By Sue Krawczyk, Recruit Training Command Public Affairs
NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- A Sailor assigned Recruit Training Command received the 2010 League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Excellence in Military Service award July 15 at their National Convention & Exposition in Albuquerque, N.M.
Religious Program Specialist 1st Class (FMF) Juan Bejarano was nominated for this award at his previously station with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and recently reported to Recruit Training Command as a student in Recruit Division Commander (RDC) "C" School.
The LULAC award recognizes members who have made significant contributions to the advancement of minority groups, the promotion of diversity and equal opportunity in the military and federal workforce. Only one active component and one Reserve component from each service is so honored each year.
As 11th MEU's Religious Ministry Team senior staff representative, Bejarano worked with higher commands to establish a third religious ministry team for the MEU in order to ensure the religious and counseling needs of 2,200 Marines and Sailors spread throughout three ships could be met while they prepared for deployment.
"I really was shocked. I didn't think I did enough to deserve this award; to me, this is my normal job," Bejarano said.
He also coordinated and supervised a community relations project at the Mission San Antonio de Padua at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. Over the course of two weeks, he coordinated the efforts of 37 volunteers who completed 10 major clean-up projects. According to the award citation, Bejarano's superior organization skills were instrumental in the projects being completed ahead of schedule and in time for the Mission's annual Mission Days Festival, which hosted more than 1,000 visitors.
During his deployment in 2009 and earlier this year, Bejarano coordinated four community relations projects in Phuket, Thailand. He also organized the delivery of medical and hygienic supplies to remote medical clinics in support of Project Handclasp in Dili, Timor Leste.
Working as a religious specialist was something Bejarano knew he wanted to do early in his Navy career.
"I walked into my recruiter's office and demanded the RP job," Bejarano said. "I was involved with local youth groups in my church and this rating seemed similar to what I was doing at that time. I enjoyed the camaraderie of visiting the Marines and Sailors weekly in my unit. Some had never known what an RP was."
Bejarano's commitment to making a difference has brought him back to the Navy's only boot camp for a second tour of duty. During, his first tour at RTC in 2005, he worked on staff in the chapel where he had the opportunity to help mentor recruits during training.
"It's a place where they can find their inner soul," Bejarano said. "It's peaceful and relaxing for some. It kind of reenergizes them to start the week all over again. For some, it's where they start building their new foundations."
He had concerns about whether he was having a positive effect on the recruits during that time.
"During the first three years, I would think to myself, 'What am I doing here? Am I really making a difference as an RP at RTC?'
"Then I reached the fleet and during my first two deployments I had Sailors coming up to me to show how well they have progressed in their Navy career," he said. "Other times, I'm walking through the P-way (passageway) and they would give me the stare, and then I would ask them, 'You know me from somewhere?' They would answer, 'Yes, but I don't know where.' I would say, 'boot camp, at the chapel.' Then we would begin a conversation, and I would offer them the chance to stop by the chaplain's office if they needed anything."
Bejarano will graduate RDC School in September and is determined to achieve the honor of earning the prestigious red rope that RDCs wear at RTC after successfully completing the rigorous 12-week training course.
"They're intense, but not impossible," admits Bejarano of the physical fitness sessions. "But if your heart's in the right place, you can achieve every day at RDC School."
Originally from Tucson, Ariz., Bejarano said his wife Vanessa was his influence for returning to RTC.
"She asked if we could come back to Great Lakes because she enjoyed being here. To her, the 'Quarterdeck of the Navy' is where she calls home. Without her support to submit an RDC package, I believe I never would have attempted it. She said, 'Submit it until they tell you no and if they say no, we'll choose a new location.' They never said no, so here I am."
Bejarano recommends anyone contemplating becoming an RDC to submit their package to do so.
"By the time you know it, you'll be transferring back to the fleet where you'll have Sailors coming up to you and thanking you for teaching them the Navy way of life."