CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan -- Being a religious program specialist in the Navy is an important role filled with many responsibilities—from assisting the chaplains with their daily duties to coordinating different religious services. They also function as bodyguards for chaplains, who are noncombatants.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marlon Best, a 22-year-old native of Cleveland, originally joined the Navy to be a flight crewman, but soon found a different job—religious program specialist.
“I really had my heart set on being a part of a flight crew,” Best said. “But sometimes things happen for the better, and getting the rate of RP was one of those things.”
After receiving orders to a Marine unit, Best attended a course at Field Medical Training Battalion on Camp Lejeune, N.C., to learn the necessary skills and competencies to serve with the Marine Corps.
“Combat Religious Expeditionary Skills Training taught me a lot about Marines and living in the field, but (the School of Infantry) really prepared me the most to bodyguard the chaplain,” Best said.
Now Best is serving in Afghanistan on his first deployment with the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, and said his job is much more than just guarding the chaplain.
“I assist the chaplain with multiple things, the biggest being worship services and Bible studies,” said Best. “I also handle and distribute care packages and materials throughout the battalion, whether it’s here on Camp Dwyer, Camp Leatherneck or (Forward Operating Base) Geronimo.”
Best said the job can also be spiritually demanding.
“I have to cater to the needs of people of all religions,” Best said. “It doesn’t matter to me if they’re Catholic, Quakers or Presbyterians. Everyone’s equally important, and I do what I can to best facilitate.”
With his mild temperament and engaging personality, Best has proven to be an asset to the religious ministry team.
“What we have in Best is an amazing team member,” said Navy Lt. Richard Bristol, the battalion chaplain with 2nd Bn., 8th Marines. “He’s the one that makes sure we have all the beans, (bandages) and bullets (for the religious team).”
“He’s also better prepared by the Navy and the command than most RPs,” Bristol explained. “He is the first one in our division—the first one I’ve heard of in an extremely long time to go through SOI.”
Becoming a religious program specialist allowed Best many opportunities not normally afforded to many Marines and sailors, such as being the first RP to go to SOI since 1998 and learning to speak Pashto and Dahri.
“Honestly, RP is probably the best rate—not in the Navy or Marine Corps—in the entire (Department of Defense),” said Best. “I enjoy myself. I love helping Marines and other service members, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.”