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Latino Navy Chief is “2011 Navy Times Sailor of the Year – Honorable Mention”

By José Villa, Senior Editor
Hawaii Hispanic News

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Our Hispanic community can feel a particular sense of pride knowing that the enlisted member the Navy Times chose as its “2011 Sailor of the Year – Honorable Mention” is an active ANSO member.

Rafael Barney was born in Queens, New York to Colombian parents. His dad is from Cali and mom from Medellin. When he was five the family moved to Miami. He attended two
different high schools. He said: “I was best friends with and played basketball with a kid named Armando Christian Pérez – who is now better known as Reggaeton superstar Pitbull.”

After graduating from high school, Barney joined the Navy in August 2000. He said: “I didn’t know anything about the Navy. I came in, went to fireman school for two or three weeks and was assigned to an aircraft carrier in San Diego.”

He continued: “However, thanks to a mentor I met, I only served two years of a four-year
tour. He was a master chief in the Navy’s RP (Religious Program) specialty. In the Army
and Air Force, the position is known as a chaplain’s assistant. I told him I wanted to enter that specialty. He gave me step-by-step instructions. I followed them exactly and was soon able to switch career fields.”

Barney went on: “On a ship, RPs do everything from setting up for services to operating the library. When our chaplains are assigned to Marine or construction units, we become bodyguards and protect them. On shore duty, we administer and manage the chapels. In this career field, you gain a wealth of experience in working with people, budgeting, logistics, inventory, accounting, managing, etc.”

What is the RP field like on the spiritual side?

Barney said: “Oftentimes when individuals come to see a chaplain, they are dealing with
stressful situations and are reaching out for assistance. The RP is normally the first person these individuals see. So in addition to being a good office administrator, an RP
has to be especially sensitive to stress-related cues.”

Having a mentor made a huge difference in Barney’s military career. “I followed my mentor’s advice, did my studies, got good evaluations and made E-5 in less than two years,” he said. “My mentor then said there was nothing else for me to accomplish there, so I moved on to a Marine construction unit at Camp Pendleton, California. In 2004, I deployed with them to Fallujah, Iraq.”

What was the Iraq experience like?

“While not fired on directly, the base I was on was often shelled by RPGs and we did have casualties on base from that fire. And, of course, the stress of living and working in war zone, watching good friends die, and confronting one’s mortality daily had its own set of unique problems, which were often brought to the chaplain’s office.”

His next assignment was to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy. “When I arrived I was surprised there were so many Latinos, but no club or association,” he said. “So I did the paperwork, bylaws and established the Latin American Association. And I married a Colombian girl I met there dancing Salsa. She had lived there since age seven, when her
mom married a Sicilian man. We’re expecting our first child this year.”

He was then transferred to his current assignment, where he works for the Chief of Chaplains in the Pentagon. Barney said: “I do a lot of work in the northern Virginia community where I live. The Naval Academy also does a lot of work with the community. I help arrange Pentagon visits and tours for at-risk youth so they can see another way of
life. Some groups include members that are gang-related, are in tattoo removal programs or from high drug trafficking areas. We have speakers that talk to them about life choices.”

He continued: “During these visits we use a technique called ‘speed mentoring,’ which follows the ‘speed dating’ model.

How does he use “speed mentoring?”

He said: “Our speed mentoring kit uses a deck of cards. The cards have questions on them. The group sits down and we go through the deck. The facilitator reads a question and it’s answered within the group.

One of the questions, for example, is ‘where do you see yourself in three years?’ It helps start a dialogue and the group synergy takes it from there.”

He continued: “We know that true mentoring can’t happen in a matter of minutes. But, in this case, speed mentoring allows these young people to spend a few minutes with military and civilian personnel involved in a wide range of military related specialties. Hopefully, this exposure gives them a glimpse into what’s possible if they choose another path.”

It’s easy to see that many people in his life benefit from “dialoguing” with Barney. It also easy to see why the Navy Times chose him for this prestigious award.

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