JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Tina Robbings spends about as much time in other people's offices as some do in their own. The difference is that they are getting paid, and she is not.

Robbings donates time to several organizations. Army Family Team Building, Army Family Action Plan, and her husband's family readiness group are just a few programs that benefit from Robbings' talents. All of them are important to her, but the one she considers most meaningful is Survivor Outreach Services.

"SOS is near and dear to my heart," Robbings said.

SOS provides long-term support to survivors of military casualties. The program's mission is to "embrace and reassure survivors that they are continually linked to the Army family through a unified support program that enables them to remain an important part of the Army family for as long as they desire," said Luann Brooks, SOS program coordinator for Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Robbings met Brooks while taking a volunteer training course earlier this year. During that meeting, Brooks voiced a need for help with putting together a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Robbings' experiences as a surviving friend led her to step up and fill the need, making it the successful program it is today. She also serves as a TAPS peer mentor. As a peer mentor, Robbings is paired with someone in a situation similar to her own.

"There's no counseling involved because there's no counseling degree required," Robbings said. "It's just talking with the survivor and being an ear to listen whenever they need."

It is a step towards healing and letting survivors know they are not alone. Robbings' partner lost a husband, and although the two have different stories about their losses, being a mentor helps Robbings deal with the pain of losing a friend two years ago.
"It brings back a lot of memories, and through that, I'm able to help (my partner) with what she's feeling and going through," Robbings said. "Just having someone else who understands or relate is really important."

Robbings has invested more than 1,100 hours of her time in volunteering since moving to JBLM with her husband and children in July 2009. Five hundred of those hours were poured into SOS.

"We're blessed," she said. "I'm just not one to sit home and do nothing. I don't mind giving back."

Robbings' boys, ages 13 and 14, are also active volunteers. Her eldest was awarded volunteer youth of the year at their previous duty station, and her youngest was right behind him. She hopes that her service opens their eyes to the value in volunteering.

"I really want them to understand that it's not every man for himself, but that we really should get out there and help our neighbors," she said. "I don't think they see the benefits quite as much as I do, but they get the fact that they should give back to their community."

As the wife of a lieutenant colonel who has been around the Army 20-plus years, Robbings knows the success of an organization largely depends on its volunteers. In an economy where even the military has been forced to cut jobs, volunteers are more important than ever.

"It's amazing what the Army has given to spouses and all of the wonderful opportunities that are out there," Robbings said. "But at some point, people have to step up and take responsibility or say, 'Hey, I'm going to help out.'"

It was that very phrase that helped turn the tables for SOS.

"Without (Robbings), the SOS program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord might not exist," Brooks said. "It definitely would not be as successful as it is."

Robbings realizes that volunteering with SOS is not for everyone. A background in psychology and personal experiences have helped her cope with unexpected phone calls and visits.

"Every time you're in that office, you don't know who's going to walk in or call," she said. "You have to be ready to deal with a meltdown."

The important thing, she said, is making time to help someone.

"Everyone can find an hour here or there, even if it's during your lunch break," Robbings said. "There are plenty of places that need your help."

Laura M. Levering is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.