Ombudsmen help Coast Guard families in Alaska

 

Betsy Longenbaugh, a member of the Coast Guard 17th District’s health safety and work-life staff, trains unit ombudsmen during a two day seminar in Juneau, Alaska, Sept 19, 2013. The training was designed to teach unit ombudsmen about the tools and resources they can use to help Coast Guard units and families. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow.

Betsy Longenbaugh, a member of the Coast Guard 17th District’s health safety and work-life staff, trains unit ombudsmen during a two day seminar in Juneau, Alaska, Sept 19, 2013. The training was designed to teach unit ombudsmen about the tools and resources they can use to help Coast Guard units and families. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow.

 

By Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow

Coast Guard ombudsmen are a volunteer force and serve as a vital link that connect family members with their loved ones serving at units throughout the nation.

Ombudsmen are officially appointed by unit commands and are trained to facilitate communications between Coast Guard commands and families and provide support during deployments, emergencies and times of crisis. Additionally, they help the command ensure the morale, safety, health and efficiency of personnel and their families, thereby increasing military readiness

In order to provide ombudsmen with the tools they need to assist Coast Guard families throughout Alaska, Work-Life staff from HSWL Regional Practice D17  Base Kodiak  and  Base Ketchikan Detachment Juneau invited 13 command appointed ombudsmen from throughout the state to Juneau for an in depth two-day training seminar

“There are a lot of great benefits to these training seminars,” said Tamera Streeter, the regional ombudsman coordinator for Coast Guard Pacific Area. “It allows us to provide one-on-one training about the tools and resources available to ombudsmen and it allows the ombudsmen a chance to network with their counter parts throughout the state.”

But the training isn’t restricted to unit ombudsmen; often the spouses of Coast Guard senior leaders attend the course as well.

“During our training the spouses of the 17th District Commander, the 17th District chief of staff, and the Commanding Officer for Base Ketchikan were in attendance,” said Streeter. “The relationship building that occurs between ombudsmen and senior leadership spouses is vital to establishing and maintaining a strong ombudsman program.  The relationship creates open lines of communication and improves the effectiveness of the ombudsman and the unit commander while providing assistance to Coast Guardsmen and their families.”

One recent example of a strong partnership with ombudsmen occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. While Coast Guard personnel were deployed in support of recovery operations, ombudsmen worked with unit commanders and members of the local Coast Guard spouses association to deliver aid and supplies to those affected by the storm. The 2012 Coast Guard Ombudsman of the Year, Mrs. Casey Van Huysen, was one of the many ombudsmen who came to the aid of Coast Guard families in need following Hurricane Sandy. Her story can be viewed here.

Because ombudsmen also serve as information conduits between families and commands, the Coast Guard HSWL staff has been working on improving the ease of access to tools and resources. One of their recent innovations has been the creation of a HSWL app for smart devices.

“This app is a one stop shop that puts all the tools and resources in the palm of your hand,” said Clint Watanabe, an ombudsman coordinator with the Coast Guard 17th District in Juneau. “The app is available to ombudsmen and family members and includes information for chaplains; child care; family support services; Coast Guard housing; legal assistance; and medical services.”

While these tools and resources are valuable, it’s the ombudsmen putting their energy and effort into making the lives of Coast Guardsmen and their families easier, especially when they’re required to transition to new duty stations every two to four years.

“We understand how difficult it can be on Coast Guard families moving to Alaska, especially when they’re headed to some of our more remote units,” said Watanabe. “Our goal is to work hand in hand with their local ombudsman to make the transition as easy as possible.  We were able to accomplish our goal this week while providing our ombudsmen with the tools, techniques and resources they need to be successful.”

For more information on the Coast Guard’s Ombudsman program click here.

To locate your local Coast Guard ombudsman click here.

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