News: Chaplains’ assistants place their lives on the line
Story by Cpl. Laura Gauna
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Religion has always been important to 19-year-old Seaman Apprentice Jacob L. Brown, a religious program specialist with Group Chaplain, 1st Marine Logistics Group.
When he learned that he could pursue it while serving his country, he jumped at the chance.
He knew he could continue his passion for religion, but what he didn’t expect was the collateral duties.
Religious program specialists are sailors who provide administrative and logistical assistance to chaplains, but when their chaplain's life is in danger, their responsibility transforms form clerk to bodyguard.
“There are two parts to an RP, the combat side and garrison side,” said Brown, a native of Anderson, Ind. “We are the eyes and the ears of the chaplain around the battalion. We meet the Marines, get a feel for the battalion and work with the chaplain in order to minister to the Marines and sailors. The other side is protecting the life of your chaplain while deployed.”
The Geneva Conventions, which set the recognized international standards for treatment and protection of victims of war, specifies that chaplains are noncombatants.
Although it is not stated whether chaplains may bear arms, chaplains in the U.S. military do not. As a result, RPs are required to protect their chaplains.
In order to effectively do their jobs, RPs endure several weeks of training needed to save lives and work with Marines as part of Chaplain RP Expeditionary Skills Training.
"When I went through my CREST, it was like a mini Marine boot camp," said Brown. "We really need to know how to use the weapon, be alert and know what to do if we ever get in a situation where we need to protect the chaplain.”
Throughout the course, sailors completed training in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, a Humvee driver’s course, various weapons familiarization classes and several scenario based exercises. Each RP also has to maintain the annual qualifications Marines do.
“Knowing you are bearing arms for a naval officer always makes you want to learn everything you can to be that much better,” he added. “It’s not only that you are protecting a naval officer but you are protecting a husband, a father, a brother, so if anything were to happen to him a lot of people would be effected by that. It’s a large thing to bear.”
Although Brown has not deployed yet, he is fully prepared to take on the challenge.
“If I deployed I would know I’d have a duty to fulfill and I know that I’d have to get myself and my chaplain home safe no matter what,” he added.
But, protecting an unarmed chaplain is just part of the service they provide to their command.
For Marines and sailors who are having trouble adjusting to deployment life or just need an outlet for stress, RPs can provide helpful information and schedule time for service members to speak with their chaplain.
“My job is to make sure the chaplain can do his job as best as possible,” added Brown. “Whatever I can do to integrate myself with the unit and help them out, I’ll do it. I am there for these Marines and want to make sure they know it.”
Whether they are lending an ear to Marines and sailors or guarding their chaplain's life, RPs, provide a service that helps ensure Marines and sailors have the emotional and spiritual support they deserve.
“RPs shouldn’t get scared to go into this career because this is a great job to be a part of,” said Brown. “You can learn so much from it because it’s a very unique job. And to be able to get down and dirty with the Marines is a once in a lifetime experience. Not too many people who join the Navy get to experience the Marines like this. I am happy I can provide them a service.”