Mission Engineering is led by Gary Sanders, who has a wealth of experience within the nuclear weapons complex.
Gary Sanders has led a unique and distinguished career, including stops at the Pentagon and the U.S. Department of Energy Headquarters, where he interacted with top defense brass and foreign nuclear agencies. However, as a child, he aimed higher.
“I always wanted to be an Air Force pilot,” Sanders recalled, “but they wouldn’t let me fly because of my vision.” Instead, he pursued a new path — nuclear engineering and reactor design.
“I never could have predicted all the opportunities I have had,” said Sanders, whose opt in attitude has kept him on the go. An engineering internship at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory led to graduate school and Sandia National Laboratories, where he helped design the nuclear weapons that Pantex and Y-12 maintain and refurbish today. Fewer than 12 years after starting his career, Sanders had his first special assignment in Washington, D.C., which eventually resulted in multiple assignments with the Air Force.
“I still didn’t get to fly their planes, but I did get to improve the safety features of their nuclear weapons.”
Before joining CNS, Sanders and his wife thoroughly enjoyed two years of retirement. “We’d alternate between visiting mountains and beaches,” he recalled, noting that outside of work he likes to scuba dive and hike. “I also volunteered at the aquarium and really enjoyed raising multiple litters of puppies for the local animal shelter,” Sanders said.
Why are you mission success, and how was it proven during the sites’ reduced, mission critical operations?
Mission Engineering enables Pantex and Y-12 Operations. Production equipment must work, project teams need to be able to do their updates, nuclear safety has to be in place, and so much more. The sites literally cannot do their mission without us, and we are useless if they can’t use what we design and build.
During the reduced, mission critical status, the importance of Mission Engineering was proven yet again: Approximately 80% of the Pantex work to build and surveil weapons continued, and we had teams set up to help with their Safety Basis, tools and procedures. Virtually all of the Development work continued as mission essential, including work on purifying uranium, melting binary, performing readiness assessments of lithium technology, and much more. All Engineering support for the Uranium Processing Facility continued across multiple shifts, and most project engineering support continued, including using computer-aided design to perform designs from home.
How did your opinion of your work environment change as CNS sites were placed in reduced, mission critical status? What is your favorite aspect about your work environment?
The flexibility to perform a large degree of engineering design work remotely has been eye opening and only made possible by the heroic support of Information Solutions and Services. I believe teleworking will permanently change some of how we do business in the future to accommodate family dynamics.
As for my favorite aspect, hands down, it is not having to wear a suit and tie. I wore both for years in Washington, D.C., while working at the Pentagon. I brought only one suit with me when I moved to Tennessee.
As an employee, what do you want to be remembered for?
I can think of two things. First, asking two important questions: Why are we doing it this way, and can we do it better? And second, for reinforcing educational standards for Pantex and Y-12 Engineering positions. An engineering degree denotes a level of technical rigor that must be in place for certain aspects of our work.
What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex and Y-12?
Be open to experiences and challenges — they will both come, and both provide opportunities. Also, visit or transfer between the sites. It’s important to understand the people and challenges at both locations.
What one thing would your coworkers be surprised to know about you?
I was not raised in the United States. My father worked for U.S. Steel, which took us to Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, where I grew up.
Y-12 Building Services and Lawler-Wood Maintenance and Facilities Technicians continue to disinfect commonly used areas and ensure their safety using face masks and gloves.
When the presence of COVID-19 approached our corner of the world, causing many to brace for impact, Pantex Utilities and Maintenance, Y-12 Building Services, and Lawler Wood Maintenance and Facilities technicians at both sites were called to action. As the first line of defense against germs on site, these professionals are responsible for contributing to the overall health of employees especially during viral seasons. Only this time, they were courageously working against a different and unknown pathogen.
Armed with a dedicated task force, N95 respirators, gloves, goggles, and other necessary personal protective equipment, teams have worked quickly and diligently over the course of the outbreak to sanitize surfaces and spaces throughout Pantex and Y-12 facilities.
“We have a very professional team of building services employees who take safety very seriously,” said Y-12 Building Services Supervisor Nate Criswell. “In addition to our routine best practices, we discussed the virus more in depth and shared as much information as we could get our hands on in regards to emerging best practices as it relates to cleaning, PPE, and hygiene.”
Increased cleaning duties to twice a shift, along with the everyday janitorial duties, made for long days and even some extra hours on the weekends to maintain 24/7 operations.
“Our team performed at a high level,” Johnny Heredia, Pantex Infrastructure specialist, said. “The whole department was focused on the same goal: not getting anyone sick. We sometimes changed what we were doing in order to achieve the goals in an even more effective and efficient manner. Our team adapted and has stepped up our activities to maintain productivity.”
Already ahead of the curve in terms of safety processes and equipment, there weren’t many standard precautions for the building services team to take that weren’t already in place. Through team briefings, crews were refreshed on the differences and processes for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, choosing the right chemicals for the job, and using correct PPE at all times. With plans drawn and scheduled, personnel were ready to eliminate the wake of the virus.
“Early on, our team was asked to respond to situations where employees were being sent home with symptoms or had been confirmed to have the virus,” Criswell said. “Through preparation, knowledge, and having the proper PPE, our teams deployed out to these responses more confident in the fact that they were protected and they knew the best ways to treat these areas to prevent further spread.”
