Green Bay Packers vs. Tennessee Titans
By Greg Bates
Special for Operation Fan Mail
James Eastman’s love for the Green Bay Packers is perhaps only trumped by his passion to teach.
The technology education teacher at Menasha High School is a people person who enjoys watching his fellow human beings excel.
“I keep in touch with a lot of my students,” Eastman said. “It’s all about the relationships when you’re a teacher. Sometimes you’re the dad, the uncle, the grandpa, the listener, the coach. I love high school, because you see the growth from freshman year to senior year. Then even after and you end up being friends with some of these kids, but they still call you Mr. Eastman. In my heart, I come home at night and I know that that’s the right decision.
“My professional cup is full.”
Teaching wasn’t always his profession, though. Eastman got his start as a machinist’s mate in the United States Navy. For four years on and off a ship, Eastman learned about himself and what he wanted to do in life.
The Navy shaped Eastman into the man he is today and taught him valuable lessons.
“The discipline, the calmness, not being rattled—if a kid hurts themselves, I don’t freak out. I don’t panic. I know exactly what to do,” Eastman said. “The training I had in the Navy definitely prepared me for that.”
Along with teaching, Eastman is extremely active in the Menasha community, which is where he also grew up. He’s involved with VFW Post 2126 and serves on the Honor Guard, giving veterans in Menasha a proper military burial.
“Whenever he can do a funeral, he does a funeral,” said Eastman’s wife, Lisa. “They meet monthly, so he goes to those meetings. I know they sell things, they do car shows, they do scholarships. He’s trying to get other veterans to join because some of their people (are older), so he’s trying to keep that tradition of having people join the VFW, because it’s kind of a dying breed.”
For his dedication to community, his military service, and his Packers fandom, Eastman was selected as the winner of the Operation Fan Mail program and received four tickets for the Packers-Tennessee Titans game on Nov. 17. The award is presented by WPS Health Solutions and the Packers.
Lisa Eastman nominated her husband for the award.
“Really, it’s just his love of the Packers and the fact that he consistently gives back to the community,” she said. “I know he doesn’t brag himself up much, but he’s always doing stuff—robotics, brat fries, celebrity bartending. He does so much stuff just for school that he doesn’t really think about.”Stumbling upon the Navy
With graduation at Menasha High School looming in 1985, a young Eastman set out to try and figure out life. He wasn’t a big fan of school, so he wanted to go a different direction.
“I remember my adopted father at that time said to me, ‘You need to get some goals for yourself. What do you want to do?’” recalled Eastman, who was an emancipated minor. “I said, ‘I’d like to see the world.’ Which the Navy affords you that. And then I said, ‘I want to get a couple medals, and I want to find a trade that I can carry over into the civilian world.’”
But entering the Navy actually wasn’t Eastman’s first choice.
“I actually went to see the Army recruiter, but they were out to lunch and the Navy guy was there,” Eastman said. “My grandfather served in World War II and my adopted father served in the Korean War. I heard the story about them in the Army, and I thought that was pretty cool. I ended up joining the Navy because (the recruiter) was there.”
Eastman went through the Delayed Entry Program before being sent to boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill. He graduated and attended engineering school at the same site until February 1986.
Eastman received orders to USS Schofield (FFG-3) out of San Diego. Eastman said he’d lived in a bubble the first 18 years of his life, but he was now heading out west to a warmer climate.
“I was wearing my pea coat, which was a big mistake, because it was really hot there,” Eastman recalled. “It was really cold here when I left. It was hotter than heck when I got off the plane there. I had never flown before that, so it was all a new experience for me. I was kind of excited too about the unknown.”
As a machinist’s mate fireman (MMFM) apprentice, Eastman worked on the main engine of his ship.
“We supplied all the hydraulics, dry air to the missiles, sonars, all that stuff,” he said.
Eastman was deployed on a three- to four-month mission.
“At that time, we were chasing drug ships up and down the West Coast there,” Eastman said. “We were off the Mexican Peninsula, down by Baja. We went off that edge there and then we went all the way up to Olympia, Wash., British Columbia, Canada.”
Eastman was later deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1987 for a six-month tour.
He was honorably discharged from the Navy in September 1988. During his service, he received an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the Navy Expeditionary Medal. He was also awarded a Sea Service Ribbon for his time in the Persian Gulf.Civilian life
Upon leaving the Navy, Eastman came back to Menasha and went into manufacturing. He was hired at Rich’s Bakery in Appleton, became a journeyman millwright. The plant closed in 2002, but Eastman already had his plans ready for his next profession. While working full time, he was attending school full time at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He finished off his four-year bachelor’s degree in technology education in just one year and 11 months at UW-Stout in 2003. “I’d always wanted to teach, but I didn’t want to cut my salary in half,” Eastman joked. “I always wanted to teach, and my wife’s a teacher as well. I was inspired by her.” In January 2004, Eastman started at Appleton East High School as a welding and machining teacher for five years. For a number of years after that, he bounced around different schools in the Appleton School District. In mid-2013, his alma mater, Menasha High School, had a tech ed opening. Eastman jumped at that opportunity. He’s been there ever since. “Words can’t describe it,” said Eastman about what teaching means to him. Eastman is also a driver’s education instructor.Packers fandom
When Eastman received a voicemail and email from the Packers just a few days before the Packers-Titans game saying he was chosen as the Operation Fan Mail winner, he couldn’t believe it. “I thought it was a scam at first,” Eastman laughed. “I thought, ‘Is this real?’ But then I saw the Green Bay Packers logo in the email, and then I returned a phone call he had given to me earlier.” A diehard Packers fan, Eastman—who is 55 years old—has always loved the team. His earliest Packers memories are when he was around 5 or 6 and was a beer runner for folks on party buses headed to the game. He would receive a ticket to those games. It was in the mid-1970s when the Packers were having a string of down years. However, that didn’t deter Eastman as a fan. “I don’t think I’ve ever been to a bad game, except for the NFC Championship game—Brett Favre’s last game as a Packer,” James said. “That was probably the most disappointing game.” Eastman took his grandson, Easton James Belville—he is named after his grandpa—to his first game two years ago when he was 8. Eastman is trying to pass his love for the franchise on to the younger generations in his family. “Me and him share a love for the Packers that I don’t think a lot of other people get,” James said. “We love them. It’s deep-seated, deep-rooted.” Eastman will be bringing Easton James to the Titans game, along with the boy’s dad, Chris Belville, and Eastman’s daughter, Ali Eastman. “When I go to Lambeau, to me that’s hallowed ground,” Eastman said. “The hair on the back of my neck stands up. It’s almost a religious experience.” Eastman has never been on the actual field prior to or during a game at Lambeau Field. That will change against the Titans when Eastman will be honored, have his name announced, and his face will be spread across the big board in the end zone. “It will be breathtaking, I’m sure,” Eastman said. “It will be hard not to cry a little bit.” Added his wife: “He is going to bawl like a baby out there. He’s a big teddy bear.” “I’m humbled that I was nominated for this,” Eastman said. “I think there’s other people out there that probably deserve this way more than me and served a lot more years. I’m still kind of pinching myself like, ‘Why me?’ There’s other people out there—like I’m not worthy.”
The appearance of U.S. military visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement by the U.S. military.