MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
When Petty Officer 2nd Class Norman Otters returned to the U.S. from his nine-month deployment to Djibouti, Africa, he knew he wanted to work with Marines. Having worked with other military branches of service during his deployment, the religious program specialist now wanted to learn about the “green side” of Navy life – a term used by Navy personnel who work in the Fleet Marine Force.
Now stationed aboard Camp Johnson, Otters, along with other RPs, have immersed themselves in the Marine Corps way of life. They are currently in their third week of the Chaplain and Religious Program Specialist Expeditionary Skills Training course, taught aboard the base.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Eddie Walker, the senior enlisted adviser for CREST, said the eight-week course hones the sailors’ combat skills.
“CREST trains RPs to function and operate in the expeditionary environment,” said Walker. “RPs need to know and understand their positions and their jobs to protect the well-being of the chaplain and other Marines and sailors in the unit.”
Marines, Navy medical personnel, chaplains and senior RP leaders teach a variety of topics such as weapons training, Marine Corps Martial Arts Program techniques, field exercises, administrative duties, combat lifesaver course knowledge and humvee training. The sailors are constantly evaluated and take a number of exams, all of which they must pass with an 80 percent minimum.
The RPs have most recently learned about operational exercises such as patrolling, land navigation and the five-paragraph order operations in a classroom setting. Walker said the class will soon go to the field so they can put these theories into practice and get some hands-on experience.
Navy Cmdr. Edward J. Nash, the officer in charge of CREST, said his staff is very knowledgeable and experienced, which in turn creates well-trained RPs to make a smooth transition into the Marine Corps.
Otters said the course challenges the sailors’ mental and physical abilities, but said the intense training better prepares them to fight the War on Terror.
“It’s a good thing for us to do what the Marines are doing because we may have to do the same thing in combat,” said Otters, who is scheduled to attach to 2nd Marine Division after graduating from CREST. “We are trying to emulate the trials and challenges of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom here … so we don’t break in Afghanistan.”
Navy Capt. Gregory Todd, the chaplain for 2nd Marine Logistics Group and a former CREST OIC, said CREST helps the RPs build a strong, trusting relationship with their chaplains, Marines and fellow sailors.
“Marines and sailors need chaplain support in the midst of a chaotic and stressful combat environment,” said Todd. “But to do that effectively, we need RPs who can combine combat skills with administrative support to help us meet that mission. CREST is essential to building that chaplain/RP team.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Boykin, a religious program specialist with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, returned from Afghanistan in July 2010. Boykin, who went through the CREST course in 2008, said he used the weapons familiarization and field training he learned in CREST to better protect his chaplain in Afghanistan.
“Learning things like proper (standard operating procedures) for conduct in the field, such as immediate action drills and high-risk personnel stuff, is very valuable, and we used a lot of these SOPs in Afghanistan,” said Boykin. “I think CREST gives you a good foundation.”
Boykin and his chaplain, Navy Lt. Terry Bewley, battalion chaplain for 1st Bn., 6th Marines, have been working together for more than one year. Bewley said Boykin’s training and sharp skills were evident when he immediately reacted by providing security during an improvised explosive device attack while medical personnel evacuated causalities.
“My RP had my complete trust,” said Bewley. “We had been on patrols, and his number one priority was my safety, and he did that very well. We had a good relationship.”