Support our mission

CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — He used to race dirt motorcycles professionally and is still heavily involved in the motorcycling community on Okinawa.

He is a green belt — soon to be brown — in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

He’s also an expert marksman with the pistol and rifle and qualified to fire 10 other weapons systems.

None of these are skills most people would associate with a religious program specialist in the Navy.

But it does describe Camp Schwab-based 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion’s religious program specialist Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Robart, recently named the Navy’s 2007 Junior Sea RP of the Year.

Before Robart, 36, joined the Navy more than three years ago, he was what he called a “privateer racer.” He raced dirt motorcycles for 12 years with the backing of local sponsorships.

It was a career he enjoyed, but he realized he was getting a little too old for it.

“Too many broken bones,” he said, laughing.

“I had hit a plateau. I wasn’t getting any faster,” he said. “I was getting older, and I wasn’t healing as fast. It’s a young man’s game.”

But how did he get from dirt bikes to religious programs?

“I fell into it actually,” said Robart, who describes himself as a farm boy from Shelton, Neb., a small community of less than 1,500.

He joined the Navy for the educational opportunities under a contract to be an aerographer’s mate — “a cool name for a weatherman,” Robart said.

A mix-up in his contract caused him to be undesignated. But at his first duty station he received on-the-job training to be a yeoman — what the Navy calls its administrative specialists.

At the next testing cycle for advancement, there were restrictions on the field because of over-manning. Robart was told that without the formal school for the rate, he would not be allowed to take the promotion test.

His career counselor told him about a proposal to merge the yeoman and religious program specialist fields, so he could become an RP and still work within his military occupational specialty.

“And I thought, what’s an RP?”

So he met with a chief petty officer who was an RP and some of the chaplains, and they explained the job as an administrative clerk for the chapel, he said.

He decided to make the switch and it’s been a perfect fit, he said. “I am a people person. I like working with people.”

His boss agrees.

“He’s one of the most squared-away RPs I’ve ever had the privilege to work with,” said Lt. Jeff Parks, 3rd Recon’s chaplain.

He brings a lot of maturity and life experience to the job, Parks said.

Robart is modest about the award.

“I just try to do my job, and when I know my job is complete I try to see what else I can do,” he said.

But many servicemembers have no idea what an RP really does, Robart said.

“Most people assume we set the flowers and answer the phones.”

Beside taking care of administrative duties, he also helps coordinate the community relations projects sponsored by the chaplain’s office. On average, he says he sets up about 20 community relations projects a month.

There’s one aspect of Robart’s job where his marksmanship and martial-arts skills could come in handy: protecting his chaplain in combat areas, because chaplains cannot carry firearms.

“He is my arm-bearer in time of war … I carry him with me wherever I go,” Parks said. That is especially important as Recon is gearing up for a deployment to Iraq later this year, he said.

For Robart, working on the “green side” with Marines has been great, he said. To work with the Fleet Marine Force, Robart had to attend the same combat training school in Camp Lejeune, N.C., that corpsmen assigned to Marine units must attend.

“Once I got a taste of it, I loved it,” he said.

Robart has been on Okinawa for about two years and has been assigned to 3rd Recon since June 2006. Being with Recon has allowed him to keep getting the thrills once provided by racing, he said. He has attended the Army jump school and earned his jump wings — one of the few RPs to do so. The list of weapons systems he’s qualified to operate includes the M-203 grenade launcher and the M-240G medium machine gun.

“He is really energetic, athletic and he fits in with the mind-set of the warriors fighting the war” in Iraq, Parks said.

Robart takes on additional duties within the unit, such as weapons coach and safety officer on the rifle ranges. He also shares his motorcycle expertise with others islandwide, teaching motorcycle safety seminars and promoting motorcycle safety on the American Forces Network.

Robart has a simple outlook about life and his job.

“I think the key is just being a friendly person and always looking to help people,” he said. “I think that’s what made me stand out.”


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up