Stars and Stripes ombudsman Jacqueline Smith.

Stars and Stripes ombudsman Jacqueline Smith. (Carol Kaliff/Hearst Connecticut Media Group)

The wildest, most exhilarating ride for me was not on a roller coaster or in Disney World. It was on the deck of a fast-attack submarine.

Picture this: The country’s newest submarine is about to be launched from a cavernous “shed” at shipbuilder Electric Boat into the chilly Thames River flowing between New London and Groton, Conn. The lower half of the ship is all the hundreds of invited guests can see from inside the shed. As the ship’s sponsor, typically the spouse of a politician in those days, swings a Champagne bottle at the hull and the band whips into patriotic music and the ship’s horn blasts, the 360-foot sub slowly starts to slide down the wooden cradle, called the ways; it picks up speed. Soon the full ship comes into view as it clears the building and reveals the entire uniformed crew standing and saluting, heading backward at 27-feet-per-second into the water. Goosebumps.

As a reporter, I had covered the ceremonial event at the General Dynamics’ division shipyard many times from inside the shed or outside where protesters blocked sidewalks and got arrested. I wanted to give readers something different. So there I was one December morning in 1984, one of 220 people on the deck of the sub that would be called the USS Pittsburgh, once commissioned by the Navy. As I clung to a flagpole, a curl of water rolled up the back of the ship as it slid about 1,500 feet into the river.

This long wind-up is my introduction to you as the new ombudsman for Stars and Stripes. And though no river water is rushing up to my knees, I am every bit as excited about this assignment.

My job is to protect the First Amendment rights and independence of this news organization, to work at ensuring the news you receive is free from interference or censorship while monitoring the accuracy, fairness and impartiality of the reporting. It is a profound privilege.

You see the two parts of the equation. Though Stripes receives a portion of funding from the Defense Department through the Defense Media Activity office, the military cannot, and does not, influence the news coverage. It cannot block Stripes from publishing unfavorable stories, nor force it to print flattering ones. Stripes’ personnel — positioned around the globe — uphold their obligation by adhering to journalism standards and ethics as set by the industry.

“A good newspaper is fair, accurate, honest, responsible, independent and decent. Truth is its guiding principle.” This is from the Associated Press Managing Editors Association’s 1975 Code of Ethics, still followed today.

I embrace these precepts and have held them inviolate throughout my four-decade-plus career in journalism, as a reporter and editor at various daily newspapers in Connecticut. My last position was as an editorial page editor and columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the leading news source in the state.

Stripes, while adhering to common industry standards, is like no other American news organization. The reach, in every sense, is truly global. We fully staff a European office based in Kaiserslautern, Germany; a Pacific office based in Tokyo; we deliver news to the Middle East in locations such as Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Bahrain; and to Eastern Europe, including Poland, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Romania; and even to U.S. Navy ships at sea. Continuing its proud tradition, Stripes goes wherever U.S. troops are stationed in times of peace or war.

Staff-written news can be found in print, or digital in the electronic edition, accessed through mobile apps with highlights coming to you daily through multiple newsletters. On our website — — you’ll find news stories, videos and podcasts. One category you will not find is a political position; Stripes does not endorse political candidates. Contributors’ pieces on the Opinion page represent an array of views.

Stripes’ audience is you, the military community, including every branch of service, families and veterans. No other news source has this laser-sharp focus.

Stripes reaches more than 1,430,713 people on any given day. Yes, you read that right — more than 1.4 million.

With information coming at us from multiple outlets — some true, some deliberately false — it is vital to have a source that can be trusted. Stripes is that source. And the ombudsman, a position created by Congress in 1990, is charged with making sure it remains so.

Thanks are in order to my predecessor, Ernie Gates, who is completing his three-year term. Ernie has been an exemplary ombudsman who was at the forefront of saving Stripes’ very existence in 2020 when then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper withdrew all funding. It was restored.

The Stripes’ ombudsman is also your reader representative. If you have questions about coverage, I will try to find the answers. I will write occasional columns about journalistic issues. A news organization must be as transparent as the democracy we cover and uphold.

Please join me for what is sure to be an exhilarating ride in this pivotal year in our nation’s history.

Email Jacqueline Smith at

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now