navy religious program specialist - navy rp

Religious Program Specialist (RP): 2023 Career Details

Navy Religious Program Specialists (RP) primarily assist Navy Chaplains in the performance of the chaplain’s duties. They also support the Chaplains in developing and implementing programs that help to meet the needs of Sailors and Marines.  

RPs also serve as Navy Chaplain’s armed bodyguards.

2019 marked a rather special year for US Navy sailors who serve as Religious Program Specialists (RP).

Related Article: Army Chaplain Assistant (MOS 56M): Career Details

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History of Religious Program Specialists

The rating turned forty that year. The journey of the RP rating (like the journey of most 40-year-olds) was full of twists and turns.

During World War II, the Navy adopted the Specialist “W” (Welfare) rating to assist Navy Chaplains during the war, addressing the unique needs of the chaplaincy. 

At that time, these duties included playing piano and organ during worship services, acting as musical directors, and performing clerical duties.

Religious Program Specialists assigned in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area gather to celebrate the 40th birthday of the RP rating. (Source: US Navy / PO1 Myers)

Just like today’s RPs, the WWII Specialists “Ws” did not serve as religious leaders during the war. However, they did serve anywhere under any conditions, including on the battlefield.

In 1942, W. Everett Hendricks was the first sailor to enlist in the Navy as a “W” Specialist. He served at the Naval Training Station (NTC) at Great Lakes, Illinois, and was a talented choir director and musician who contributed significantly to the celebrated Great Lakes Bluejacket Choir.

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Religious Program Specialists Post WWII

The Navy discontinued the Specialist “W” rating after the war in 1945.

However, having realized the contribution that “W” Specialists provided during the conflict, the Navy saw the value in providing Navy Chaplains with assistants. 

Initially, the Navy used qualified sailors from the Yeoman (YN) and Personnelman (PN) ratings to provide this support.

Finally, in 1979, the Navy officially established the Religious Program Specialist rating.

There were several conditions that these pioneers had to meet. The most important and taxing of these was the willingness to serve as a combatant with the US Marine Corps.

As Navy Chaplains are non-combatants, however, they require protection during times of conflict. This is why RPs receive combat training from the USMC in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to this very day.

Navy RPs in the 21st Century

In the early 2000s, the Navy considered merging RPs back into the YN rate, along with Legalman (LN) and Cryptologic Technician Administration (CTA,) in their reduction-in-force (RIF) efforts.

However, they abandoned the notion rather quickly when they realized the importance of the roles RPs served, particularly with the Marine Corps.

Navy RPs do not require ordination, do not act as religious leaders, nor do they provide pastoral or religious counseling to Marines, Sailors, or their families.

Adherence to religion is not a requirement to be an RP, with some agnostic and atheist members serving as Religious Program Specialists.

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RP2 Todd Kregel, LPO for the command chapel aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. South Carolina was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for intervening and preventing a suicidal Marine from taking his own life, and possibly the life of his spouse, with a personal pistol. (Source: US Marine Corps / Cpl. Benjamin McDonald)

Requirements and Qualifications

To serve as a Navy Religious Program Specialist (RP) in the United States Navy, you must meet certain requirements:

  • Must be a US citizen.
  • Must be between the ages of 18 and 41.
  • Must have a high school diploma or its equivalent.
  • Those with a GED equivalent must have successfully completed the 10th grade of high school
  • Must be eligible for a security clearance.
  • No NJP or civil convictions in the past two years.
  • No moral turpitude charges (ever).
  • No speech impediments.
  • Ability to write effectively.
  • Interview and recommendation of Navy Chaplain/RP Screening committee comprising at least one Chaplain of the rank of LCDR or above and one RP with the rank of E6 or above.
  • Must possess a valid driver’s license.
  • Must be able to type 30 WPM.
  • May not be an ordained religious leader (i.e. rabbis, ministers, imams, etc.)

