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    From Mohawk to Navy Crows: The Journey to Becoming an RP

    For more than 13 years, Religious Program Specialist (RP) First Class Ryan Babbs, a leading RP for the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25), has dedicated his life to the United States Navy. Upon first seeing Babbs, standing at 6’2” and weighing in at around 260 pounds, tattoos covering his arms, with a deep, booming voice, the thought of this individual being an RP can seem strange. However, when speaking with him, this once intimidating mountain is in fact more of a pleasant hulk.

    “I’ve been compared to Ferdinand the Bull,” said Babbs. “And it’s actually sort of fitting.”

    “He’s a gentle giant – a big teddy bear,” chuckled Somerset’s Chaplain, Lt. Aaron Walling. “It certainly catches people’s attention and is a conversation starter. I find, though, Sailors recognize he can relate to them.”

    When observing RP1 going about his daily routine, it would be easy to assume he has been doing this job for years. But he has only been an RP for about two months, having cross-rated from Fire Controlman (FC).

    In the fall of 2005, a 22-year-old Ryan Babbs, sporting a mohawk, double lip piercings, and gauged ears, was working two jobs in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. One day, Ryan went to visit his sickly grandfather, who had been a Sailor in the Pacific Theater in World War II. After that visit, Babbs decided to make a new start.

    “About a week later, I found myself newly single, with a chance to start over. I spoke to some recruiters and decided on Navy because I grew up on some of his [grandfather’s] war stories.”

    As a self-proclaimed anti-establishment young man, joining the Navy was not something he or anyone else expected.

    “My jobs were enough for me to live in my apartment, drink beer and go to a few punk shows,” Babbs said. “I had no real goals, no real aspirations to really do anything with my life. I kind of realized if I didn’t do something then, I was going to end up like Norm from ‘Cheers,’ that same rock in the same booth, drinking the same beer every day, telling stories about nothing but regret. Ironically, what happened with my grandfather happened at a time when I knew I needed to change, and that’s how I ended up here.”

    “I didn’t tell my parents initially when I enlisted because I had to be sure I did it for myself. I told them afterwards. They were shocked. There were some tears shed and a whole lot of pride. I think that they had finally accepted I had grown up.”

    Babbs went to basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes as part of the Advanced Electronic Computer Field (AECF) program. He spent several months adjusting to the structure of Navy life and several more struggling through the FC “A” school. After completing his Mark 92 Fire Control System “C” school in San Diego and before reporting to USS Robert G. Bradley (FFG 49) in Mayport, Florida, Babbs took leave and went home. Once home, he found himself in an interesting situation.

    “I had reconnected with the girl whom I had split with before joining the Navy through some mutual friends,” Babbs recollected. “We met up when I was back home, and we hit it off stronger than we had ever hit it off before. Fireworks. Very cartoonish, if you will. When I was on my way to Florida, I proposed to her over the phone, and we were engaged after being together again for a week.”

    He was married shortly after, and, before it was time for his first deployment, his first daughter was born. As a new husband and father, the time away was challenging.

    “The deployment was hard, as deployments are,” he said. “It was hard especially because I was missing the early development stages of my daughter, Eden, and being with my wife, Deb.”

    Deployment also introduced him to a life he would one day be a part of.

    “We had a ‘loaner’ chaplain as smaller ships don’t usually have their own assigned chaplain,” Babbs explained. “The chaplain and I got along really well, and I ended up helping him with a bunch of community relations events. I hadn’t given any thought to even doing this sort of thing in the future. It was just something I enjoyed doing.”

    Babbs’ second deployment was even more difficult. Babbs’ wife was pregnant with their second child and there had been complications.

    “Deb was extremely sick when I left for my second deployment,” said Babbs. “She was bed-ridden the entire pregnancy and I was, of course, super worried about her. At the same time, a month before my daughter was due to be born, and three months prior to my reenlistment, I was being told ‘the Navy doesn’t need me anymore.’”

    Perform-to-serve (PTS), was a Navy-wide program looking to downsize the Navy’s personnel, releasing Sailors from the fleet or forcing them to cross-rate. Babbs’ career was in danger.

    Fortunately, Babbs’ chain of command helped him, and his received approval to reenlist. But his wife was still struggling through a difficult pregnancy.

    “My second daughter, Eva, was still-born,” Babbs paused, taking in a deep breath. “We were fortunate, as the doctors were able to revive her. Having been away, my wife in the condition she was in, enduring PTS, my daughter thankfully being alive, it was a lot for me to deal with. I had a great support network with me on that ship, and if it wasn’t for them at certain times, I don’t know where I would be right now.”

    After all that had happened, something changed in Babbs when he returned home from his second deployment.

