As the assistant to a Naval Chaplain, Sailors in the RP rating are the only Naval personnel specifically tasked with the protection of a non-combatant. (Although Chaplains are permitted to carry weapons under the rules of the Geneva Convention, U.S. Navy regulations prohibit it.) Chaplains frequently visit Forward Operating Bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat zones—and in many of these areas the RP is expected to do more than simply have the ability to return fire. It’s up to the RP to ensure the Chaplain is removed from imminent danger as quickly as possible, a task compounded in difficulty because many enemy fighters are aware that each command typically has just one Chaplain and that wounding or killing him or her can have a profound impact on troop morale.

A Sailor in the Religious Program Specialist rating works in direct support of a Chaplains to form a Religious Ministry Team (RMT). RMTs are responsible for the implementation of out a Command Religious Program, the goal of which is twofold: to ensure the free exercise of religious beliefs by all personnel in a command, and to serve as “first providers” for Sailors and Marines dealing with sensitive issues such as operational stress, sexual assault, financial concerns, interpersonal relationships, and other concerns.

Religious Program Specialists do not perform counseling of Sailors of Marines seeking assistance; rather, they are intimately familiar with the resources the Chaplain and the Navy has available to provide help to those in need. Many enlisted men are hesitant to directly approach Chaplains because of their officer status, but they will turn to RP Sailors—especially those who they’ve seen go through the same sort of combat training as they did.

Two years ago, the Navy announced a Strategic Plan for Religious Ministry 2014-2019. With its increased emphasis on creating a sense of community by addressing the moral, religious, and ethical needs of Naval personnel while simultaneously engaging leaders throughout the service, the plan is likely to lead an even greater need for RP Sailors in the coming years.


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