PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM (NNS) -- Danielle Trout once received a phone call about a Sailor’s grandfather who was diagnosed with cancer. The Sailor in question was out at sea.
It took several calls to leadership and fellow ombudsmen as well as three to four hours of waiting, but the Sailor was able to speak to their grandfather before he passed away. This is just one example of what an ombudsman can do.
The Navy Family Ombudsman Program began in 1970 through an initiative by Adm. E.R. Zumwalt Jr., then-chief of naval operations.
The ombudsman is responsible for disseminating information to the military families of their respective commands. The ombudsman is also available for families in need in certain situations.
Trout, the ombudsman for the USS Port Royal, describes herself as a “voice between the command and the families” and an ear for the families. She supports roughly 60 families with the USS Port Royal, answering general questions, reaching out to other points of contact to support a family, and, on some occasions, just being there for family members who want to vent frustrations.
“Knowledge is key,” she said. “The knowledge I can give (family members) makes it a little easier for them to understand the Navy life. Navy life can definitely be rough at times, especially if your Sailor is gone six to eight months at a time, and prior to that maybe they have three months of work-ups, so you may not have seen your Sailor for an entire year.”
Trout said she also supports family members beyond spouses and children. She responds to inquiries by parents and other relatives about their Sailor.
When asked what was most rewarding about being an ombudsman, Trout said it is seeing the success of events and smiles on the families’ faces.
Marielle Dilks is the ombudsman assembly chair of Navy Region Hawaii. She has been the USS Preble’s ombudsman for four years, and was the ombudsman for the USS Shrike/Crew Bold (MHC 62) for three.
Dilks said she chose to be an ombudsman in order to provide support for her fellow spouses with information, and became an ombudsman chair to support her fellow ombudsmen.
Dilks said she spends six to seven hours a month in her position as assembly chair, and two to three as an ombudsman.
As the assembly chair, she assists the ombudsman coordinator at Military and Family Services Center, with scheduling ombudsman training and managing ombudsman meetings among other duties. She helps families with various issues from making contact with their Sailors to learning about upcoming events.
“Networking with other Navy/military spouses and learning from them (has been most rewarding),” Dilks said.
“Even after 20 years of being a Navy spouse I am always learning something new or a new way to approach/do something.”
Commanding officers appoint the ombudsman. An individual does not have to be a military spouse to volunteer as an ombudsman. They must apply to the command, and have an interview with the commanding officer.
“Dress to impress in business wear and bring your resume and/or references,” Dilks said.
For those thinking of becoming an ombudsman, Trout recommends giving it a try.
“If you don’t like it, just let your command know ... that’s fine ... (being) an ombudsman isn’t for everybody,” Trout said.
“But I would definitely try it out, get involved with your command and get involved with your families.”
Dilks added that although the position is rewarding, it can also be overwhelming, especially considering the pace of military life.
“When families call, you might be going through a crazy hectic time of your own,” she said. “You have to learn to shut off your needs and focus on helping someone else through a disaster.”
Dilks added that ombudsmen help families by giving them tools and resources so they can help themselves.
“Once families are empowered then they feel accomplished, self-reliant, and able to share what they learned with others,” she said.
For more news from Commander, Navy Region Hawaii, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnrh/.