Guest Column - September 2003
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A Few Good Rec Managers

The U.S. Navy is looking for civilian fitness and recreation specialists to serve sailors at sea

By Ingrid Mueller

Airman Kahlil Holder works out in a Navy MWR gym aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz Carrier Strike Force and Carrier Air Wing Eleven (CVW-11) are currently deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

With academic degrees and years of experience in exercise physiology or recreation, unique men and women bring their expertise to sailors serving at sea. They are civilian Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) professionals, affectionately known as "Fit Bosses" or "Fun Bosses." Their mission: to help create a culture of fitness and personnel readiness in the fleet by improving morale and reducing the stress of deployment.

The Navy's MWR Civilian Afloat Program is comprised of Afloat Fitness Specialists and Afloat Recreation Specialists who serve aboard aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships and tenders. The Navy currently has 36 fit and fun bosses serving at sea.

"I help sailors improve their fitness by providing them with cutting-edge health and fitness information backed by exercise science research," says Rob Davenport, afloat fitness specialist on board USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). "The ship has top-notch gym facilities and exercise equipment, and we have a full slate of fun and exciting fitness event challenges and events to motivate sailors to stay active and maintain their physical readiness."

Davenport is responsible for providing sailors with a comprehensive total fitness program, which includes supervising and conducting group exercise sessions as well as individualized attention. He also conducts informational sessions for sailors, including instruction on sports-specific weight training, proper nutrition, adverse effects of supplements and the benefits of properly hydrating the body, to name a few.

Sharkie Stielper (right), civilian afloat program manager for Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR), explains proper technique on a bicep curl to Yeoman 1st Class Juan Gonzales from San Antonio, Texas, flag writer for Assistant Commander, Navy Personnel Command for Fleet Support. Stielper was the Navy's first afloat fitness specialist and served as the fit boss for two years aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73).

"I sincerely care about the well-being of all our sailors and try to meet with as many as possible for one-on-one fitness appointments so I can best develop a personalized fitness program based on their goals," Davenport says. "When someone I've helped with a fitness or weight problem tells me that they're making progress and seeing improvement with their fitness program—that's what motivates me to wake up every morning and forge ahead with my mission."

As a fit boss, Davenport is also charged with maintaining and repairing all of the exercise equipment aboard the ship to ensure it's in proper working order throughout the deployment, which is no small task. An aircraft carrier typically has more than 300 pieces of fitness equipment, including cardio machines, selectorized equipment and free weights, plus various types of weight benches.

"The afloat fitness specialist is a multifaceted position that includes all aspects of a comprehensive wellness and fitness program," says Sharkie Stielper, civilian afloat program manager for Navy MWR. "It includes, but is not limited to, one-on-one personal training, a variety of group exercise classes, the care and maintenance of all fitness equipment, wellness assessments, and fitness-style athletic events. The fit boss also supports and assists the Command Fitness Leader, as needed."

The afloat recreation specialist, or fun boss, works in conjunction with the afloat fitness specialist to assist sailors in achieving personal readiness. In an at-sea environment, that means being creative and innovative in offering recreation activities.

"I set up everything from card games to movie nights, ping pong, basketball, parties, picnics, contests, tours and travel in ports, just about anything I can think of to relieve some of their stress," says Tracey Ford, afloat recreation specialist on board USS Enterprise (CVN 65).

Sailors assigned to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) enjoy a ski trip in the Alps, sponsored by the ship's MWR department.

"I think the best program we've done so far is an event called 'Midnight Madness,'" she says. "It was a clue type of scavenger hunt in which every team had to follow a clue to figure out where the next clue was. It was at midnight and at each place they had to say a secret code phrase to get their next clue. We ran around the ship with a video camera taping everybody. They were up and down, left and right, all over that ship. It was so much fun. The guys had a blast."

For the fit boss or fun boss, being on sea duty is also personally challenging and demanding, yet it gives one an opportunity to make a difference in thousands of sailors' lives.

"Our day starts when the sailors' day starts, and it ends when their day ends," Ford says. "That's what the sailors need us to do and that's why we're there. It's not an assigned duty. We choose to come to the ships and that makes a huge difference in the quality of work that we put out and our dedication to the job—wanting to be there vice having to be there."

She adds: "You're out there at the front line. You are at the tip of the spear making sure everyone's having a good time. And in the long run, if some sailor is relaxing at the end of his day and he's not stressed out, he's going to be more effective at work the next day. It's the most rewarding job I've ever had."

They Want You

For more information on opportunities in the Afloat Fitness Specialist and Afloat Recreation Specialist programs, please contact Sharkie Stielper, Civilian Afloat Program Manager for Navy MWR, or 901-874-6703.

Ingrid Mueller is with the Navy MWR Communications Group. She can be reached at