USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea - Religious program specialists (RPs) aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) works to ensure the freedom to practice religion.
Religious Programs Specialist (RP) 3rd Class David Lee said that part of his responsibilities are getting the chapel ready for services, running the library and often just being there when a Sailor needs to talk to someone.
"One of my favorite things about my job is that I actually get to help out my shipmates," said Lee. "When I'm in the office and somebody comes knocking and they just want to talk to somebody, it's a great feeling just being able to be there to listen to them."
The 24-year-old, San Bernardino, Calif. native said he joined the Navy to travel, to further his education and to decide what direction he wants his career to take. He said he chose to become an RP so that he could study religion and different cultures.
"I enjoy doing community relations projects," said Lee. "When we go to some ports, we'll go to orphanages or elementary schools and help out kids. That's always really awesome, and it's a big part of our job."
Bonhomme Richard offers a variety of services including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic as well as other services to help meet the religious needs of the Sailors who live and work on the ship.
"A lot of people practice religions at home and, when they come to the ship, it's completely different," Lee said. "Just to give them a little bit of time so that they almost feel like they're back home, that's why our job is important."
In 1942, the rate welfare specialist was established to assist Navy chaplains and was intended to last through World War II. Originally, the chaplain's assistants were those who could play an organ or piano and direct a choir. In 1979, the RP rate was officially established.
Today, RPs and chaplains serve together to ensure that service members are able to freely practice religion. RPs working in expeditionary environments are also combatants who provide personal protection for chaplains.
The Navy values the differing ideas, experiences and backgrounds that Sailors bring to the service and this diversity plays an important role in helping the Navy fulfill a variety of missions.
Bonhomme Richard, commanded by Capt. Daniel Dusek, is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed amphibious ready group and is currently operating in the 7th Fleet Area of Operation.