    “Getting back home, I knew right away I was a family man,” Babbs smiled. “Seeing all my girls, I didn’t care anymore about wanting to go out and drink with my friends. I wanted to be home with them. I was in the Navy for them now.”

    Babbs soon reported to his next duty station - UIS ARMY REGIONAL CONFINEMENT FACILITY in Mannheim, Germany. There he found a new interest in building relationships in the work environment, a change that mirrored his growing investment in his personal relationships.

    “Working with people is what made me happy,” Babbs grinned. “It’s just what I was good at. The prisoners liked what I was doing. The staff liked what I was doing.”

    Babbs said that, in Germany, he finally found where he belonged – among people. Working in this role also brought him in contact with the base chaplain.

    “While I was in Germany I was able to reconnect with chaplains again, and boy was it a breath of fresh air,” exclaimed Babbs.

    Along with his regular daily duties, Babbs helped the chaplain, getting involved in some of the programs. When one chaplain left and a new one arrived, Babbs assisted with the transition, providing key insight.

    “It was an eye-opening and heartwarming and really a spirit lifting experience for me,” Babbs explained. “I’m not a religious person, but it had an effect on me which I’m forever grateful for. It gave me the first real idea of what working with chaplains is like. I took what they said to heart and have done everything I can to incorporate those traits into my personal and professional life.”

    As his assignment in Germany drew to a close, Babbs’ found himself trying to cross-rate to something else. His Mark 92 qualification had become obsolete as the Navy had done away with frigates. But his attempt to cross-rate was denied, and he was reassigned to the Tomahawk missile system.

    Eventually, Babbs reported to Waterfront Administrative Support Element (WASE) where he became the staff LPO for WASE. While helping troubled, stressed and injured Sailors at WASE, Babbs finally found what he was meant to do.

    “Long before I wanted to cross-rate, I knew my niche in this world was helping people,” Babbs said.

    Since his time on USS Paul Hamilton, Babbs had been helping Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post #5985 as a kitchen manager and line cook for Sunday morning fundraisers. Thanks to an older Marine he encountered, Babbs found a path.

    “One Sunday morning, this grouchy old Marine who wasn’t a regular but I had seen him before,” Babbs chuckled. “He told me, ‘if you’re not an RP, you’re wrong, and need to rethink your career goals.’”

    This encounter opened a door for Babbs a few weeks later.

    “I mentioned my encounter with the Marine to my lead chief,” said Babbs. “She said, ‘oh my god, you’d be a great RP.’ I realized my time at SURFPAC/WASE was exactly what I wanted to do, and RP duties definitely had overlap. I was helping troubled sailors seek assistance, and finding the recourses they needed to succeed. I did some research, and the ball was rolling.”

    Babbs completed his RP package and submitted it. All Babbs could do now was play the waiting game.

    “I was on leave a few weeks prior to my 13-year Navy anniversary,” said Babbs, “when I received an early morning text message from my chief saying, ‘Good morning, is this RP1 Babbs?’ I looked at it, put my phone back down and closed my eyes. A second later I was experiencing what I would call a Hollywood double-take and called my chief. The office had received the official message stating that I had been accepted into the RP rating. I was ecstatic.”

    The change has brought new meaning to Babbs and what it is he can now do for all the Sailors he serves. In October of 2018, Babbs reported to USS Somerset.

    “I’m excited for work every day because I know each day there is a chance I can make a difference,” Babbs said. “I can see the change, and if it can bring a smile to someone’s face, then that’s a win in my book. It makes me want to do even more.”

    Chaplain Walling says the feeling is mutual.

    “Despite RP1 being new to the rating, right away he let me know through his persona, his charisma, and his enthusiasm, it was very evident he is eager to learn the job and eager to jump in and is very much a people person,” said Walling. “Given his demeanor, and helping with other Sailors, putting them first before he was ever an RP, shows me he and the rating were a perfect match.”

    Walling also says that Babbs’ brings something unique to the team.

    “As a chaplain, I may represent one type of faith group and provide those services, but the main mission is facilitating the opportunity for all the Sailors,” said Walling. “I think when an RP shows a broad background, like RP1 Babbs does, in my opinion it actually encourages the crew and shows them this religious ministries team is interested in all of us. When they can see diversity in the religious ministries team, they understand diversity will be honored and respected.”

    Although the change in jobs happened only 14 weeks ago, Babbs says he can already see a change in himself and those closest to him.

    “My family couldn’t be happier,” Babbs said. “Life has been just great, and I am excited for the journey that lies ahead of me. Whether that’s putting on anchors or not, right now it is all about making a difference each and every day. And right now, I know that’s what I’m doing.”



    Date Taken: 12.28.2018
    Date Posted: 12.31.2018 00:15
    Story ID: 305716
    Location: PACIFIC OCEAN

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    From Mohawk to Navy Crows: The Journey to Becoming an RP