navy religious program specialist - navy rp

Religious Program Specialist (RP): Career Details

Navy Religious Program Specialists (RP) primarily assist Navy Chaplains in the performance of the chaplain’s duties, but also support the Chaplains in developing and supporting programs designated to help meet the needs of US Marines, Sailors, 

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 their special needs.  These duties included playing piano and organ during worship services, act as musical directors, and perform 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)

Although, just like today’s RPs, the WWII Specialists “W”s did not serve as religious leaders during the war, though served anywhere under any conditions, including the battlefield.

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

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

However, having realized the contribution that Special “W”s provided during the conflict, the Navy saw the value in providing Navy Chaplain’s with an assistant.  Realizing this, 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, which is why RPs receive combat training from the USMC in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to this very day.

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, but 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.

Related Article: Air Force Chaplain: Career Details

RP2 Todd Kregel, LPO for the command chapel aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. South Carolina 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 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 39.
  • Must have a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • 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.
  • Ordained religious leaders (i.e. rabbis, ministers, imams, etc… ) cannot enlist.
  • Must have an Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) score of VE (Verbal) + MK (Mathematics Knowledge) = 105.

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 eight weeks of  Navy Recruit Training, at the Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes (RTC Great Lakes).

At the Meridian, Mississippi Naval Aviation Station (NAS), RPs attend the five week long Religious Program Specialist (RP) Class A School where they learn the basic skills required of their rating.

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

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

Navy Chaplains rely on Religious Program Specialists to assist them in developing programs to meet the needs of Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine personnel and their families.

They also are responsible for the facilitation of the free exercise of religion for all Sea Service Personnel, serve as part of the Religious Ministry Team (RMT), and advise leadership on ethical decision-making, cross-cultural awareness, and conflict resolution.

In expeditionary environments, RPs provide force 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)

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

  • Perform accounting and bookkeeping functions as they relate to Religious Offerings Fund transactions.
  • Publicize the command’s religious activities.
  • Serve as custodians, rigging and unrigging for religious activities.
  • Train Command Religious Program volunteers on logistics and instruction methods.
  • Help prepare religious and devotional education materials and audiovisual displays.
  • Maintain liaison with community and religious agencies.
  • Maintain ecclesiastical documents, references, and records of various faith groups.
  • Stock and maintain field mount-out boxes.
  • Support chaplains of all faiths in the religious activities of the command;
  • Operate and maintain libraries aboard ship and at isolated duty stations.
  • Provide physical security for chaplains during field exercises and in combat environments.
  • Determine, develop, maintain, and manage the administrative and logistical support requirements of religious programs aboard ships, shore stations, hospitals, Marine Corps units, and other sea service commands
  • Supervise Chaplain’s Office personnel.
  • Perform administrative, clerical, and secretarial duties.

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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 the Coast Guard, too.  Religious Program Specialists deploy to the fleet. hospitals, the battlefield, and ashore.

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.

TourSea TourShore Tour
First Tour36 Months (3 Years)36 Months (3 Years)
Second Tour36 Months (3 Years)36 Months (3 Years)
Third Tour36 Months (3 Years)36 Months (3 Years)
Fourth Tour36 Months (3 Years)36 Months (3 Years)
Fifth Tour36 Months (3 Years)36 Months (3 Years)
Sixth Tour36 Months (3 Years)36 Months (3 Years)
Seventh Tour36 Months (3 Years)36 Months (3 Years)
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 RankAbbreviation2021 Minimum Monthly Pay
N/AE-1Seaman RecruitSR$1,785.00
E-2Seaman ApprenticeSA$2,000.70
e-3 navy seamanE-3SeamanSN$2,103.90
petty officer third classE-4Petty Officer Third ClassPO3$2,330.40
petty officer second classE-5Petty Officer Second ClassPO2$2,541.60
petty officer first classE-6Petty Officer First ClassPO1$2,774.40
chief petty officerE-7Chief Petty OfficerCPO$3,207.60
senior chief petty officerE-8Senior Chief Petty OfficerSCPO$4,614.60
master chief petty officerE-9Master Chief Petty OfficerMCPO$5,637.00
command master chief petty officerE-9Command Master Chief Petty OfficerCMDCM$5,637.00
master chief petty officer of the navyE-9Master Chief Petty Officer Of The NavyMCPON$5,637.00

As are all sailors, RPs may be entitled to other forms of compensation including base allowance for housing (BAH), base allowance for subsistence (BAS), sea pay, etc., depending on if they’re active duty or Navy Reserve.

While currently manned at 101 percent, the Navy (COOL) website maintains that self-motivated and qualified people have a good opportunity for entry into the RP rating. 

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 deployment 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 only about 400 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 Specialist (RP) lists close to three pages of possible civilian job opportunities post-Navy.  A few of these include:

  • Office Clerks
  • Receptionists
  • File Clerks
  • Mental Health Counselors
  • Marriage and Family Therapists
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
  • Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners
  • Social and Community Service Managers
  • Religious Activities Directors
  • Clergy
  • Counseling Psychologists
  • Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors
  • Community Health Workers
  • Social and Human Service Assistants

Like all sailors, RPs should take full advantage of the on-the-job (OJT), training opportunities, and educational opportunities offered and afforded them 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.

Several national certifications and state licenses are obtainable by RPs.


Young people are of high moral character, tolerant of other’s religions, undaunted by the prospect of duty in combat situations, and realize that RP duties are often performed in the evenings, on the weekend, and on holidays should give the RP rating consideration if they are interested in serving in the US Navy.  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 Sailor, Marine, and their families?


Find A Navy Recruiter

Official Navy Religious Program Specialist (RP) Careers Page

Navy Personnel Command Religious Program Specialist (RP) Overview

Navy COOL Summary For Religious Program Specialist (RP)

Navy COOL Religious Program Specialist (RP) Rating Card

Navy Religious Program Specialist (RP) Reviews –

Navy RP Training Returns to its Original Home

Travis R.
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