More than a ‘Fun Boss,' alumnus builds morale on aircraft carrier

When he’s not running programs he’s planning them. Whether it’s a basketball tournament, concert or Christmas party, Josh Watson is always hard at work to ensure a good time.

Despite the job description, it’s more than just fun and games. Watson and his staff of 15 strive to raise the spirit of sailors on deployment.

A 2009 graduate of the Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management (RPTM) program in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development (HHD), Watson is the director of recreation on the USS George H. W. Bush naval aircraft carrier. Responsible for planning and implementing morale building activities for more than 5,000 servicemen and women, Watson is casually known as the “Fun Boss.”

“Life of being the ‘Fun Boss’ is pretty busy and can be frustrating (and) rewarding depending on what day it is,” Watson said. “When people ask me what I do, I ask them if they’ve ever been on a cruise ship before. If the answer is yes, then I tell them I’m the ‘cruise director.’”

“The one thing I enjoy most about my job isn’t the traveling … what makes me the happiest is when a sailor approaches me and says ‘Thank you Fun Boss for making me feel at home and part of the family. I had a lot of fun tonight.’"

-- Josh Watson, Class of 2009

The USS George H.W. Bush has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom since February of this year.

“Since then we’ve conducted four port visits to Greece, Turkey, Bahrain and Dubai,” Watson said. “In each port I’ve planned and executed excursions … with thousands of sailors participating.”

Watson also presents an event each night such as karaoke, trivia, Texas Hold 'em tournaments, sports tournaments and Big Bucks Bingo, where more than $40,000 has been awarded to one winner.

“I also organize, while we’re overseas, sporting events where our ships’ sporting teams … host nation teams in sports such as rugby, soccer and basketball,” Watson said. “We’ve also recently played host to numerous concerts coming on board thanks to Navy Entertainment.”

A native of Montoursville, Watson enrolled at Penn State after serving six years in the U.S. Army. He attained the rank of staff sergeant with the U.S. Army’s 173 Airborne Brigade while serving in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Watson took part in the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program, which allowed him to plan and run events. From there he worked with the SEAL team before joining the staff on the USS George H.W. Bush.

“The one thing I enjoy most about my job isn’t the traveling … what makes me the happiest is when a sailor approaches me and says ‘Thank you Fun Boss for making me feel at home and part of the family. I had a lot of fun tonight.’ Their smiles and me knowing that I had a part in making their day a little easier is what picks me up and keeps me going,” Watson said.

However, each day on the ship presents its own set of challenges, Watson said.

“I always get from the older generation of sailors that ‘This is a warship, not a fun ship.’ Those sailors didn’t have Fun Bosses on their ship like today’s sailors have, and MWR wasn’t as prevalent back then as it is now,” Watson said. “My constant fight is for space and availability of areas to do things.”

One of Watson’s strengths is his ability to speak to people, he said, as well as his ability to compromise. Both are valuable assets in his line of work.

“A lot of the events I do require plans being moved around and that’s no easy feat,” he said. “I would say to students in RPTM, be able to talk to people and be very friendly.”

Watson said his RPTM classes taught him how to form and run events, as well as properly plan them.

His major, as well as the College of Health and Human Development, not only helped him realize his drive and interests, but also helped fuel them, he said.

“I think my passion for making soldiers and sailors lives better on a daily basis has always been there,” Watson said. “But when Patty Kleban (undergraduate coordinator and senior instructor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management) taught the whole class the step by step process of doing ‘The Hustle’ that really capped it.”

“I knew right from the beginning that Josh was not going to be a typical student,” Kleban said. “Although he looked and dressed like many other students, he approached me after class that first day with a firm handshake and direct eye contact as he introduced himself. As a returning (adult) student who had seen and participated in things that most of the students around him could not even imagine, he was a good sport and often served as a role model for the other undergraduates. That's not to say that Josh didn't enjoy the ‘fun’ parts of attending Penn State. He's a guy who takes advantage of every opportunity he is given.”

Kleban said it’s been personally rewarding to see another alum do so well and make such a difference.

“As a veteran, Josh understands the very important role he is playing is providing morale and recreation services for the men and women who serve our country,” she said. “His enthusiasm for all things Penn State, the Steelers and for continuing to ‘give back’ to his country and to his alma mater are a source of pride for his RPTM colleagues.”

For more information on RPTM, visit www.hhd.psu.edu/rptmhh.

Last Updated August 27, 2014