Pantex Blog

A variety of wildlife calls Pantex home

Posted: Friday, March 1, 2024 - 08:28

A great horned owl perches on a building.
A great horned owl perches on a building.

It was the start to an exciting day for Kevin B., who works at Pantex. He got the call early in the day about a burrowing owl stuck in razor wire at the plant. After getting assistance from the yard group, they freed the small owl and it was taken to Wild West Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Amarillo with concerns about its injured leg. Since it opened in 2016, the rehabilitation center has helped with many animals found on plant and has provided all these services for free. When Kevin spoke with the non-profit recently, it was suggested that the tiny owl might find a career as an educational animal there.

As soon as Kevin got back to the plant, he received a call about a feral cat that had been caught in a trap on-site. When he got to the cat’s location, he realized it was about 50 feet from where he rescued the owl that morning. He was able to take the cat to a shelter in Amarillo that has a “barn cat program,” in which feral cats are saved from euthanasia by being adopted by farmers who rely on them for rodent control.

According to Kevin, this kind of day is not unusual. His department has set high standards when it comes to how they handle wildlife and their work to preserve the land that Pantex inhabits. On top of removing animals and relocating them from places they should not be, he and his group also do quite a bit to maintain the natural terrain of the land. From playa lake preservation to studies tracking purple martin birds, Kevin’s group at Pantex does all they can to be good stewards of the land in the Texas Panhandle. In addition to the work their department does with the environment, they also secure safety for the site by managing hazardous situations with wildlife and routinely monitoring levels of animal waste.

Due to the heavy rain in May and June, there has been an influx of young wildlife roaming around the approximately 16,000 acres at Pantex. On the master list of wildlife that Kevin’s department reports every year, there were 103 species of birds reported at Pantex in 2023. The high levels of water in the playas last summer have brought in waterfowl that have not been seen at Pantex in decades. Examples of some of the larger species that have recently been spotted are the ferruginous hawk, the Virginia rail, and bald eagles.

Fawns have routinely been seen with their mothers around the plant, as well as plenty of young skunks, prairie dogs, snakes, and the protected Texas horned lizards. During “swift fox surveys” at night (developed a couple of decades ago to see if swift foxes were showing up at night on the plant), coyotes, rabbits, and other wildlife are seen regularly.

The growing population of young burrowing owls and Texas horned lizards is quite encouraging to Kevin, as they have seen so few of them in the years preceding 2023. The species have been in a decline in recent years, causing Texas biologists to have growing concern for the future of the species. Pantex Lake is a welcoming home for both species, which has resulted in a strict 10 mph speed limit for those driving in the area.

While the Environmental Compliance group has done copious amounts of work to preserve the habitat and protect the wildlife at the Pantex Plant, Kevin knows there is more to be done. To continue the mission and make the right decisions for all inhabitants of Pantex, they are working on a continued project to set up shrubs to prevent prairie dogs from getting into places that may be harmful for them. Another study that they are looking to do with local universities is to figure out how to keep invasive grass species that are harmful to Texas horned lizards from killing native grasses that protect the lizards. Pantex has long worked with Texas Tech and West Texas A&M University professors and students on preservation projects to make Pantex a great place for Texas wildlife.

Kevin believes that the heavy rain last spring is a big contributor to the large number of young animals roaming around, as well as animals seeking shelter closer to buildings. Although this is positive in many ways, it can also lead to wildlife being in places it should not be.

I am Mission Success: Mike Robinson

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2024 - 07:43

Vice President of Project Management Mike Robinson
Take 5 minutes to learn about CNS Vice President of Project Management Mike Robinson. He oversees infrastructure modernization work at both Pantex and Y-12. All views and opinions are the employee’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.

Mike Robinson is in the middle of a climb. It’s a metaphorical climb up a very real mountain of infrastructure modernization work at both Pantex and Y-12. The work includes the programmatic plans and master site plans at both sites that identify new equipment and infrastructure to be installed and constructed. Robinson, vice president of Project Management, has purview of all the capital projects and many expense projects at both Pantex and Y-12, excluding the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF). He’s been in his current role for a little over a year now, but as a principal vice president with Bechtel, it’s a continuation of a lifelong career.

“The reality is in 30-plus years with Bechtel, I’ve moved over a dozen times and covered twice that many different projects or positions; it’s going where the work is needed to address challenges,” Robinson noted.

One challenge that surprised Robinson when he joined CNS was the gravity of the work versus the state of the buildings it’s completed in.

“Our people — not just within Project Management, but across CNS — find ways to be successful in facilities that have overreached their life expectancy,” Robinson said. “In FY 2023, under an increasing workload, CNS not only met but exceeded production goals. Integrated teams across CNS especially demonstrate just how important each person is to overall mission success.”

Project work is increasing to meet both current repair needs as well as to prepare the sites for the future. Buildings like the new fire station and Emergency Operations Center at Y-12 are clear examples of how new facilities improve not only the work, but also morale. For anyone who works on projects, the on-the-job daily problem-solving has a tangible outcome.

“The passion for the mission extends across the board, throughout the different departments and up and down the ladder, so to speak,” Robinson said.

