVY WIVES OMBUDSMAN CONCEPT SHALL REFLECT AND BUILD UPON RELATED ACTIVITIES IN EXISTING WIVES ORGANIZATIONS AND NAVY SERVICES AND BENEFITS COUNCILS. WE HAVE EACH BEEN GETTING GOOD ADVICE FROM OUR OWN WIVES. LET’S LISTEN CAREFULLY TO AN OFFICIAL REPRESENTATIVE.

E. R. ZUMWALT, JR., ADMIRAL, U.S NAVY,

CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS.

If you notice the subject line above, Zumwalt’s message says “Wives Ombudsman.” Today the Ombudsmen Program, which is managed by Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC), are made up of spouses (male and female), but they can also be parents or even active duty members through a waiver process, when a command is not able to find a spouse.

Without a doubt, Adm. Zumwalt had a great idea creating the Ombudsman Program, and families and service members have been enjoying the benefits and fruits of it ever since.

Photo: Vice Adm. Allen G. Myers, commander of Naval Air Forces and Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, speaks with command ombudsmen and leaders during a meeting at the Nor'Wester Activity Center at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Jan. 18, 2011. The Command Ombudsman Program helps ensure families have the information necessary to meet the challenges of military life. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nardel Gervacio/Released)

Vice Adm. Allen G. Myers, commander of Naval Air Forces and Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, speaks with command ombudsmen and leaders during a meeting at the Nor’Wester Activity Center at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Jan. 18, 2011. The Command Ombudsman Program helps ensure families have the information necessary to meet the challenges of military life. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nardel Gervacio/Released)

Today, when a command deploys, a sailor goes on Temporary Assigned Duty, or fills an Individual Augmentee billet, they leave behind a family who still needs information on their sailor and the command.

That’s where the ombudsman comes in. Navy families can turn to these volunteers on a range of issues; from information from the command – especially during deployments, to advice on family issues, or even where to get the best deals on household needs in town. Ombudsman keep service members and families informed and help promote healthy, self-reliant Navy families.

These volunteers are appointed by the commanding officer, serving as an information link between command leadership and Navy families. But Ombudsmen aren’t just picked and then let loose. They go through an initial training (16 hours of it) and then are offered monthly online training and local classes to aide in their mission and keep up-to-date on emerging issues. They share information both up and down the chain of command, including official Department of the Navy messages and command information, command climate issues, local quality of life improvement opportunities, and “good deals” around the community.

The command Ombudsman Program is shaped largely by the commanding officer’s perceived needs of his or her command. Commanding officers appoint ombudsmen who then work under their guidance as they determine the priorities of the program, the roles and relationships of those involved in it, and the type and level of support it will receive. This support often comes in the form of resource referrals (to various Fleet and Family programs and even off base resources) and assistance in resolving family issues before the issues require extensive command attention.

Ombudsmen are volunteers – and getting dedicated, qualified candidates is always a challenge. Luckily, the CNIC ombudsman registration rate has increased from 56 percent to 89 percent in just the last six months. CNIC also is proud of the many installations and regions that have already reached 100 percent in ombudsman registration. A sure sign Navy family members are stepping up to keep their sailors’ command at a high rate of readiness.

If you’re interested in volunteering, we encourage you to consider this important role and contact your service member’s command or the local Fleet and Family Support Center’s ombudsman coordinator atwww.ffsp.navy.mil to volunteer.

Command ombudsmen are a vital part of CNIC’s mission to ensure the fleet, fighter and family are served and ready for any contingency.

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