Ombudsman support is provided by both the individual command and the Coast Guard community. The command should provide the ombudsman not only with materials and equipment, but with their time and support. An ombudsman must have the command’s support to effectively carry out her/his responsibilities.
District Community of Practice (CoP)
The CoP is an important component of the Coast Guard Ombudsman Program. The CoP exists to support the appointed ombudsmen; it is not a policy-making or supervisory entity. The CoP is a forum for sharing and exchanging successful ombudsman practices and may serve as a venue for ongoing training.
The District Commander will appoint a Chairperson for each CoP within their AOR. The Chairperson must be a current Ombudsman.
A District Ombudsman Community of Practice may meet monthly, quarterly or bi-annually. All district ombudsmen should attend to represent their unit and their families’ interests. Command leadership (CO/OICs, XOs, CMC, chaplains and their spouses) are also encouraged to attend. District Ombudsman CoPs may:
- Serve as a resource for an ombudsman’s professional growth through additional trainings.
- Provide peer mentoring and information sharing.
- Make recommendations about community matters affecting the well-being of Coast Guard families.
- Serve as a liaison for policy discussion and clarification by appropriate local authorities such as representatives of MWR, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, Child Care, etc.
COMDTINST 1750.4 (series) encourages each command to establish a program to recognize the volunteer contributions of their ombudsmen. Commands are encouraged to host appropriate functions that express gratitude and appreciation for their ombudsmen. Ombudsmen may be recognized at a unit luncheon, reception, all-hands meeting, ombudsman training or other appropriate gatherings. Appreciation may be expressed in the form of a:
Communication and Social Media
Communication among and between command leadership, the ombudsman, command members, and their families reduces rumors, assures family members that they have the most current information, and instills confidence in the ombudsman that she/he will be kept informed.
Command leadership should continually promote the Ombudsman Program including contact information and how ombudsmen can be of assistance. Information should be in the POW, the command or ombudsman newsletter, and on the command web site. For important information, such as the appointment of a new ombudsman, an email blast and perhaps direct mail should also be considered.
Command sponsored Facebook pages, newsletters and telephone trees are key tools to facilitate communication. It is important for the commanding officer to establish and inform the command ombudsman of expectations for the use of these tools. Your ombudsman may serve as administrator or provide input, depending on the needs of your unit and abilities of your ombudsman. [Social Media Handbook]
Per policy ombudsmen are not permitted to have or be administrators of independent Facebook groups or pages. This includes, public, closed, or secret groups and pages. Ombudsmen may, however, act as administrators on official unit-level Facebook pages at the discretion of the unit's commanding officer, creating a balance of internal/external information shared on the page.
COMDTINST 1750.4 (series) addresses the effectiveness of ombudsmen when treated as partners in disaster and emergency preparedness. Ombudsmen should be included in any command plans for disaster preparedness and in disaster preparedness exercises. Remember the ombudsman:
- Is often the first person affected members of the Coast Guard family turn to following an emergency or disaster.
- Has the ability to increase awareness about disaster preparedness and planning.
Ombudsmen are taught during training to deal with individual, command, and larger crisis response. They are never to act independently without explicit guidance from the command and are never to assume the role of counselor. Instead, an ombudsman’s role during crises is to:
- Recognize the crisis.
- Refer for assistance.
- Report crisis incidents as required
By recognizing the signs of the following individual crisis situations, the ombudsman helps get intervention early and prevent escalation to crisis level. In addition to assisting family members to cope with individual crises, ombudsmen may be called upon to assist in a large scale crisis involving a command emergency or a community, state, or national disaster. Command emergencies are incidents that impact the command.
The command uses their ombudsmen to the greatest benefit in these situations when ombudsmen are included in training and exercises and when their roles in a crisis or disaster are clearly delineated by the command.
For further information regarding the ombudsman’s role during disasters and emergencies click here.
Turnover of an ombudsman occurs whenever an ombudsman’s spouse transfers, is discharged or retires, the ombudsman can no longer perform her/his duties, or the commanding officer terminates an ombudsman for cause.
A letter of resignation from the ombudsman is also required whenever there is a change of command. The new commanding officer may request the existing ombudsman to remain until a new ombudsman is trained or may reappoint the existing ombudsman.
Commanding officers may also choose to remove an ombudsman from his or her role for cause. [Sample Termination for Cause Memo] Examples of Termination for cause may include:
- Any violation of the Ombudsman Code of Conduct, including failure to report a mandated reportable.
- Theft or making false claims for reimbursement.
- Sexual harassment.
- Inability to work effectively as a member of the command team.
- Unavailability to command family members.
- Failure to participate in required and available training, as directed.
No matter the reason for ombudsman turnover, it needs to occur in a professional manner. Information and items that should be destroyed or transferred from an ombudsman include:
- All written documentation, confidential communications and command roster must be destroyed.
- The newsletter production process and files should be turned over to the command.
- Ombudsman resource binder should be returned to the command or transferred to the new ombudsman.
- Command owned equipment and supplies must be returned to the command.
In addition, the Ombudsman Registry must be updated with the newly assigned ombudsman’s information. At this time you will want to communicate procedures for informing families to the change in ombudsman and provide new contact information (when available).