Story by PO3 Jacob L Greenberg on 01/17/2019Religious program specialists (RPs) aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), celebrated their rating's 40th birthday while underway, Jan. 15.
In 1979, Secretary of the Navy Edward Hidalgo established the permanent RP rating in response to the vital role chaplain's assistants played during wartime.
Chief Religious Program Specialist John Dillard, from Montgomery, Alabama, has been assigned to the John C. Stennis for seven months, and said that as an RP, he functions as the chaplains' right-hand-man.
"RPs provide chaplains with physical security in combat situations because chaplains are unarmed on the battlefield," said Dillard. "We are also always stationed with Sailors and Marines to help any way we can in a peer-to-peer capacity and can help boost command morale."
Cmdr. David Dinkins, from Fort Worth, Texas, is the John C. Stennis' command chaplain and has served with RPs in various capacities for approximately 17 years.
"I have been attached to Marine reconnaissance, expeditionary and special operations units," said Dinkins. "I have also been a rating detailer and served with a destroyer squadron, and at every one of those commands, an RP has been by my side."
RPs commonly serve as a chaplain's intermediary with the enlisted community, said Dinkins.
"Aboard ships and in the field, RPs help chaplains gain a better understanding of what enlisted Sailors and Marines are going through," said Dinkins. "The concept of a chaplain's assistant dates back to 1878, when a committee of chaplains recommended that the Navy Department assigned a chaplain assistant to each ship that a chaplain was aboard."
Even though the committee's recommendation was not adopted, it eventually led to the establishment of a Navy specialist rating in 1942.
Qualifications for these ratings included the ability to play the piano and be a competent choir director, but not to function in lieu of clergy members, said Dinkins.
The RP community is one of the smallest in the Navy, consisting of approximately 700 enlisted Sailors. Despite their relatively small numbers, RPs remain dedicated to serving alongside chaplains, Sailors and Marines throughout the world.
The John C. Stennis Strike Group is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points.
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