Photo -- On March 25, 2022, the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy honored Auxiliarists Kathy and Mike Pascale for their service as Ombudsmen to Academy families. Pictured (left to right) CAPT Randy Brown, MLEA CO, Kathy and Mike Pascale, CMC Ed Briganti and XO CDR Ben Gullo. The Pascales wore civilian attire, which is standard for Ombudsmen. Briganti and Gullo have transferred since this photo. Credit: Ken Weber

Although their role is not well known by many, Ombudsmen serve as the point of contact, informational resource, facilitator and advocate for Coast Guard families and as their direct messengers to Command.  The Ombudsman’s role takes on special importance when that service member is out to sea and gone for months at a time leaving their families to fend for themselves, often in unfamiliar settings.

A volunteer program created by the service in 1996, an Ombudsman position exists for every one of the service’s 767 commands.  The position is most often a spouse of an active-duty member. Relatively recently, however, Auxiliarists have been invited to participate in the program as well, and for good, practical reasons. Most active-duty members and their families transfer to another unit at a different location every few years. By contrast, most Auxiliarists are long-time locals who are well familiar with the workings of and the key players and organizations in their communities. Moreover, most are unlikely to relocate any time soon.

Kathy and Mike Pascale, both members of 07-12-06 in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., are Ombudsmen for the service’s Maritime Law Enforcement Academy, which is based in nearby North Charleston and trains active-duty members in specialized seagoing activities such as vessel pursuit and boarding. Since most of the instruction takes a year or less, the throughput of trainees and their families is nearly constant, making Auxiliarist-Ombudsmen especially valuable resources. For their part, the Pascales say helping those short-term residents access local services has proven to be both a “pleasant challenge” and a “fulfilling” role.

VADM Kevin E. Lunday, Commander Atlantic Area, considers the Ombudsman “a lifeline for Coast Guard families, providing essential information, resources, crisis response, and advocacy at all levels.” He deems those volunteers “vital to ensure the readiness and resilience of our forces and families” and are “key members of each command leadership team.”

Despite the importance of the role, however, hundreds of those positions go unfilled service-wide, and particularly among the smaller units.

Accordingly, in February, VADM Lunday, notified all LANTAREA commands that every unit is to have access to an Ombudsman or have identified a prospect for the position “before the end of August 2023.” Meanwhile, “Smaller, subordinate commands may share an Ombudsman” with either their parent command or a larger, local command.

“I will continue to advocate for resource needs within the Ombudsman Program,” VADM Lunday assured the units. He added that at future All Hands meetings, “I will request participation of the unit Ombudsman at visits and will seek out opportunities to engage with the Ombudsman as I engage with the crew and other members of the unit command team.”

By William Garvey