By Marine Corps Cpl. Laura Gauna
1st Marine Logistics Group
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Aug. 19, 2013 – Religion has always been important to 19-year-old Navy Seaman Apprentice Jacob L. Brown, a religious program specialist with Group Chaplain, 1st Marine Logistics Group here.
He knew he could continue his passion for religion, but what he didn’t expect were 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 from 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 standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment 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 perform their jobs in danger zones, RPs are required to complete expeditionary skills training.
“It was like a mini Marine boot camp,” Brown recalled. “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.”
During 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 Marine Corps qualifications.
“Knowing you are bearing arms for a naval officer always makes you want to learn everything you can to be that much better,” Brown said. “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 religious program specialists provide to their commands.
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,” Brown said. “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 emotional and spiritual support.
“RPs shouldn’t get scared to go into this career because this is a great job to be a part of,” Brown said. “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.”
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