Religious program specialists (RP) from the Pacific Northwest celebrated the 37th birthday of the RP rating at the Silverdale Yacht Club, Feb. 3.
RPs provide direct support to Navy Chaplains while helping sailors and marines through the forms of religious ceremonies, counseling and retirements.
"The RP rating is important in the Navy to support our servicemembers in more ways than just religion," said Chief Religious Program Specialist James Gibson, assigned to Naval Base Kitsap. "We support weddings, baptisms, retirements, and counseling on the spiritual and individual stands."
The RP rate was established Jan. 15, 1979, but enlisted personnel have been assisting chaplains since 1878. A committee of chaplains requested a chaplain's assistant who could play music and lead prayers, convincing the Navy to create the RP rate.
"Our main mission as a RP is to support chaplains administratively, logistically, and to serve as a personal bodyguard to chaplains attached to Marine Corps units," said Gibson.
RPs serve anywhere a chaplain may be attached to such as sea duty on a ship, shore duty on a base, overseas and even in combat with Marines.
"I had a really awesome chaplain at my first command and that's when I realized that's what I wanted to do, help and serve," said Religious Program Specialist 2nd Class Sheri Russell, assigned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. "As a prior damage controlman I wasn't fulfilled with my duties, but after becoming a RP I have more enjoyment (in) my career."
Master Chief Religious Program Specialist Leo Angelus, senior enlisted advisor to Pacific Fleet chaplain attended the celebration as the guest speaker.
"It amazes me how far we have come," said Angelus. "I joined as a RP and to see how our rating has evolved is just beautiful. Before we supported (chaplains) from behind the scenes, now we are partners when it comes to serving our servicemembers."
The attendees shared stories of the changes in the rate from the time they joined the community and compared experiences from different commands.
"Chaplains and RPs are a team," said Capt. John Shimotsu, Pacific Fleet chaplain. "We work together to serve our sailors' religious needs as well as counseling and assisting with military life."
RPs, of all ranks, serve under a chaplain, but they also have their own duties not related to a chaplain.
"The rate is being professionalized compared to over 30 years ago when we first started," said Angelus. "We are able to train with chaplains while keeping our personal identities, we are not chaplains."