ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Sometimes, you just need a place where you can relax and feel free to be yourself.
For some enlisted Airmen, that safe haven is the Refuge.
Tech. Sgt. Colin Tucker, acting non-commissioned officer-in-charge of Chapel Operations at the Robins Air Force Base Chapel, said the Refuge gives junior enlisted Airmen at Robins and its sister services a place to get away.
“The Refuge is just that, a refuge for Airmen who may otherwise not have a place to be themselves,” he said. “The Refuge is a Chaplain Corps sponsored program that exists in numerous forms that differ between installations and was established to provide a sanctuary for Airmen to mentor, to be mentored, relax, develop, and feel like they have a place of their own when they are no longer in ‘their homes’.”
Established at Robins in 2016, the Refuge is operated by its parent organization, the Robins Chapel and managed by a Religious Support Team comprised of Tucker and Chaplain (Capt.) Matt Spencer. Athena Romo, the Refuge coordinator, serves as the Refuge Mom, managing programs and the coffee bar at the center.
Since its opening, the Refuge has offered junior enlisted Airmen entertainment options and programs like its monthly Trivia Night, hosted by the base historian, an Open Mic Night where Airmen can express themselves, and a bi-monthly Deployed/Separated Spouses Coffee Time where these spouses can fellowship with one another.
Tucker, who is also the NCOIC of the Airmen Ministry Center at Robins, said the chapel plans to revive these programs as restrictions are lifted and support is generated again.
Although the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic has changed Airmen’s lives in some ways, Tucker said the Refuge is trying to maintain certain traditions like its Airman’s Dinner, making it a “to go” service to avoid large gatherings and maintain social distancing.
The Refuge’s coffee bar operates from 7 – 9 a.m. The Refuge’s hours of operation are 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., Monday - Friday, and Saturday and Sunday, from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. After hours, the Refuge is operated by Airmen volunteers on an “as available” basis.
The Refuge staff has found some creative ways to reach out to Airmen during the pandemic.
“We started an “Ask a Chaplain” event each week via ZOOM and that has gone very well,” Tucker said. “This event took place at 6 p.m. each Thursday of April. The Zoom session with Chaplain (Capt.) William Erps allowed for Airmen to phone in questions on life, religion, the chaplain corps, family matters and anything else that came to mind. Each week, there were anywhere from 6-16 participants at a given time.”
Tucker said Operation Smile, coined by the Refuge coordinator, brought snacks accompanied by hand-written encouraging and humorous notes to nearly 480 Airmen’s dorm rooms.
It’s all a part of lifting Airmen’s spirits and giving Airmen a small escape from their socially distanced world.
“Now, more than ever, the Airmen need a place that isn’t their dorm room,” he said. “Being isolated in a single space for too long isn’t mentally healthy and leads to cabin fever. We give the Airmen a place to get a break from all of that.”
For more information on the Refuge and what it’s offering, call the Robins Air Force Base Chapel at (478) 926-2821 or visit the Refuge’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ROBINS.THE.REFUGE/.