MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Acting in support of a chaplain, a religious programs specialist assists Marines and sailors with finding the right support, counseling and religious help they may require.
Acting in support of a chaplain, a religious programs specialist assists Marines and sailors with finding the right support, counseling and religious help they may require.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Sarah Reza is one of the few sailors with these duties.
Reza is currently assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. She deployed with the MEU to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleets areas of responsibility in 2013 and assisted in conducting religious services for Marines aboard the USS Kearsarge, visits to foreign places of worship, and various exercises in other countries. She enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2006.
“I just decided to join one day,” said Reza. “I wanted a change in my life.”
Reza joined when she was 29. She previously attended the University of Connecticut for two years, worked for her dad, was a manager at different food establishments, and a comedy club where she helped assist a friend with his stand-up performances.
“I really enjoy interacting with people and being social, so I signed up to be a religious programs specialist,” said Reza.
In garrison a religious programs specialist provides administrative support to a chaplain. He or she will switch to a bodyguard role during deployment to provide protection to a chaplain since chaplains are non-combatants and unable to carry weaponry under any circumstance.
“I really enjoy what I do,” said Reza. “Being around Marines and sailors and the camaraderie are the best parts.”
Lt. Cmdr. Wayne Hall, the 26th MEU chaplain, works directly with Reza.
“She has a magnetic personality,” said Hall. “The unit knows who she is and she relates well with them because she’s outgoing.”
Reza is temporarily assigned to the 26th MEU. Despite not being part of the permanent personnel in the MEU, she was able to connect with the unit by forming bonds before and during her time on deployment with the MEU.
“She’s able to talk to people and direct them to me for assistance if necessary,” said Hall.
Marines and sailors can see a chaplain for counseling, religious support and a number of other forms of assistance. Reza helps point her fellow Marines and sailors in the chaplain’s direction when there is a need or desire for assistance in a particular situation.
“She is the foundation of some of my connections with Marines,” said Hall. “She’s a good sailor and a great person to have around.”
Reza is a dedicated runner. She spends much of her free time running and staying in shape.
“She’s always running,” said Hall. “It’s nice to have someone to motivate the Marines around her to keep up.”
Reza plans to move after her current enlistment is completed and pursue opportunities in a different part of the world.
“I plan to move to the Caribbean,” said Reza. “I want to be somewhere warm, sunny, and full of beaches and palm trees.”
She said she plans to relax, enjoy her time there, and is looking into houses in the Caribbean.
She has seen many different places, having deployed with the MEU. She was exposed to a number of different religious practices of people in other countries and said she learned to be open minded about the practices of others. She now intends to settle down somewhere enjoyable, while taking her Navy experiences with her.
“The thing I’ll miss most is the camaraderie in the military and the friendships,” said Reza. “On deployment, you live together, work together, and you form lasting relationships.”
Reza attended courses on Marine Corps instruction and the Navy career counselor course in addition to her occupational schooling.
“The most important thing the Navy taught me is pride – or self-worth,” said Reza. “I’ve been to schools, training, and I’ve learned a lot while being enlisted.”