CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – At age 28, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Armando Arias had a bachelor’s degree in international business and was working as a real estate agent when he decided to make a drastic life change and enlist.
Arias, a religious program specialist with 1st Marine Logistics Group, had family members who served in the Marine Corps, but decided he wanted to choose a different path for himself.
“I go to my grandpa’s house and see Marine pictures everywhere,” said Arias, now 32. “I’m always trying to go against everyone. I had to go against the flow.”
After making the decision to enlist, Arias, a Baja, Calif., native, looked into all the military branches to determine his options. He finally settled on the Navy when he was offered benefits he was looking for.
“The Navy offered me E-3 going into boot camp and automatic E-4 at six months,” he said. “They gave me money, they gave me rank, and they gave me the Marines.”
Even though he did not want to join the Marines, Arias said, he still wanted the chance to work with them. The Navy is entirely responsible for providing medical care to the Marine Corps, which does not have its own medical field. But though corpsmen have the highest number of members working with Marines, Arias wanted something else.
“I didn’t want to be a corpsman; I can’t handle the sight of blood,” he said. “But then the recruiter told me about [the religious program specialty].”
Following training, Arias said, he had great leadership that helped to shape him as a sailor and as a leader. “I was really quiet going through my training commands, but when I hit the fleet, I got discipline,” he said. “That’s when I got really motivated.”
The religious program specialists, referred to as RPs, work with chaplains throughout the Navy and Marines. “My mission is to support the chaplains,” Arias said. “We provide the right ministry to the right people at the right time.”
In addition to assisting with religious services, Arias has another role. Deployed to Afghanistan’s Helmand province for a second combat tour, his job here requires him to provide security for the chaplain.
“The chaplains are noncombatants, so I always have to be with them,” he explained. “They are not supposed to go out on missions without their RP.”
Chaplains do not carry weapons and are not allowed to assault an enemy, regardless of the circumstances, Arias said. “I get to do the bodyguard stuff, the [administrative] stuff, and even if it’s just putting a smile on someone’s face, I’m helping,” he added.
Arias travels with the chaplain on missions to forward operating bases throughout the province. He said being deployed gives him a higher sense of accomplishment in his job. Marines have their own denominations and their own churches, but for any Marine deployed to remote areas, he said, getting a visit from the chaplain is greatly appreciated.
“I actually feel like I’m doing something out here,” Arias said. “You put on your gear, go out to the FOB, and the Marines are excited to see the chaplain and have a service. Back in America, you can’t do that.”
During this deployment, Arias also has had the opportunity to be an instructor for the Corporal’s Course here. “I’m all about [professional military education], so teaching Corporal’s Course was a great experience,” he said.
When sailors attach to Marine units, friendly banter usually ensues between members of the two branches.
“There was a sergeant who always ragged on sailors,” Arias said. “So during the course, I pulled the only corpsman from the class aside and told him to beat the Marines. He ended up getting the ‘Gung Ho’ award for the course. I was really proud.”
Once this tour is complete, Arias will be stationed on the USS New Orleans, working on the Navy side in his occupation. While he has worn the Marine Corps uniform for four years, changing over to the blue uniform and working with sailors will benefit his career, he said.
“I am not excited about taking off this uniform,” he added. “But I’m still going to wear my [Marine Corps Martial Arts Program] belt. It took me a long time to earn my black belt.”
Arias said he also looks forward to going home when his time in Afghanistan is done.
“I miss my family and friends, and I look forward to real American food,” he said. “I want to put my feet on carpet. It’s the little things in life.”