Whidbey Ombudsmen Impact Sailors and Their Families

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joan E. Jennings, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Whidbey Island

OAK HARBOR, Wash. – Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) ombudsmen assist with informing and reassuring Navy spouses and their Sailors through direct communication and social media.

The ombudsman is a volunteer, appointed by the commanding officer, to serve as an information link between command leadership and families, according to the Navy Pacific Northwest website.

“Sometimes it’s easier for spouses to relate to other spouses,” said Kathy Clark, NASWI’s Ombudsmen Program coordinator, and Fleet and Family Support Center work and family life consultant. “It is very helpful for new spouses to know that there is someone to answer their questions because they may be intimidated about calling the command.”

Capt. Darryl Walker, deputy commodore of Commander Electronic Attack Wing, Pacific, said the Ombudsman program is an important and valuable program to the squadrons and the Navy.

“The Ombudsman is the expert that assists our spouses and families in directing them where they need assistance,” Walker said. “They expertly guide our spouses and families on car, home, medical, finance, and personal issues.”

Clark said that with social media information is shared quickly, but it can be both a great and a major issue with operational security (OPSEC).

“It’s hard to explain to families to be conscious of what they post on their private Facebook pages about their deployed spouse,” Clark said. “It could be a violation of OPSEC.”

Social media can be a great tool for the ombudsmen and the command, allowing the command to post pictures and information about the Sailors on deployment.

“It is awesome for a family member to see their Sailor in photos especially if they have not have had a chance to Skype or email,” Clark said.

Clark added that past events are acceptable to post on Facebook, and the ombudsman is allowed to post information on the page with commanding officer’s approval.

“We also try to get family members to think about the personal safety of their Sailors when it comes to posting on social media,” Clark said. “We are a society that posts anything and everything on the internet, which can be dangerous.”

Dana Ledford, Commander Electronic Attack Wing U.S. Pacific Fleet and the “Patriots” of Electronic Attack Squadron 140’s ombudsman, said Navy Ombudsmen assist with a variety of situations including potential suicide calls, finding daycare and providing important phone numbers to the command’s families. Ledford has been an Ombudsman for 15 years and an ombudsman trainer for 13 years.

“In my opinion an Ombudsman’s main job is to communicate with the families to make their lives easier when a Sailor is deployed,” Ledford said. “We receive communication from all kinds of sources such as the command, MWR, local papers, and etc., to keep the families as informed as possible.”

Ledford said that for every ombudsman communication with the command is vital, and people expect immediate answers to everything.

“Dana Ledford, our Patriot Ombudsman, has been nothing short of amazing,” said Cmdr. Joe Martinez, VAQ-140 commanding officer. “She is my direct link to our Patriot families and she keeps them informed of important events and monthly ‘good to know’ information.”

Martinez added that Ledford has worked hard to earn the trust of the Patriot families.

“They trust that she will point them in the right direction for helpful resources,” Martinez said. “Our success as a squadron is largely attributed to her positive and extremely helpful advice and service.”

“Social media has made communication more readily available,” Ledford said. “It helps when everyone is tuned in to when the messages go out.”

Ledford added that she also notices a lot of the younger generation ombudsmen rely and limit themselves on social media for communication.

“Ombudsman is a ‘people’ job and social media can take that aspect out of the equation,” Ledford said. “Knowing and being able to communicate empathy and understanding to a person is key to an ombudsman.”

The Ombudsman Program is the commanding officer’s program, and any information that posts on Facebook has his approval and OPSEC is the priority, said Ledford.

“I love this program, and I have been fortunate to have worked alongside some amazing commanding officers over the past 15 years,” Ledford said. “When the program is working well within a command you have a command that runs well.”

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