Religion and Rota, Spain
Justin was handed a brand new challenge in 2016 when he was stationed in Rota, Spain, to continue his work as an RP. Naval Station Rota is a U.S. Navy base on the southwestern coast of Spain. It serves as a strategically important port near the Strait of Gibraltar that connects the Atlantic Ocean with Europe and Southwest Asia. Over 4000 American Sailors and their families are stationed in the beachfront town—meaning there is a great need for religious support for those who live there.
Though Justin was initially nervous as to how he’d be welcomed in Rota, his fears were quickly alleviated by a group of Chaplains who took him under their wing as one of their brothers. Despite their warm embrace, Justin had some difficulty adjusting to the Spanish culture. Coming from the fast-paced American lifestyle, the relaxed atmosphere of Spain was slightly disorienting at first. As he began to explore the local culture and see spectacles such as Semana Santa and a plethora of ancient churches, it awoke Justin to the importance of adventure. Rota and nearby Cadiz soon helped Justin soak up the rich cultural experience the Navy had offered him.
“Sometimes you have to travel half way around the world to really understand what your place is in the world. Being in this incredible part of the world full of so much history and culture has been unforgettable,” Justin explained.
Justin soon realized that the slower-paced environment gave him some insight into the man he wanted to become: someone that others will gravitate to in the good times or bad. Spain was the perfect backdrop for Justin to acknowledge his success in just eight short years in the Navy. Remembering the apprehensive 18-year-old sent to the flight deck less than a decade earlier, Justin was the first to admit that he’s found his purpose in the Navy. While he didn’t end up joining the Navy Nurse Corps, he discovered that he’s just as satisfied healing his brothers and sisters on a spiritual level.
In serving Sailors of different faiths, races, genders and sexualities, especially some 3,000 miles from his own home, he saw a world that could live harmoniously together and operate as a stronger team.
“We welcome all religions here. When you don’t see people based on their skin color, religion, gender or sexuality, the world is so much more beautiful. That’s what the Navy is all about,” Justin added.
Justin speaks with fondness about the Navy’s support of diversity, quality and inclusivity, reflecting the makeup of the United States. Justin’s own story is a reminder that with hard work and determination, anyone from any place has the power to be successful in the Navy.
“The Navy has shown me how important it is to listen to other people and embrace their differences. Things function so much better when you focus on an individual’s qualities instead of their differences. The Navy embraced me that way, and it’s so gratifying to do that myself now. It makes us a better Navy,” Justin said.
In May, 2019, Justin left his post in Spain. It was difficult to say goodbye to the people he now considers family. However far apart they may be, their bonds remain and Justin truly appreciates his experiences with the Spanish people and their culture. Justin is now stationed back in the United States at Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois as a Recruit Division Commander, or RDC. His job is to lead the next generation of Navy recruits through Boot Camp and transform them into Sailors. He is the first Religious Program Specialist to be nominated for the role in over five years.