WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Times have changed! Today, women are leading out front in every area of American society, including the sea services.
As the Department of the Navy celebrates Women's History Month, we highlight the dynamic leadership of three women serving with the Fleet Marine Force (FMF).
For the first time in Navy history, three female religious programs specialists (RPs) are serving as the senior enlisted leaders for religious ministry teams (RMTs) at the highest level of the Marine Corps: Master Chief Religious Programs Specialist Lissett Araiza, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific; Senior Chief Religious Programs Specialist Shari Chisholm, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command and Senior Chief Religious Programs Specialist LaTanya Billingslea, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve.
"Tough assignments build character and reveal a leader's true virtues," said Master Chief Religious Programs Specialist Eddie Walker, senior enlisted leader to the Navy chief of chaplains and the RP rating. "To lead a RMT successfully, an RP ensures the community they serve know their chaplain and their capabilities."
The RMT normally consists of at least one chaplain and one RP responsible for overseeing the commander's Command Religious Program (CRP).
"The RP rate is the 'Swiss Army Knife" of Navy ratings," said Capt. Steve Shaw, Force Chaplain, Marine Forces Command.
Chaplains and RPs work together to provide divine services for those of the chaplain's tradition and facilitate for those of other faiths. Chaplains provide confidential pastoral care to all service members and their families, and advise the command at all levels on religious, moral, and ethical matters.
"RPs are program managers who oversee logistical and administrative support to the CRP and perform the critical task of 'triage,' regarding the needs of personnel and assist with getting them to the chaplain and other helping agencies," said Shaw.
"RMTs often operate in crisis response mode as human needs arise in an instant. Great RPs anticipate administrative and logistical requirements so the RMT can respond to emergent needs without having routine tasks fall by the wayside. It's important to get ahead of problems."
RMTs go where the unit goes. Whether in garrison, at sea, in the field or deployed in support of combat operations, RMTs are critical to the health and well-being of the units they serve.
"Navy chaplains are non-combatants, and it's the RPs that provide personal security for the chaplain, which is a source of strength in combat," said Araiza. "We may be an administrative rate, but when we deploy our role changes."
A 22-year combat veteran, with three tours to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, Araiza has RMT oversight at the I Marine Expeditionary Force based in California and Arizona, and III MEF based in Japan and Hawaii.
"RMTs in the battlefield give Marines hope," said Chisholm. "RPs are often the link between the service member and the chaplain."
Chisholm reflected on the significance training she had in her first deployment with Marines.
"As a junior RP in 2003, my first assignment with the USMC was in Baghdad, Iraq," she said. "Baghdad was a life-changer. No book or training prepared me for what I saw. However, wherever the Marines needed my chaplain, I was there."
RPs are Sailors first, and are the only rating to serve as combatants alongside Marines.
"My grandfather, John Hatcher, a Pearl Harbor survivor, retired from the Navy in 1959," said Billingslea. "He encouraged me to join the RP rate ... said it was the best job in the Navy."
RP senior enlisted leaders' chief responsibility is to mentor RPs and guide them through the path of career development, and to serve effectively in the Fleet Marine Force.
Araiza, Chisholm, and Billingslea follow in the footprints of women pioneers in the Navy by leading from the front to ensure religious ministry is "where it matters, when it matters, with what matters."
Editor's Note: For the first time in history, the chief of chaplains selected Master Chief Religious Programs Specialist Lissett Araiza, the first female, as senior enlisted advisor to the chief of chaplains of the Navy and senior enlisted leader of the RP rating.
Capt. Steve Shaw contributed to this story.
The Manpower and Reserve Affairs office has more information about recruiting chaplains in the military: http://www.people.mil/Inside-M-RA/Military-Personnel-Policy/How-we-support/AFCB/.
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