As attention was directed to slowing the spread, crews began expanding to common zones, offices, breakrooms, waiting areas, etc. At the John C. Drummond Center, Lawler Wood Pantex also took advantage of reduced personnel onsite to deep clean areas such as air filters, windowsills, elevator shafts, and floors.
Throughout Jack Case Center and New Hope Center, Lawler Wood Y-12’s first, second, and third shift crews performed efforts beyond routine deep cleaning.
“Lawler Wood Y-12 employees have worked tirelessly 24/7, often overtime, to respond to requests for additional deep cleaning and disinfecting areas,” said Lawler Wood Y-12 Facility Manager Vicky Bowling. “We greatly appreciate these efforts.”
For Y-12 Building Services, members were divided into teams of two using Clorox 360 equipment. One person to help set up the area and direct the disinfectant cord, and one person to spray. This resulted in an efficient process to cover more ground. Successful disinfection sweeps were completed when all requested areas were sprayed, labeled, dated, and closed.
“I have continuously reminded my folks that what they do day in and day out matters more than they know,” Criswell said. “We are working tirelessly to keep our work family and our nation’s valuable nuclear workers safe and healthy.”
Fearless and focused, both teams remained dedicated to the safety of the mission by taking pride in the details of their work. All the while, knowingly protecting the site’s most precious assets — its people.
“Thank you to who are putting in long days to make sure we have access to the necessities during an immensely challenging time,” Heredia said. “We know you are doing crucial work, and we appreciate you. We couldn’t get through this without you.”
Mandy Miller of Lawler Wood Pantex cleans and disinfects the breakrooms in the JCDC.
Learn more about Corey Strickland, Pantex deputy site manager, and how he helps make our mission a success.
Corey Strickland, Pantex deputy site manager
Take five minutes and learn about CNS’s Corey Strickland, Pantex deputy site manager. “I am mission success” profiles share how each employee feels tied to the Pantex and/or Y 12 mission. All views and opinions are the employee’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.
Corey Strickland has had a long and successful career at Pantex - 26 years, 3 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days to be exact. He started as a production technician and has worked many positions within the Operations and Program Management organizations before becoming the deputy site manager for Pantex in 2016.
Strickland currently serves as the lead of the Senior Management Advisory Response Team, or SMART - a team that has been critical during the site’s transition to essential mission critical operations status during the COVID-19 pandemic. With NNSA’s approval, the SMART has been working logistics to ensure Pantex systematically moved as many people as possible away from the site.
The SMART will also play an important role in the site transitioning from current operational status to normal operations.
Strickland says the SMART's role will be “ensuring that the site is ready to bring those people back to the plant and that we have done everything we possibly can to make the transition to normal operations as smooth as possible.”
Corey and the SMART have also used the Emergency Management Information System during their work to transition to mission critical status.
“The SMART has used EMInS to function as the tool where data are collected, actions are tracked, and as a resource tracking tool to ensure the SMART team can quickly evaluate the health of our employees,” he said.
Strickland said it has been amazing to watch how the plant has responded to the pandemic.
“Every time I host a site visitor, I tell them that we are proud of what we do for our nation and that they will feel that pride when they visit our work areas,” he said. “During this unprecedented time that pride continues to shines through!”
What daily task (specific meeting, report, etc.) lets you know you’re helping achieve the CNS mission?
Daily interaction with the entire plant and working with those employees to further our mission lets me know I’m helping. Providing leadership and keeping the communication lines open are key to our mission success.
Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult?
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
What CNS principle drives you to be successful?
Setting high standards! If we don’t set our standards high, we will never reach the highest of levels we need to be in this business.
What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex or Y-12?
Find a mentor and be patient. Take pride in what you do … no matter what it is.
What’s your top bucket list item and why?
To play golf in Scotland would be amazing because it’s the birthplace of the game!
Anyone traveling to or exiting from the plant towards Amarillo is encouraged to use Highway 60. The overpass at FM 2373 and I-40 is currently under construction.
The eastbound exit onto FM 2373 at I-40 will be closed for the duration of the project estimated to be completed by Friday, November 20. The westbound exit will remain open and the westbound entrance ramp will remain open until mid-August.
As our nation continues to feel tremendous stress during this time of uncertainty and unrest, now is an important time to reaffirm CNS’s absolute commitment to equality and inclusion. It is our firm policy that everyone be treated with the utmost dignity, respect, and fairness. As a company, we will not tolerate anything less. Our executive leadership team remains focused on creating an inclusive environment where all can flourish.
Here at CNS, we come together with diverse skills and backgrounds to provide outstanding work for our nation. Our shared company values - integrity, trust, respect, teamwork, and excellence - provide a framework for a positive, inclusive environment, but they are just words on a page unless we individually choose to put them into action. Each of us has the ability to act with integrity; to trust and respect our colleagues and neighbors; and to work together as a team as we seek and deliver excellence in all that we do. That choice is ours, and ours alone.
Racism and injustice - and the hurt and anger they cause - remain a serious problem across our nation. Overcoming these long-standing issues in society will not be easy, but they will not be tolerated at Pantex or Y-12. Throughout history, our sites have demonstrated that when Americans bond together, focused on a common goal and unified by a greater purpose, we can accomplish anything, even those things thought previously impossible. Now is the time for us to come together as a nation, for there is no greater purpose than freedom and equality. Together, we can create empowering communities and continue to provide work environments where each of our fellow Americans feels safe, respected, and valued for who they are and what they bring to our society.
President and Chief Executive Officer