I Am Mission Success: Josh Johnson

  • Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2023, 10:16 am

Josh Johnson

In 2013, Josh Johnson, then a North Carolina State University engineering student, couldn’t have imagined where his life and career would take him.

“I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up in the Department of Energy complex,” he chuckled. “I got an internship at Savannah River Site while I was in college, and very quickly became a nerd for anything nuclear.”

His internship led to a full-time position as a design engineer. A couple of years later, a 2-week training course assignment out of state introduced him to Laura Solis, a Pantex employee also assigned to the course. Johnson relocated from South Carolina to the Texas Panhandle in 2018 to assume a facility engineering role at Pantex. Josh and Laura married the next year and will soon welcome their first child.

Johnson has made ample use of opportunities, and he keeps his eyes and mind open for more.

“My curiosity is my greatest strength. My whole job is basically ‘knowing things,’ so I’m always reading and asking questions, trying to learn more,” he said.

Curiosity has reinforced for Johnson that the foundation of understanding very often lies in one simple question: Why?

It is that question—and the questioning attitude so important to everything at Pantex—that recently led Johnson to make a discovery with some literally weighty ramifications.

“I discovered the issue almost by accident. While looking for some unrelated information, I stumbled on an original … drawing where someone had noted in red ink that the cranes in (a specific) facility didn’t have tension rods,” he said.

The rods in question are structural components on a series of 1950s-era cranes being used at Pantex. They became an important part of an early 2000s-era seismic analysis, but it was never fully realized that some of the cranes were missing these rods.

“It seems like different people over the years recognized the tension rods were missing, but didn’t realize the analysis relied on them, or knew they were important to the analysis, but didn’t realize they were missing,” Johnson explained.

It took the young engineer’s curiosity and knowhow, supported by the experience of other Pantexans, to recognize the potential importance of his find.

“I talked to the other system engineer, David Bell, and he agreed it was as big a deal as I thought it was,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Bell escalated the issue, resulting in an adjustment to the approved load capacity of the impacted cranes and prompting a search for ways to upgrade the machines to their previous load rating.

“I like being able to solve problems,” Johnson said. “Solving one problem after another is what it’s all about. That’s how you make things better.”

Why are you mission success?
I try to understand as much as I can from different sources, even things that are probably outside my job description. Knowing what other people I deal with are doing and how they do it usually seems to help me out in some way.

Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult? Describe how your career compares or contrasts to your expectations.
A few years ago my parents found an old worksheet from 1st or 2nd grade where I said I wanted to be either a “professional Lego® builder” or a “rhinoceros racer” when I grew up. So, I would say I’m right on track.

How does patriotism factor into your life and work? Did your level of patriotism change after working at Pantex?
Working at a DOE site made me realize the government isn’t a bunch of guys in black suits. It’s ordinary people just doing their job every day. And, I think that’s made me more patriotic than I probably would have been otherwise.

What would your coworkers be most surprised to learn about you?
I can sing “A Boy Named Sue” from start to finish, and I’ve actually got a decent singing voice.

What’s your favorite outside-of-work activity, and why?
Cooking. I got into cooking a couple of years ago as a creative outlet, to save some money, and to eat less junk food. But now it’s also relaxing for some of my regular recipes. And, then, it’s always nice to make something you can be proud of.