Public Affairs Specialist
Served 1977 – 2007
Jim Eckles was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska where he attended the University of Nebraska, majoring in English literature and psychology. He then earned his Masters Degree in English lit from the University of Washington in Seattle.
Eckles came to the White Sands Public Affairs Office in 1977 as a Department of Army intern. On arrival, he was pushed to learn as much about the missile range as possible. He wrote news releases and feature stories about White Sands capabilities, weapons systems under test, and the people who made it all work. In addition, he conducted tours and escorted visitors all over the range – to places like the Optics Lab, the Nuclear Effects fast-burst reactor, the Navy launch complexes, Trinity Site, and Victorio Peak.
That knowledge paid off when KOBE radio asked him to do a short radio spot every morning during the WSMR morning drive time. From 1992 to 2003, Eckles interacted with the morning DJ to talk about some aspect of White Sands. He was on the air about 2,400 times and often had to fall back on his diverse knowledge for a meaningful topic each and every day.
With his interest in the White Sands history before 1940, Eckles was always ready to arrange and escort former WSMR ranchers to their homes for a visit. At first, range officials were reluctant to allow the visits without a great deal of security. Eckles was able to demonstrate the visits could be done safely and easily by himself and other Public Affairs staff members. Because of Eckles, many family reunions were held on the old ranches.
In return Eckles learned a great deal about what it was like living in such remote locations during the early 20th century. Also, he learned about the rancher side of the militarization of the Tularosa Basin. Often he was able to communicate that side of the story to missile range officials so they understood current attitudes.
His enthusiasm for the landscape and complex history of WSMR rubbed off on others. Employees were always asking about the UPRANGE areas. Eckles devised a plan to periodically take a busload of employees for the day to see many of the places they had only heard about. This program ran for many years.
Because of his historical knowledge, Eckles proved to be the go-to guy for many of the commemorative signs on WSMR. The Environmental Office obtained the funds and asked Eckles to write and design the signs for the national historic landmarks – Trinity Site and Launch Complex 33. There are two dozen signs a Trinity Site alone. He also created the interpretive signs for the Nike Hercules and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s kiosk at San Augustin Pass.
Early on, Eckles understood the potential of the Internet. When Public Affairs was first offered a page on the fledgling WSMR website, Eckles jumped in. Working mostly from home, he turned the office’s information material – fact sheets, handouts, photos and other materials – into digital data. While most organizations simply had their phone number and an address posted, Public Affairs had most of its printed material available on line. The Trinity Site section alone had dozens of photos, visitor’s guide, attendance numbers, maps, eyewitness reports and more.
Eckles was noticed for his extra effort and in 1990 he was given the Test and Evaluation Command’s Professionalism Award. In 1998, he was selected as one of six WSMR employees nominated for the New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Awards. In 1999, he was selected as the WSMR Civilian of the Year in the Professional Category.
Finally, Eckles was often called on to tell some aspect of the White Sands story downtown. Over the years, he spoke to groups in places as far away as Albuquerque, Belen, Roswell and Carlsbad as well as those communities surrounding WSMR. Since he retired, it is something he has continued as people want to hear his “range tales.”
Eckles retired from WSMR in 2007 and lives in Las Cruces.