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Pay and Benefits

Safeguarding Our Loved Ones

Ombudsmen serve as a critical link between commands and families

The word "Ombudsman" originated in Scandinavian countries and referred to safeguarding the rights of citizens. Now the word Ombudsman refers to a person who safeguards the rights of Navy families who rely on communication from commands to stay informed and flexible.

It's not a job for just anyone. Lisa O'Neil and Chad Ludwick know that.

"Navy Family Ombudsmen are a group of extremely dedicated volunteers who continually train to assist Navy families to successfully navigate the challenges of the Navy lifestyle," said Lisa, whose husband Mike O'Neil is a chief. "The Ombudsman Program improves family readiness, which in turn improves mission readiness."

And that sounds great. However, hours are not preset, your job description is always changing depending on the needs of the command, the Sailors and their families, and most times it's thankless. And that's why September is designated as Ombudsman Appreciation Month, to officially thank Ombudsman for the service they provide to the Navy.

"I love being an Ombudsman!" said Lisa. "The Ombudsman Program offers quality training while serving amazing Navy families and working alongside some of the most talented Navy and civilian professionals."

And for Lisa, she doesn't need to be thanked.

"The biggest reward comes from helping Navy families and empowering them to advocate for themselves, and thrive in situations they may or may not have thought they could have made it through without the support of their Ombudsman," said Lisa.

"Lisa has made an immeasurable difference in my career," said Mike. "She is the one and only person besides the Chief's Mess that I can turn to at any time and ask for help and use as a sounding board. The life of a military spouse is the toughest job in the military and had it not been for Lisa sticking by my side for the past 20 years of our marriage, then my career would have surely suffered."

And Mike isn't the only person who feels that way. Just ask former Chief Paula Ludwick. Her husband Chad, a retired Cryptologic Technician, supported her career until its very end.

"I didn't really want to be an Ombudsman," said Chad. "It took a lot of begging and pleading from my wife's Commanding Officer. He knew I was good at talking to people about the military and dealing with spouses, so he kept trying to get me to take the position. Eventually they had no one to take the role, so I stepped up until someone else could be identified."

"Chad has supported me from day one," said Paula. When I made chief he was right there for me - cooking meals and helping with the bake sales. He saw a need and he filled it. It's what he's done for me, what he's done for our family, and what he did for the Navy when called upon."

"I was intimidated from day one," said Chad. "I was one of six males in the entire Region Southwest in a role that is almost fully women. But I persevered. As the Ombudsman I was the go-between for families and the command. My wife's command was a high deployment command and at a moment's notice members would be called to deploy. Sometimes they'd get the call and have to leave in the middle of the night and the family didn't know what to do the next morning. But that's where I would come in. With the help of the command we found a solution to every problem. The role of the Ombudsman is to help. A lot of spouses don't know what goes on with military life, even if they have been married into it for 20 years. We help with the pieces that don't make sense."

Sometimes those pieces are as simple as checking into a new command.

"I support active duty couples and families prior to their arrival to the area," said Lisa. "I took the lead on making our command Family Website a reality with the support of our officer in charge [OIC], senior enlisted adviser [SEA], an active duty team member and our Warrior & Family Support Senior Analyst. That Website is the best way for our active duty service members and their families to stay updated on the most current command and community information, news and resources. I also created a command-approved quarterly newsletter that connects our families with the most updated command news, upcoming events and community resources available."

"I honestly thought that Lisa was crazy wanting to take on such an important and demanding role," said Mike. "When she asked me what I thought I was really hesitant at first, selfishly I told her I thought it was a bad idea and that I did not want her to be an Ombudsman. I thought on it for a few days and realized how selfish I was being by not sharing her passion for helping Sailors with everyone. I was afraid our family and our marriage would suffer because of this demanding role. I changed my mind and decided to support her 100 percent so that she could help all Sailors and their families be just as successful as our family has been. I am so happy that I changed my mind and decided to support her in making a difference in Sailors' lives and ultimately making her see how important she is not only to our family but other families as well."

The rest of the story:

Interested in being an Ombudsman? Here are five things you should know:

1. An ombudsman is the spouse of an active duty or Selected Reserve member of the command, enlisted or officer. This requirement can be waived if, after a diligent search, no appropriate spouse volunteer is available.

2. Commanding officers may appoint as many command ombudsmen as they choose. Many like to have at least two ombudsmen to ensure accessibility, and to share and allocate responsibilities.

3. Small commands having few family members, or tenant commands, may arrange with one or more other commands, or the installation command, to share the ombudsman services of the other or host command.

4. The ombudsman needs to be viewed by the command families as accessible, approachable and functional. An ombudsman with several years of Navy life experience will acclimate more easily and have greater credibility.

5. For more information on becoming an Ombudsman go to: http://www.cnic.navy.mil/ffr/family_readiness/fleet_and_family_support_program/ombudsman_program.html