From the Homefront: A look at those who support our families – Coast Guard Ombudsmen

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Written by Shelley Kimball

Coast Guard Ombudsmen

The grocery store in town can close at 2 p.m. on some days in Grand Isle, Louisiana. And those who live on the Coast Guard station are usually about 45 minutes from services like stores, restaurants or doctor’s offices.

It’s not always easy to live there.

Amanda Murray made it her mission to fix that. She tried to think of as many ways as possible to smooth the transition to living in the somewhat isolated barrier island.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Murray started a spouses’ club, developed a welcome packet for new arrivals and put together a newsletter and regular emails detailing activities and job opportunities. She helped spouses find jobs, schools, scholarships and assistance with transferring professional licensing. She started a new baby program that includes a schedule for making sure new parents get at least one home-cooked meal a day for the first weeks the baby is home.

“Whether it’s finding a job, getting college or school information or scholarships, working on transferring certifications for work, finding community activities, or finding a doctor that will support their needs,” Murray said. “I love being able to support our families and working with our District 8 Work-Life staff and the commands of both Station Grand Isle and [Coast Guard Cutter] Sturgeon.”

And due to all of those efforts, Murray has been has been selected as the 2015 Wanda Allen-Yearout Ombudsman of the Year.

Murray doesn’t just focus on her Coast Guard community. She looks back over the bridge to figure out how to connect Grand Isle residents with the military families who live there. She was the driving force behind putting together a youth baseball league that now has Coasties volunteering to coach 70 Grand Isle kids. She was the only point of contact for the Grand Isle Mardi Gras parade. She was the group leader for Grand Isle’s first Girl Scout troop.

Amanda Murray, the ombudsman for Grand Isle, Louisiana, in District 8 has been selected as the ombudsman of the year. Photo courtesy of Amanda Murray.

Amanda Murray, the ombudsman for Grand Isle, Louisiana, in District 8 has been selected as the ombudsman of the year. Photo courtesy of Amanda Murray.

I feel like this goes without saying after listing Murray’s tireless efforts, but the annual award is bestowed upon an ombudsman who exemplifies a commitment, as a volunteer, to serve Coast Guard families. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the ombudsman program.

Murray said she found out she had been selected when she received a phone call from Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, and his wife, Fran DeNinno.

“I was speechless and very moved,” Murray said. “It was such an honor to speak with them both and to have won.”

She then received a call from both Master Chief Steven Cantrell, master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard, and his wife, Janet.

“I was thrilled to speak with them also,” she said.

For Murray, being an ombudsman means not only coming to families’ aid when called, but also making their lives easier and their communities more connected.

“I love serving as the ombudsman and working with the Coast Guard members and families here on base and in the community,” she said.

Six other ombudsmen were also lauded for their great work in their districts this year, some of whom serve more than one base or station.

Rachel Conley, District 5, ombudsman for Base National Capital Region, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, Surface Forces Logistics Center, U.S. Coast Guard Yard, Asset Project Office, and Air Station Washington, D.C.

Conley“As a new Coast Guard spouse, I did not have good experiences with the ombudsman Program.  I felt very strongly that if I wanted to see a difference in the program, I needed to be the difference.  Coast Guard members and families deserve the very best, and everyday I strive to provide that.  More than anything else, I want to make a positive difference in the lives of those that I am blessed to serve,” said Conley. “Supporting the Coast Guard community will forever be one of the greatest honors of my life.”

 

Brooke Gonzales, District 7, ombudsman for Air Station Clearwater, Florida

IMG_5288“I became on ombudsman originally in Elizabeth City because no units had someone to advocate for them. I thought it was very important for the families to have the voice, and to hopefully build morale,” Gonzales said. “Then once I came here to Clearwater, they didn’t have an ombudsman. Here it was really just to build the moral and bring the families together because we are so spread out. I would say overall, it’s important to have an ombudsman to build morale and give the families a voice and the support they need to help them through this crazy, awesome life in the Coast Guard.”

Sarah McClelland, District 9, ombudsman for Station Grand Haven, Station Ludington, and Station Holland, all in Michigan.

McClelland“I choose to be an ombudsman because I see the need.  I see both new and seasoned spouses struggle with the challenges of Coast Guard life and I want to help ease those frustrations.  There are so many great resources and programs available to us and many are unaware of them.  Without someone to point them in the right direction, they get disillusioned and bitter,” McClelland said. “Too many times it seems we enter into this crazy Coast Guard life with no one to guide us and get us started on the right foot, I hope to be that guiding hand for anyone who needs it.  Military life is not easy, but I hope that by being an ombudsman, and educating members and families about the help and support that is available, I can ease some of the challenges they face.”

Anyea Garrido, District 11, ombudsman for the Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell based out of San Diego, California

Anyea Garrido“I became an ombudsman because I believe my service within the program helps the overall mission of the Coast Guard. As an ombudsman, we ensure that our active duty members have peace of mind knowing that their families are supported at home,” Garrido said. “Being an ombudsman is important to me because I want to help our families turn challenges into confident solutions. I believe in this program, and I want to continue seeing it work for our Coast Guard families.”

 

Monique Prater, District 14, ombudsman for the Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia in Guam

Prater“I decided to become ombudsman of the Cutter Sequoia because I wanted to ensure that all families were welcomed to the island with the peace of mind that they were not alone. I formed a very tight-knit group among the spouses, and we all were very supportive of each other,” Prater said. “Being in a remote area on the other side of the world where we all came from, is daunting. I took it upon myself to ensure that we all had fun, made wonderful memories and enjoyed our tour in Guam.”

 

Danielle Medolla, District 17, Air Station and Base Kodiak, Alaska

Medolla family“I chose to be an ombudsman because helping Coast Guard families is my passion,” Medolla said. “It is important that our families receive true accurate information from a reliable source. Ombudsmen provide that.”

 

 

Resources:

Wanda Allen-Yearout Ombudsman of the Year Award: The annual award recognizes the efforts of ombudsmen who have served for more than one year and who show exceptional commitment to supporting the Coast Guard and its family members.

Ombudsman program: This page provides more information about the Coast Guard ombudsman program, including contacts, resources, and coordinators.

Find your ombudsman: Click the link, then scroll down to the bottom of the page. You can send a message to the ombudsman who serves your area.

Stories like this: We have had previous stories about who serves as an ombudsman, we’ve listed ombudsmen’s’ favorite resources, and we have introduced you to last year’s ombudsman of the year.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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