You must have an Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) score of VE (Verbal) + MK (Mathematics Knowledge) = 105. Alternatively, an ASVAB score of VE+MK+Coding Speed (CS) >=157 will also qualify you.

The Religious Program (RP) Screening Form is available online from the Navy Personnel Command Religious Program Specialist (RP) Overview page.

Navy Lt. Carl P. Rhoads, battalion chaplain of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and RP2 Bradley C. Smith carry a bench into a new chapel tent. (Source: U.S. Marine Corps / Sgt. Tuthill)

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Training and Career Path

RPs, like all other Navy enlisted personnel, must successfully complete 10 weeks of  Navy Recruit Training, at the Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes (RTC Great Lakes).

Afterward, hopeful RPs attend A School at the Naval Chaplaincy School & Center at Fort Jackson, SC for 8 weeks. There, they learn the basic skills they need to perform in their rating.

From there, it’s five more weeks in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina where the Religious Program Specialist learns basic Marine combat skills in Marine Combat Training “C” School.

What’s Life Like for a Religious Program Specialist (RP)?

Navy Chaplains rely on RPs to assist them in developing and administering programs to meet the religious and spiritual needs of Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine personnel and their families.

In the early stages of their careers, they primarily provide clerical support for Chaplains. RPs maintain records and religious documents for a wide range of denominations and faith groups.

Religious Program Specialists assist in preparing materials and presentations for religious programs and ensure that all represented faiths in their duty section have the materials and services they require from the Chaplain’s organization. 

RPs maintain libraries and perform bookkeeping for religious offerings. They also maintain, clean, and set up ceremonial spaces for religious activities. They also publicize the Chaplain’s programs and services. 

Later in their careers, RPs may find themselves advising leadership on sensitive religious or cultural issues. They are responsible for the ability of their fellow Sailors and Marines to exercise their religion freely. 

In expeditionary environments, RPs may need to provide protection for Navy Chaplains and RMTs.

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navy religious program specialist - navy rp
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Rick West congratulates Religious Program Specialist 1st Class Jennifer L. Woldeselassie, HQ Marine Forces Reserve, with a high-five after pinning on her Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Enlisted Warfare Specialist pin during the Reserve Appreciation Day at the Pentagon Hall of Heroes. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jennifer A. Villalovos/Released)

Day-to-Day Duties of a Religious Program Specialist

The day-to-day duties and activities of an RP include:

  • Identify, develop, and maintain administrative support for religious programs aboard ships, at shore stations, at hospitals, or Marine Corps units.
  • Maintain references and records needed to support the various faith groups and religious denominations.
  • Clean and maintain the Chapel, ceremonial spaces, and Chaplain’s offices
  • Set up and breakdown facilities for religious activities.
  • Promote and disseminate information about available religious programs and services
  • Provide administrative support and schedule and train volunteers
  • Keep account of religious offerings or charitable drive funds.
  • Prepare religious educational materials and audiovisual presentations.
  • Work as a liaison between the community and religious agencies.
  • Operate and maintain libraries aboard ship and at isolated duty stations.
  • Provide physical security for chaplains during field exercises and in combat environments.

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RPs literally work anywhere and everywhere.  As they serve all the US Sea Services, they work not only with the Navy but with the Coast Guard and Marines too.

Religious Program Specialists will deploy to the fleet. work at hospitals, on the battlefield, and at on-shore stations.

Be sure that wherever there is a Navy Chaplain, an RP is nearby.

Navy Religious Program Specialist (RP) Sea/Shore Rotation

The Navy defines the RP rating as a “Balanced Rating” CWAY category. 

What this means is that the Sea/Shore Rotation for Religious Program Specialists (RP) is about 50 percent ashore and 50 percent assigned to the fleet over the course of a 20-year career.

According to the most recent Sea Shore Flow Tour Length chart, most RPs will spend slightly more time assigned to shore stations. 

