News: Baja, Calif., native brings motivation, smiles to Marines in Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Michele Watson
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – At age 28, Petty Officer 2nd Class Armando Arias had a bachelor’s degree in international business and was working as a real estate agent when he decided to make a drastic life change and enlist.
Arias, a religious program specialist with 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), had multiple family members in the Corps, but decided he wanted to choose a different path for himself.
“I go to my grandpa’s house and see Marine pictures everywhere,” said Arias, 32. “I’m always trying to go against everyone. I had to go against the flow.”
After making the decision to enlist, Arias, a Baja Calif. native, looked into all the military branches to determine his options. He finally settled on the Navy when he was offered multiple benefits that he was looking for.
“The Navy offered me E-3 going into boot camp and automatic E-4 at six months,” said Arias. “They gave me money, they gave me rank, and they gave me the Marines.”
Even though he did not want to join the Marines, Arias still wanted the chance to work with them. The Navy is entirely responsible for providing medical care to the Marine Corps, which does not have its own medical field. Though corpsmen have the highest number of members working with Marines, Arias wanted something else.
“I didn’t want to be a corpsman; I can’t handle the sight of blood,” said Arias. “But then the recruiter told me about RPs.”
Following training, Arias said he had great leadership that helped shape him as a sailor and as a leader.
“I was really quiet going through my training commands, but when I hit the fleet, I got discipline,” said Arias. “That’s when I got really motivated.”
The religious program specialists, referred to as RPs, work with chaplains throughout the Navy and Marines. The Chaplain Corps supports the Marine Corps because it does not have its own religious personnel. Becoming an RP allowed Arias to attach to Marine units.
“My mission is to support the chaplains,” said Arias. “We provide the right ministry to the right people at the right time.”
In addition to assisting with religious services, Arias has another role. Deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan for a second combat tour, his job here requires him to act as personal security for the chaplain.
“The chaplains are noncombatants, so I always have to be with them,” said Arias. “They are not supposed to go out on missions without their RP.”
As a noncombatant, chaplains do not carry weapons and are not allowed to assault an enemy, no matter what the circumstances are.
“I get to do the bodyguard stuff, the [administrative] stuff, and even if it’s just putting a smile on someone’s face, I’m helping,” said Arias.
Throughout Helmand province, Arias escorts the chaplain on missions to forward operating bases. He said being deployed gives him a higher sense of accomplishment in his job. Marines have their own denominations and their own churches, but for any Marine deployed to remote areas, getting a visit from the chaplain is greatly appreciated.
“I actually feel like I’m doing something out here,” said Arias. “You put on your gear, go out to the FOB, and the Marines are excited to see the chaplain and have a service. Back in America, you can’t do that.”
During this deployment, Arias has also had the opportunity to be an instructor for Corporal’s Course.
“I’m all about [Professional Military Education], so teaching Corporal’s Course was a great experience,” he said.
When sailors attach to Marine units, there is often friendly banter between members of the two branches.
“There was a sergeant who always ragged on sailors,” said Arias. “So during the course, I pulled the only corpsman from the class aside and told him to beat the Marines. He ended up getting the ‘Gung Ho’ award for the course. I was really proud.”
Once this tour is complete, Arias will be stationed on the USS New Orleans, working on the Navy side in his occupation. While he has worn the Marine Corps uniform for four years, changing over to the blue battle dress uniform and working with sailors will ultimately benefit his career.
“I am not excited about taking off this uniform,” said Arias. “But I’m still going to wear my [Marine Corps Martial Arts Program] belt. It took me a long time to earn my black belt.”
As a member of 1st MLG (Fwd) Arias has been a great addition to the team, but looks forward to going home when his time in Afghanistan is done.
“I miss my family and friends, and I look forward to real American food,” said Arias. “I want to put my feet on carpet. It’s the little things in life.”