Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James Vanzella, the religious program specialist for Regimental Combat Team 6, at the Fighting Sixth Chapel aboard Marine Corps Camp Delaram II, Afghanistan
on January 4, 2012. Photo by USMC Cpl. Ed Galo
DELARAM, Afghanistan (1/6/2012) - The job of a religious program
specialist in the Navy is an important role filled with many
responsibilities. They must protect chaplains who are noncombatants,
they assist the chaplains with their daily duties and they
coordinate different religious services.
Petty Officer 2nd
Class James Vanzella, native of Lodi, N.J., had no idea just exactly
what he was about to do when he first joined the Navy eight years
ago. Currently serving in Afghanistan with the Marines of Regimental
Combat Team 6, he said the biggest reason he joined was because
almost every male in his family served in a branch of the military.
“I came into the Navy as an undesignated seaman at first,” said
Vanzella, about his time stationed aboard the USS Detroit. “I loved
it. I got to do a little bit of everything at first. I loved being
stationed on a ship. I miss it sometimes.”
After becoming an
RP, Vanzella spent the next four years at U.S. Naval Support, Gaeta,
Italy. He then cut his shore duty two years early at Naval Air
Station Lakehurst, N.J. to deploy with the Marines of RCT-6.
“When I was sitting on shore duty, I was going home every day, so I
felt like I needed to work for something bigger than myself,” said
Vanzella. “I really enjoy working with Marines. I love their pride.
You can see they definitely walk a little taller than most
After receiving his orders to a Marine unit, Vanzella had
to attend a course at Field Medical Training Battalion in
Camp Lejeune, N.C. in order to train on the skills,
knowledge and abilities to serve with the Marine Corps.
“When I went through field med I learned a lot about
Marines and how to live in the field,” he added. “The
knowledge I gained there will help me if things get rough
and I have to become a bodyguard for the chaplain.”
The job of an RP is more than just
protecting the chaplain. It can also be spiritually
demanding for the sailor.
“I have to be sensitive to
all religions,” he said. “I love everyone – no matter if
you're Jewish, Baptist or a Jedi – but I have to make sure
I'm catering to everyone's needs.”
With his ‘people
personality,' Vanzella has impressed his chaplain as a great
“He's my right-hand man,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mark
Tews, the chaplain for RCT-6. “He's my bodyguard, he's my
admin assistant and he's well versed with many religious
programs and how they're supposed to run.
great guy and I'm very impressed,” continued Tews, a native
of Alvin, Texas. “After 15 years in the service, this is the
first time I need a bodyguard. He's definitely got the
skills needed. I can trust him and feel safe and confident
with him next to me.”
Vanzella comes from a big,
Italian family in New Jersey and jokingly calls himself “a
classy Italian” when around his peers.
close to my family and had a great childhood growing up,”
Vanzella added. “One of my best memories growing up is
playing round robin or baseball at Hilltop (an elementary
school in his hometown). My summers were just like that
movie the Sandlot. There was nothing more fun than running
around getting into trouble with my friends when I was
“Right now I'm just enjoying serving my
country, making my family proud and earning the Vanzella
By USMC Cpl. Ed Galo
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