While some seek a job that allows them to be in the limelight, one Redstone Soldier chose her career because it meant having a strong presence behind the scenes.Staff Sgt. Vanessa Thompson, senior religious affairs noncommissioned officer-in-charge at Bicentennial Chapel, arrived at Redstone in June.Religious affairs specialists, previously known as chaplain assistants, provide full-time religious and spiritual support to Army installations and units around the world. They support chaplains during missions and activities and support unity ministry team programs and worship services. Only enlisted Soldiers serve as religious affairs specialists, assisting the chaplain in the performance of his or her official duties.“That sums up the job. We are responsible for all operational activities within the chapel. That involves the planning or execution of programming, as well as the setting up different faith-based activities, services or ceremonies,” Thompson said.The native of Immokalle, Florida, joined the Army in 2005. She has been a religious affairs specialist for 15 years and she is open about her religious views. Although her strong faith is what led her to the job – it’s not a requirement, she emphasized.“You don’t have to be of a particular faith to do this job, “Thompson said. “There are no faith requirements whatsoever. I’ve met persons in my career field who are atheist. We have to be open-minded. You’re here to support all faiths. I appreciate anyone’s journey, whatever their belief.”Thompson said her initial career choice was to become a teacher, but she is glad she chose this military occupational specialty after the advice from an Army recruiter while she was attending a community college in her hometown.“An Army recruiter contacted me about military service. He asked me what I liked to do and I told him wanted to become a teacher and help people. I also talked about my faith. That is when he told me about the chaplain’s assistant MOS and it peaked my interest,” Thompson said. “He said there were persons in the Army who assisted the priests. At the time, I was a practicing Catholic so this interested me. I asked him, ‘you really have a job that involves helping priests?’ I liked the idea of helping priests so I went by his office and watched the video about the job and I was sold. Joining the military also provided a way for me to fund my education.”Thompson said although she converted to Protestantism a few years later she still likes the idea of serving clergy in ministry. She also likes the mission, the community outreach and helping people.Religious affairs training is provided for seven weeks at the Army Chaplains School in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. From day one, Thompson said Soldiers are taught they are here to: nurture the living, care for the dying and honor the dead.“Our jobs are multifaceted. We manage every aspect of what makes religious support work in a unit or garrison,” she said. “We manage equipment and facilities, set up religious services, account for all the financial intakes and expenditures of a chapel community, give administrative support and protect the chaplain – we’re planners, administrators, logisticians and security.”Religious affairs specialists coordinate security for chaplains in combat zones because chaplains don’t carry weapons. In 2005, Thompson said she had her first experience in performing this duty while deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.“My first permanent duty station was at Fort Drum, New York. I spent 18 months there, 10 of which I was deployed to Iraq. During this assignment, I was responsible for running an operational chapel, providing religious support and coordinating security for my unit,” she said. “Also, our team provided religious support to Soldiers in other locations across Iraq. It was a phenomenal experience.”On rare occasions, life and death situations have come up in Thompson’s position. She said several years ago, she had to deal with a suicide intervention during a deployment.“A Soldier who was having marital issues came to my office and told me he wanted to kill himself. He was so upset. There wasn’t a chaplain available so I had to handle things. I put the training I’d received into action and tried to deescalate the situation,” she said. “After some time, he listened to me and I was able to get him to the Combat Stress Center where they were able to take his weapon and get him the medical attention he needed. It was a scary situation. I was glad I was able to change the outcome of this situation.”Early on, Thompson said she knew she wanted to take care of Soldiers. As more of her colleagues began to confide in her about some of the issues they were having, she was happy to be a resource for providing them with the help they needed.Thompson said she loves the mission and the community outreach.“No two days are ever alike in this job. A religious affairs specialist may one day find himself or herself providing accommodations for a Protestant Bible study group, the next day setting up for Catholic mass, and then another day find a prayer rug for a Muslim service,” she said.Thompson attributes having a caring family as fundamental to her success. She and her husband, Staff Sgt. Matthew Thompson, a local Army recruiter, reside in the area with their 8-year-old son, Nikolai. She is thankful to have them both with her during her current assignment.An introvert by nature, Thompson said she likes that she has a support role in ministry.“The chaplain’s main focus is ministry. My main focus is helping this ministry succeed,” she said. “Our team assists the chaplain to bring a strong and effective ministry to the installation. This job is not for someone who is seeking glory. I’m happy to be the behind the scenes Soldier making sure everything runs smoothly. I want others to shine.”