Ombudsman to take issues from civilians to Navy brass
October 19, 2007
NAPLES, Italy — Mariane Winsper knows firsthand the challenges civilians face livings overseas.
Like other civilians, she can’t book a routine dentist appointment at the Navy hospital here. She’s been the single parent when her now-retired soldier husband deployed. She can’t speak the language of the country in which she currently lives.
Those personal experiences, coupled with the future training she’ll receive, will help in her new role as the first Navy Region Europe ombudsman, selected to be the voice between civilian employees and their families and Navy leadership.
“I want to give a voice to the civilians in the command,” said Winsper, a retired teacher, who for 35 years worked primarily with special-needs students. “I think I have something to offer.”
Winsper, 57, is new to Naples, and newer still to the volunteer ombudsman position, having met only last week with the man who appointed her, Rear Adm. Michael Groothousen, commander of Navy Region Europe.
So new to the job, in fact, officials have yet to set up an e-mail address for her and activate a phone so that concerned civilian employees and their families can touch base. But that’s all in the works. Navy Region Europe has a staff of about 240 people, of which roughly 75 percent are civilian employees.
Groothousen appointed the region’s first ombudsman to give civilians working for him the same attention offered to military personnel and their families, said Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, command spokeswoman.
“He wanted to have something for civilians that is complementary to taking care of military families,” she said.
Navy Region Europe as a command is fairly new, established in Naples in 2001 when the Navy consolidated its personnel and functions and began moving personnel from England to the headquarters in Naples.
But the overall ombudsman concept for the Navy is far from new. It’s been around since 1970, when then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt established the Navy Family Ombudsman Program to keep families of active-duty sailors up-to-speed on the challenges of the military lifestyle.
“People are always reminded to take care of their sailors, but you don’t hear much about taking care of civilians,” said Cynthia DeZouche, director of training for Navy Region Europe and an 18-year Navy civilian employee.
Commands have had ombudsmen around to answer questions related to active-duty personnel and families, but not anyone focused on issues that can be specific to civilian personnel, such as health care, she said.
“Military likes to play the game of gossip, so it’s good to have an authoritative source for answers and not just the person standing next to you in line,” DeZouche said.