What is an Ombudsman?
Ombudsmen are dedicated volunteers who are appointed by the commanding officer to serve as an information link between command leadership and command families. Ombudsmen are trained to assist Navy families to successfully navigate the unique challenges of the Navy lifestyle.
As needed, they provide resource referrals so that family issues may be resolved before requiring command attention. The service provided by an ombudsman, in support of Navy families, enables service members to focus on mission readiness, knowing that their families have a reliable safety net.
Benefits of the Ombudsman Program
The Navy Family Ombudsman Program epitomizes the Navy’s philosophy of developing healthy, self-reliant families. It was introduced to the Navy in 1970 by Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. The Ombudsman Program is of great benefit to command leadership as well as to Sailors and their families.
An effective Command Ombudsman Program:
- Ensures a responsive and accurate source of information between commands and families.
- Provides effective information and referral for families.
- Offers a proactive information and education resource via carelines, newsletters, telephone/email trees and briefings.
- Delivers a positive spokesperson and role model for family members.
- Offers assistance and support during natural and man-made disasters.
- In conjunction with the Navy’s sponsor program, facilitates the smooth transition of Sailors and their families during PCS moves.
The Role of the Ombudsman
The roles and responsibilities of the ombudsman may vary slightly from command to command. The program should be tailored to meet the needs of an individual command.
In general, ombudsmen:
- Serve as a liaison between the command and command families.
- Keep the command informed regarding the overall health, morale and welfare of command families.
- Regularly communicate and distribute information to and from the command and command family members.
- Provide information and referral to assist command families with any concerns or issues.
For further information on the role of an ombudsman, see Ombudsman Role and Responsibilities.
The primary guidance for the Navy Family Ombudsman Program is OPNAVINST 1750.1G (Summary of Changes , released in September 2011, with CH-1, released in March 2012 and CH-2, released in September 2014). The instruction provides policy and assigns responsibility for the Navy Family Ombudsman Program and requires that commanding officers ensure that command family members have access to the services of an ombudsman. Section 5.f describes the role of the commanding officer and Enclosure (7) lists required program support.
Commanding Officer Responsibilities
The commanding officer has numerous responsibilities related to the Ombudsman Program. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Appointing an adequate number of ombudsmen.
- Determining the ombudsman’s specific roles and responsibilities.
- Providing a thorough orientation to new ombudsmen.
- Assigning a command POC – usually the command master chief / chief of the boat or the executive officer – and determining which issues will be handled by the POC and which by the CO.
- Managing the Ombudsman Program including funding, communication with the ombudsman, reporting, and ensuring that the program can be used effectively by command families.
- Attending the Ombudsman Assembly meetings. Command leadership should attend with their ombudsman.
For further information on the responsibilities of the commanding officer, see Commanding Officer Ombudsman Program Responsibilities.
Ombudsman Program Command Responsibilities Checklist - Provides a comprehensive checklist of commanding officer (CO) / command responsibilities.
Confidential information is sensitive information about a Sailor or family member that is kept within the commanding officer’s designated network of those who have a need to know. It is vitally important that ombudsmen adhere to the strictest code of confidentiality to protect the privacy of individuals and maintain the credibility of the Navy Family Ombudsman Program.
The Ombudsman Code of Ethics is the foundation upon which an ombudsman’s credibility is established and maintained.
Ombudsmen must adhere to the elements of the Code of Ethics, which are to:
- Maintain confidentiality.
- Support the command’s mission.
- Work within their chain of command as directed.
- Maintain the highest standards of professionalism.
However, for issues requiring immediate attention, the safety and well-being of an individual takes precedence over one’s right to confidentiality. For further information on what the Navy requires the ombudsman to report and other reportable issues, see Confidentiality / Reportable Issues.
Ombudsman Support of Reservists and IAs
Ombudsman services and support must be available to all command members/families including reservists and IAs. In respect to IAs, the commanding officer should:
- Ensure that the ombudsman is aware of IA command families and works with the Command Individual Augmentee Coordinator (CIAC) to ensure support to IA families.
- Thoroughly brief the ombudsman on policies and expectations with regard to providing support to IA and GSA spouses and family members.
- Make certain that the ombudsman obtains training on working with IAs through Ombudsman Basic Training (OBT) and the Ombudsman Assembly meetings.
- Recommend that the ombudsman contact the FFSC ombudsman coordinator to learn about FFSC support of IAs.
U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFF) has been designated as the Executive Agent (EA) for the Individual Augmentee (IA) Continuum. USFF is the single overarching command responsible for coordinating and administering all aspects of the IA process. For up-to-date information and guidance on IAs, check the USFF Web site at http://www.ia.navy.mil/
Command support of Reservist families may require the ombudsman to coordinate with the Reserve ombudsman. For further information on working with Reservist families and some specific guidelines for Reserve command leadership, see Ombudsman Support of Reservists.
Program Structured / Key Players
Understanding the overall structure of the Ombudsman Program and the “key players” involved, enables commands to support their ombudsmen and ensure quality services for their Sailors and families.
Chief of Naval Operations
The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) may appoint in writing one or more Navywide family Ombudsman-at-Large. The spouse of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) and another spouse of a senior flag officer have been appointed to fill these positions. The OALs are responsible for advising the CNO and/or MCPON on matters affecting Sailors and their families. Specifically, the Ombudsmen-at-Large assist the CNO in improving family readiness.
Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC)
Commander, Navy Installations Command maintains policy, establishes procedures, and implements the Navy Family Ombudsman Program. For detailed information on CNIC responsibilities and how they can be of assistance to the individual Command Ombudsman Program, see Ombudsman Role and Responsibilities.
Ombudsman Program Advisory Group (OPAG)
The Ombudsman Program Advisory Group (OPAG) is a working group of individuals, convened at the discretion of CNIC Family Readiness (N91) to include an OPNAV (CNO) (N13) representative, CNIC Force Master Chief, Fleet and Family Support Program Manager, Ombudsman Program Manager, Navy Reserve Force Family Support Program Manager and a representative from the Command Leadership School. Ombudsmen-at-Large are encouraged to serve as members of the OPAG. The OPAG includes representatives of other activities as needed to advise on policy, special projects, and curriculum development, based on input received from the Region Ombudsman Advisory Board (ROAB).
Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) Ombudsman Support
Fleet and Family Support Centers provide a variety of services to support and enhance the effectiveness of the local command Ombudsman Program. Each FFSC has a staff member assigned to the function of ombudsman coordinator. The ombudsman coordinator plans, manages, and implements the FFSC responsibilities for the ombudsman program.
Region / Base Commander
The Region or Base Commander sponsors a local Ombudsman Assembly to provide ongoing training and assistance with ombudsman recognition. Ombudsmen are required to attend these meetings and should utilize them as a forum for education and to network with other ombudsmen. Members of the Command Support Team are encouraged to attend meetings with their ombudsman to gain information and demonstrate support of their ombudsman.
Region Commanders are also required to establish a Region Ombudsman Advisory Board (ROAB) to provide advice on issues related to the Navy Family Ombudsman Program. The ROAB consists of both active duty and Reserve personnel as well as ombudsmen and spouses of senior military members, both officers and enlisted. Region trends and observations as well as issues identified within the region or base should be addressed at the ROAB meeting for discussion and resolution.
Regions are encouraged to resolve issues within the regions. If unable to do so or if the problem is too far-reaching, issues should be sent to CNIC as an action item. Use the document Region Ombudsman Advisory Board (ROAB) Action Items to submit issues to CNIC. Minutes of the ROAB meeting should be sent to the CNIC Ombudsman Program Manager who will look for Navy-wide trends.