By Marine Corps Cpl. Ed Galo
Regimental Combat Team 6
Regimental Combat Team 6
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan, Jan. 10, 2012 – As a religious program specialist, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James Vanzella protects chaplains and helps them with their daily duties and coordinates religious services.
But Vanzella, a native of Lodi, N.J., had no idea what he was about to do when he 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.
“I came into the Navy as an undesignated seaman at first,” he said. His first assignment was aboard the USS Detroit.
“I loved it,” he said. “I got to do a little bit of everything at first. I loved being stationed on a ship. I miss it sometimes.”
After becoming a religious program specialist, Vanzella spent the next four years in Gaeta, Italy. He then left shore duty two years early at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, N.J., to deploy here with the Marines.
“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,” he explained. “I really enjoy working with Marines. I love their pride. You can see they definitely walk a little taller than most services.”
After receiving his orders to a Marine unit, Vanzella had to attend a course at Field Medical Training Battalion in Camp Lejeune, N.C. 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 said. “The knowledge I gained there will help me if things get rough and I have to become a bodyguard for the chaplain.”
The job also can be spiritually demanding, Vanzella noted.
“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.”
Vanzella has impressed the chaplain he supports here.
“He’s my right-hand man,” said Navy Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) Mark Tews. “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.
“He’s a 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 said he comes from a big, Italian family in New Jersey and jokingly calls himself “a classy Italian” when around his peers.
“I’m very close to my family and had a great childhood growing up,” he said. “One of my best memories growing up is playing round-robin or baseball at Hilltop [Elementary School]. 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 younger.
“Right now,” he added, “I’m just enjoying serving my country, making my family proud and earning the Vanzella name.”