U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY – About three months ago, in early November, a young man interviewed for a job. This was not like every other job interview; this one took place in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, “so what” or “that doesn’t sound very exceptional,” and that is a completely understandable response. But this interview, in particular, was Lucas Eckstein’s first shot at getting his dream job, and it is the start of a long journey.
Eckstein, a twenty-five-year-old from Mount Horeb, Wis., really started the track to his dream job when he started college at Minnesota State University. When he entered college, he was on the track team and majored in Athletic Training. In high school, Eckstein was in athletics, so it was an easy transition for him. However, by the time he made it to his sophomore year he was no longer on the track team and realized he was not very interested in athletic training.
“So I kind of overhauled my life,” said Eckstein. “I was doing some stuff in the summers with some sports leagues and decided, ‘this is what I want to do’.”
He started asking around and someone recommended a degree in recreation.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines recreation as an “activity done for enjoyment when one is not working.” What kind of job can one get with a degree in recreation?
Eckstein, after more than a month of waiting, was offered the job.
“I was in training with the Boys and Girls Club when I got the call,” said Eckstein. “I was so excited. All of my supervisors were really excited for me.”
The problem was that the job he was just offered, Eckstein’s dream job, was not in Corpus Christi. It was not in Texas or, technically, in the United States. It was halfway around the world on the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5). And, to further complicate things, he was to report a month later.
He decided to go home for the holidays and then drove more than 30 hours from Southern Texas to Southern Wisconsin. Leaving his car with family, he hopped on a plane back to Texas to start what would prove to be an arduous journey to meet the ship.
After a flurry of delayed flights, Eckstein landed in Houston and jumped on a bus to Corpus Christi the next day. He spent a day packing what he thought he might need for his stay on the ship and for the rest of his journey halfway across the world. He eventually left Houston through Germany with his next leg completely rerouted through Ethiopia before finally landing in Djibouti. Once at Camp Lemonnier, he waited for a chance to catch a ride out to the Peleliu.
Eckstein said he was “dragged back and forth for another day.”
Finally, the morning of Jan. 7, Eckstein set foot aboard Peleliu, and the ship has its long-awaited new “Fun Boss,” a job for a recreation degree.
“So far it’s been good. It’s not quite exactly what I was expecting, but I think that’s just ship-to-ship,” said Eckstein.
The fun boss is the go-to guy for a ship’s recreation activities. He runs the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program, plans events for the crew, and makes sure there is no shortage of stuff to do. The ship has been without a director for nearly a year.
Eckstein said he was aware of the situation he was stepping into. “The ship has been without a fun boss for quite a while. Coming on board, I thought nothing was going to be happening, but the committees have stepped up to really implement their own programs, which is great. I’m just integrating myself within those programs.”
Some of the committees Eckstein referred to include the Second Class Association, the MWR Committee, and the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions.
“They’ve been doing a great job,” said Eckstein. “My biggest philosophy is if ‘it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ So if they’re putting on programs that people are enjoying then I’m going to be there to support them, however I need to.”
Eckstein acts as an organizer to support the crew as well as the programs already in place.
“I know it’s been difficult for them to know what other associations are doing,” said Eckstein. Therefore, he is able to help prevent double-booked events, while still accommodating the needs of the Sailors and Marines aboard. His role focuses on the larger, command-wide events, while the associations still plan and assist with the smaller events.
“Everyone else has another job on the ship. They have plenty of other things to do,” said Eckstein.
Some of the events that Eckstein is planning include a Mardi Gras party, a possible wiffle ball tournament for the opening day of baseball, Cinco de Mayo, and events for the Tiger Cruise. Eckstein also mentioned he is trying to get better prizes to give out.
However, the first thing Eckstein will do is reorganize the budget and conduct an accurate inventory of MWR equipment and resources.
“After the budget is done and the inventory is done, I can do a ‘needs assessment.’ Then I can hit the ground running and really pound out my ideas,” said Eckstein.
He went on the say that it’s really important to have fun. He feels recreation builds morale and leads to better welfare.
“With the ship in general, if morale is high, people are going to be safer. People are going to be in better moods. People are going to enjoy their jobs more,” said Eckstein. “It’s a better atmosphere.”
After college, working as an intern and a complicated journey to the ship, how does Lucas Eckstein feel about his dream job?
“I’m just so excited to get the job and have the opportunity,” said Eckstein. “I’m so impressed [with the military] and want to give back as much as possible. I chose not to enlist myself, but I can help you guys in whatever way possible. People always thank the enlisted military members, and rightfully so …. After a big event, people are like ‘that was awesome!’ Getting that thanks from the people that I should be thanking for serving the country is amazing.”
Eckstein encourages, “If you have an idea, stop by and have a chat [with me]. Send me an email. I’m always open … The only thing we are limited by is our imagination.”
Peleliu is the flagship for the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.