TourSea TourShore Tour
First Tour36 Months48 Months
Second Tour36 Months48 Months
Third Tour36 Months48 Months
Fourth Tour36 Months36 Months
Fifth Tour36 Months36 Months
Sixth Tour36 Months36 Months
Seventh Tour36 Months36 Months
RP1 Brenda Dwiggins, a chaplain’s assistant assigned to the 1st Marine Logistics Group, Iraqi Women’s Engagement, smiles to an Iraqi boy in Anbar Province, Iraq. (Source: U.S. Marine Corps / Lance Cpl. Garcia)

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How Much Are Religious Program Specialists (RP) Paid?

Like all the other branches of the Armed Services, the Navy bases a sailor’s pay on their rank and length of service.

InsigniaPay Grade RankAbbreviation2023 Minimum Monthly Pay
N/AE-1 +4 monthsSeaman RecruitSR$1,917.60
E-2Seaman ApprenticeSA$2,149.20
e-3 navy seamanE-3SeamanSN$2,259.90
petty officer third classE-4Petty Officer Third ClassPO3$2,503.50
petty officer second classE-5Petty Officer Second ClassPO2$2,730.30
petty officer first classE-6Petty Officer First ClassPO1$2,980.50
chief petty officerE-7Chief Petty OfficerCPO$3,445.80
senior chief petty officerE-8Senior Chief Petty OfficerSCPO$4,957.20
master chief petty officerE-9Master Chief Petty OfficerMCPO$6,055.50
command master chief petty officerE-9Command Master Chief Petty OfficerCMDCM$6,055.50
master chief petty officer of the navyE-9Master Chief Petty Officer Of The NavyMCPON$6,055.50

RPs may also receive other forms of compensation including Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), sea pay, etc.. Pay and benefits depend on whether they’re active duty or Navy Reserve.

Job Reviews

Reviews on the career website by former and current RPs are many and positive albeit difficult.

One reviewing RP who served four combat deployments with the Marines in Iraq called it, “Rewarding.  One of the hardest jobs that I have done.”

The Department of the Navy’s Credentialing Opportunities Online (COOL) website estimates there are about 700 sailors serving as Religious Program Specialists in today’s Navy.

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Civilian Career Opportunities

Religious Program Specialists retiring or departing the Navy suffer from no shortage of civilian career opportunities after their service to our county

The Navy COOL Summary For Religious Program Specialists (RP) lists several pages of possible civilian job opportunities post-Navy.  A few of these include:

  • Administrative Services Managers
  • Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
  • Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks
  • Community Health Workers
  • Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary
  • Directors, Religious Activities and Education
  • First-Line Supervisors of Administrative Support Workers
  • Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
  • Receptionists and Information Clerks
  • Social and Community Service Managers
  • Social and Human Service Assistants
  • Training and Development Specialists

Some of these careers may require a 4-year or advanced degree. So, RPs should take full advantage of the educational opportunities offered during their naval service.

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RP2 Marlon Best, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, talks with Navy Lt. Richard Bristol, the battalion chaplain. (Source: U.S. Marine Corps / Lance Cpl. Mel Johnson)

The United States Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) also allows RPs to complete several of their civilian apprenticeship requirements while on active duty.

Navy RPs can obtain several national certifications and state licenses that will make their civilian job search much easier. 


Young people of high moral character, tolerant of others’ religious views,and undaunted by the prospect of duty in combat situations may find being an RP the right career move.

However, they need to understand that RP duties are often performed in the evenings, on the weekends, and on holidays. 

A genuine interest in people and a compassionate, empathetic disposition are common traits in Navy RPs.

What could be better than not only serving your country, seeing the world, and helping your fellow sailors, Marines, and their families?


Navy COOL Religious Program Specialist (RP) Rating Card

Find A Navy Recruiter

Official Navy Religious Program Specialist (RP) Careers Page

Navy Personnel Command Religious Program Specialist (RP) Overview

U.S. Navy COOL Summary For Religious Program Specialist (RP)

Navy Religious Program Specialist (RP) Reviews –

U.S. Navy RP Training Returns to its Original Home

Travis R.
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