Honolulu Star Bulletin (05/03/97)
By Ray Pendleton
Politically correct or not, the 22 women who were honored last week are very proud of their title of Coast Guard Ombudsmen.
The occasion was the annual Ombudsman of the Year awards dinner for the 14th District, sponsored by the Coast Guard Foundation, a non-profit fund-raising group that helps provide for the welfare of Coast Guard personnel and their dependents.
An ombudsman, as defined by Webster's Dictionary, is "a person who investigates and resolves complaints." But after hearing District Commander Rear Admiral Thomas Collins and several of his staff speak on the subject, there is no question that in the Coast Guard, this voluntary position is much more complex.
"To be successful an ombudsman must be a skillful communicator," Admiral Collins said, "because information brokering is the essential mission."
For a more definitive description of a Coast Guard ombudsman, we can skim through a summary of 1997 Ombudsman of the Year Lainey Cloutier's nomination, written by her husband John's commanding officer, Captain Thomas Yearout.
"For over a year of her two years of service," Yearout wrote, "Mrs. Cloutier diligently served as the sole ombudsman for C.G. Cutter Rush's more than 170 crew members." Yearout went on to highlight Cloutier's ombudsman activities:
"She made it her mission to keep all spouses well aware of Rush's activities and to clarify any rumors in circulation. One of her methods was to publish a timely and informative newsletter.
"She worked closely with the C.G. communications center to establish a system for e-mailing messages between the ship's crew and their families via personal computer.
"She welcomed new families arriving at the airport with flower leis while Rush was at sea and provided them with transportation when needed.
"She was instrumental in implementing a "Rush phone tree" to ensure spouses were provided correct information in times of high stress. This became especially critical when Rush experienced the loss of one of her crew members.
"She also quickly provided the widow with much needed emotional support and assisted in the coordination of the funeral and the ceremony aboard the Rush. ("My worst experience," Cloutier told me.)
"She has organized a majority of the social functions for the crew's spouses and dependent children, and has provided discount movie tickets when the ship was at sea.
"She has chauffeured and even opened her home for spouses of crew members of Rush, a gesture no doubt greatly appreciated by one newlywed who arrived alone in Honolulu while the ship was on patrol.
"Mrs. Cloutier's persevering efforts and noteworthy accomplishments have clearly demonstrated her commitment to our Coast Guard family," Yearout concluded. "She has consistently gone beyond the call of duty to ensure the success of the ombudsman program and the reputation of Rush."
While beaming with elation at being chosen Ombudsman of the Year, Cloutier was also looking forward to the future.
"My husband John is my best friend and the love of my life," she said. "We're anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first child in October, but we'll be transferring to Rockland, Maine in June. It's quite a change for this California girl, but after being an ombudsman for a year and a half, I'm ready for any challenge."
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