PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth's (NMCP) religious program specialists (RPs) celebrated the 40th birthday of the RP rating, Jan. 15.
The RPs, along with command leadership, staff chaplains and fleet RPs and chaplains celebrated the past, present and future of the rating during a cake-cutting ceremony.
"Religious program specialists assist Navy chaplains," said Religious Program Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Sherfey, staff RP. "But what exactly does that mean? Many Sailors have no idea who we are or what we do. Polish brass, dust bibles, yes and so much more. As religious protectors, RPs provide religious ministry support, administrative expertise, logistical planning and, of course, personal security to chaplains and worshipers in combat environments. RPs serve anywhere religious ministries support is needed: here at the hospital; haze gray and underway on warships; in the field with Marines, Seabees, EOD, SWCC or SEALs; or in chapels around the globe."
Religious Program Specialist 1st Class Rice Croft talked about the history of the rating, dating back to 1878. He described how the rating was proposed to the Department of the Navy, the first religious program specialists and the history of the rating in the Marine Corps.
"From 1942 to 1945, the Navy adopted the specialist w rating," Croft said. "The w stands for welfare. This was to address the specific needs of chaplains serving in World War II. Specialist w’s were required to perform clerical duties, to play the piano and organ in worship services, and they also were not expected to serve as religious leaders."
Religious Program Specialist 2nd Class Kristina Guajardo explained how the rating was established, initially as a personnelman rating, then as the yeoman rating, before becoming a permanent rating.
"In April 1948, the Navy established the personnelman rating," Guajardo said. "Including in the job classification was a chaplain's assistant. Finally, 101 years later, the quest to establish a permanent chaplain's assistant rating was fulfilled. January 15, 1979, the RP rating was born."
Chief Religious Program Specialist Alan Brandt talked about where the rating stood in the early 2000s, then talked about Religious Program Specialist 1st Class Robert Page, who was awarded the Bronze Star with a combat "V" for valor for his actions in Iraq.
"Between 2002 and 2004, a manpower proposal was put together that would merge the RP rate, along with the CTAs and LNs, back into the yeoman rate," Brandt said. “The Navy determined that we have less than 50 percent commonality with any other rate, far from the 80 percent required for a merger. It doesn't look like we're going anywhere anytime soon."
Command Master Chief Beth Nilson, NMCP's command master chief, talked to the RPs about her experience with their role alongside corpsmen in combat, and expressed her appreciation for them.
"The RPs are always primarily battle buddies with the corpsmen, right?" Nilson asked. "Especially when you're with the Marines, you don't really ever see the corpsmen without the RPs, and unfortunately for the RPs they are using getting called 'doc.' I think that you can't underestimate the amount of comfort that these young men and women have delivered during those times of combat, when they have been needed, whether on the field of combat or often times later on in the hospital at the bedside of the wounded.
We sometimes underestimate the comfort that they gave in that capacity that the chaplains give and maybe even the doctors, nurses and corpsmen give, that oftentimes you in your capacity also give that is very vital to the recovery aspect, too. Thank you. That's part of your history that we are celebrating here today, so thank you for that," Nilson added.
As the U.S. Navy's oldest, continuously-operating hospital since 1830, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth proudly serves past and present military members and their families. The nationally-acclaimed, state-of-the-art medical center, along with the area's 10 branch and TRICARE Prime Clinics in the Hampton Roads area. The medical center also supports premier research and teaching programs designed to prepare new doctors, nurses and hospital corpsman for future roles in healing and wellness.
For more news from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, visit www.navy.mil/local/NMCP/.