Naval Chaplaincy School and Center
History of The Naval Chaplaincy School and Center

Brett HallOriginally called the Naval Chaplains School (NCS), Naval Chaplaincy School and Center (NCSC), came into existence in February of 1942 when large numbers of civilian clergy, most with no military experience, entered the Navy in World War II. These pastors, priests and rabbis stepped forward to meet the religious needs of the millions of young men and women who were joining the Navy and Marine Corps for the war-time emergency. First located at Naval Station Norfolk, VA the school moved shortly thereafter to the campus of the College of William and Mary, in nearby Williamsburg, VA. The school was decommissioned on 15 November 1945.

Early in 1942 the Navy Department took the first steps which led to the establishment of the Specialist (W) rating to assist Navy chaplains. The “(W)” referred to welfare, and it was decided that this rate would be established only for the duration of World War II. The first officially designated Specialist (W) in the history of the Navy was W. Everett Hendricks who was authorized to enlist on 23 April 1942 with the rating of Specialist (W) First Class. Hendricks was assigned duty in the Office of the Chaplain at the Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, IL. He was recognized as a talented musician and choir director and contributed significantly to the success of the famed Great Lakes Bluejacket Choir.

Most of the applicants for Specialist (W) had backgrounds as music teachers, professional musicians, or as church ministers-of-music. Many were also graduates of the leading schools of music in the country. Most of these specialists received their indoctrination directly from the chaplains. However, this system proved to be inadequate. In the fall of 1942, as part of an experiment, Specialists (W) started attending some of the classes at the Chaplains School which was located in Norfolk, VA. This experiment was so successful that the Chaplains Division decided to require all new Specialists (W) to attend a course of indoctrination at the Chaplains School.

The 8-week course of indoctrination for Specialist (W) training at the Chaplains School included instruction in naval etiquette, naval correspondence, clerical procedures, choir organization, rehearsal procedures, Navy Relief, sacred music for divine services (Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish), military weddings and funerals, and some practical application in shorthand and typing.

The Navy Department inaugurated a new rating structure on 01 April 1948. Among the new general service ratings that were established was the rating of Personnelman. Members of this rating were assigned personnel administration duties in various offices, including the Chaplain’s office.

In 1951, after the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, the increased requirement for chaplains dictated the need once again for an indoctrination course for newly inducted clergy. NCS was reestablished in Newport, RI, and located in Building 117 as part of Naval Schools Command. The school became a part of the Naval Officer Training Center (NOTC) when that command was established on 15 July 1971. On 01 July 1974, NOTC became Naval Education and Training Center (NETC) Newport, RI. The school moved to Building 114 on Porter Road in November 1978.

In January 1965, the Yeoman (YN) Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) 2525 was established at the request of the Chief of Chaplains to ensure special training for YNs serving with chaplains. In February 1972, there was an inventory of 158 YN-2525 billets with only 11 YN-2525s in direct support of chaplains; therefore unqualified personnel were often assigned to the office of the chaplain as temporary solutions to the manning problems. Many individuals who worked in the Office of Chaplains, those with the YN-2525 designation and those without this designation, performed admirably under difficult circumstances. Until 1979, personnel of the Yeoman rating were often designated as the “Chaplain’s Clerk (YN-2525)” to assist in conducting the Command Religious Program. However, the pursuit of a permanent rating to assist chaplains in managing the Command Religious Program remained a primary goal of the Chief of Chaplains.

Prior to 1979, the Yeoman 2525 NEC was taught with the Air Force by Navy personnel using the Air Force Chaplain’s Assistant curriculum at Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, MS. In February 1978, the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) approved the establishment of the Religious Program Specialist (RP) rating. Stringent selection requirements were set. In November 1978, the Selection Board selected the first 160 RPs. In January 1979, the official RP rating was established and with the new curriculum continuing to be taught by Navy personnel at Keesler Air Force Base. In June 1985, the RP school moved to Naval Technical Training Command (NTTC) Treasure Island, CA. After three years at NTTC Treasure Island, CA the school once again moved, this time to NTTC Meridian, MS. It was here that Navy curriculum for the RP ‘A’ and ‘C’ courses were first taught on 18 April 1988. Over the next 20 years the RP ‘A’ course changed from group pace to self pace, while the RP ‘C’ course went from five weeks long to a three week RP ‘F’ mobile training course.

In 1999 NETC Newport became Officer Training Command Newport (OTCN). With the closure of the Base Library in May 1999, NCS acquired the main deck of Building 114, providing much needed computer, worship, classroom and administrative spaces, as well as a large reception area wherein many artifacts of the Naval Chaplain Corps’ proud history were on prominent display.

In August 2000, Building 114 was dedicated to the memory of Chaplain Robert Raymond Brett, a native of Morton, PA. Having graduated from the Basic Course of the NCS in August, 1967, Chaplain Brett immediately deployed with the Second Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines to Khe Sanh, Republic of Viet Nam. On 18 February 1968, while awaiting a helicopter lift to another base, the landing zone came under heavy artillery fire. Disregarding his own personal safety, Chaplain Brett bravely went out to comfort and administer last rites to his Marines. Refusing to be evacuated before others and still under heavy fire from the enemy, he was mortally wounded. For this action he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Legion of Merit.

The Chin Conference Center on the lower deck of Brett Hall was named in honor of Chaplain Brett’s clerk and bodyguard, PFC Alexander Chin, USMC who also died that same day. After the initial repatriation and burial in their home towns, the remains of Chaplain Brett and PFC Chin were moved to Arlington National Cemetery where they now rest near one another.

In 2003, with the establishment of the Center for Service Support in Athens, GA, NCS was realigned under that organization for curriculum support. NCS continued to report to Officer Training Command Newport, RI for administrative and budgetary support until January 2007. OPNAVNOTE 5450 formally established the Naval Chaplains School as a separate shore command in March 2007 reporting to the Center for Service Support and NETC. After a 58 year sojourn in Newport, RI, (1951 to 2009) NCS moved to Fort Jackson, SC where it co-located with the United States Army Chaplaincy Center and School and the United States Air Force Chaplain Corps College. The move was mandated as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission report of 2005. The BRAC report also required the move of the RP courses from (NTTC), Meridian, MS to Fort Jackson, SC, once again bringing RP and chaplain training together after sixty-seven years.

Naval Chaplains School was renamed as Naval Chaplaincy School and Center by authority of the Chief of Naval Operations in OPNAVNOTE 5400 and formally established on 01 October 2009 as a Learning Center. NCSC is a military controlled institution that reports to NETC in Pensacola, FL. As a Learning Center, NCSC is charged with all aspects of management for training in a particular mission area or discipline.

The first class convened at NCSC, Fort Jackson, SC, 21 September 2009 for the Naval Chaplain Basic Course and graduated 28 students on 06 November 2009. The first RP classes began in Fort Jackson, SC at NCSC on 16 December 2009.

The mission of NCSC is to thoroughly train chaplains and Religious Program Specialists to provide professional religious ministry in the sea services. All chaplains and chaplain candidates participate in the same seven-week course of instruction. RPs receive accession training concurrent with the chaplains. Thereafter, annual professional development and training courses offered at a variety of sites worldwide help the chaplains and RPs remain current in the delivery of religious ministry. At intermediate and advanced levels, chaplains and RPs return to NCSC for additional training and education designed to better equip them for increased responsibilities on the operational and strategic levels.