How has working for CNS changed or reinforced your thoughts on our mission?
Not changed, but reinforced my thoughts on the mission. I appreciated that before, but I’ve gained additional insights into specifics of what projects we are doing to support future mission needs. I also think we’re at a time when the global environment is evolving, and it fully reinforces why our mission is needed or important. We want to play our part by safely and efficiently implementing our infrastructure modernization.

Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult? If so, describe how you got here.
Absolutely not. I would describe it as a long strange trip. My dad and my uncle were engineers, and my brain seemed wired to build and disassemble things as a kid. I fed that spark by getting a mechanical engineering degree and then headed into the field working construction. I’ve been involved in projects and operating facilities for my entire career. I’ve always gotten satisfaction from completing projects or solving problems, and I have fond memories of the people on the teams we’ve developed along the way.

What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex or Y-12?
Ask questions. Seek to gain insight from your coworkers about both the work at hand and how it fits into the mission. Getting back to similarities in the sites, it is that general pride in support of the mission that is inspiring. I think that’s unique to these sites because there’s a longer view than just any one project.

Why is it important we hold ourselves accountable in our daily tasks?
We’re all part of some plan; we all have roles and responsibilities to make it work. By holding ourselves accountable, we’re working to support the mission. If you’re not doing what you’re accountable for, you’re letting someone down. As an example, all projects have challenges — there hasn’t been a project in the history of the world that hasn’t had challenges. Good teams identify and attack issues, so being accountable prepares you to address the challenges of that project. It takes the village to complete our projects, and we need to be accountable so we don’t burden each other.

I am Mission Success: Tony J.

Posted: Tuesday, February 20, 2024 - 07:33

Pantex Senior Labor Relations Manager Tony J.
Pantex Senior Labor Relations Manager Tony J. has more than 30 years of labor relations experience and loves making a difference.

During new employee orientation, new Pantexans are introduced to Senior Labor Relations Manager Tony J. with a lighthearted, "and now we have the Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington—also known as Tony J.!” Whether or not his comparison to Denzel is because of his winning smile or his charismatic personality, even Jones’ office sign affectionately identifies him as the Remember the Titans and Training Day actor.

Tony arrived at Pantex in 2022 from Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, bringing with him more than 30 years of labor relations experience in various industries, the last eight of which were at DOE facilities.

He says labor relations was never an industry he thought he would be a part of.

“Where I came up, there wasn’t a whole lot of envisioning what you would do when you grew up,” he said. “It was only when I got to Teaneck, New Jersey, to live with my aunt and uncle … that my life took a turn. I traveled with my Uncle Dickie, who was a Broadway musician, and my Aunt Barbara. That was when I went from surviving to thriving. I met Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, The Temptations and more. I met so many positive and thriving African American people and was then able to envision the same future for myself. I went from Kansas to Oz—I felt like I could see in color for the first time. My friends used to tease me and say I was the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

After getting an undergraduate degree in psychology from Fairleigh Dickenson University and a law degree from Case Western Reserve University, Tony landed his first job at United Technologies in Hartford, Connecticut, in labor relations. Though he disliked it at first, Tony then grew to love the work and found that he could make a difference. His main concern is that “we interact with our employees with respect and dignity.”

Tony describes himself as a lifelong learner. Not only has Tony mastered labor relations but he also now understands Pantexans, too. When he arrived, Tony was surprised to find out the “gravity and span of what we do in keeping America and our allies safe. No one else does what we do, and that is very grounding. I am constantly reminding our employees in daily interactions, whether bargaining or non-bargaining, how important our mission is, and that we cannot do it without them.”

From Diana Ross to DOE, Tony has seen a lot. But when it comes to Pantex, he believes we have a special spark when it comes to employee relations.

“I have heard many employers state that their most important assets are their employees. The thing that stands out to me about Pantex is that I see it every day in the way that we care about the safety and well-being of our employees.”

Why are you mission success?
Because I deal with the very people that put their hands on our weapons every day. No matter what our interactions are, I try to remind them how important they are, how important our mission is, and how important they are to our mission. We all have different jobs, and no one is more important than another. We are all Pantexans working toward one goal, which is to be the best we can be in support of our mission.

Who in your life has inspired you most and why?
My Uncle Dickie. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama, at a time when choices of professions for African Americans were little to none, yet he made it to Broadway in New York City! He moved to New York and made something of himself as a Broadway and studio musician. He showed me how to be a man, how to be kind and loving. If it wasn’t for him taking me in, there is a chance I wouldn’t be here. He showed me how to truly love someone who wasn’t your blood and how to be a kind, loving, and responsible individual. I truly believe everything I have achieved is in great part attributable to him.

What characteristics define a good leader to you?
By definition, a leader is someone others are willing to follow. Therefore, some characteristics of a good leader to me are being empathetic, trustworthy, credible, inspirational, and goal-centered. I believe we have leaders like this all over at Pantex –some with leadership titles and many without.

Everyone offers value to our tasks. Why must we be open to learning and hearing from others?
Nelson Mandela once said, “it is always impossible until it is done.” To me, that means some ideas sound improbable to impossible. However, I believe as Mandela did. It was once impossible for African Americans to be free, but we are. It was once impossible for man to land on the moon, but we did. It was only because we listened to ideas of others and dared to hope and dream the impossible. Robert Kennedy once said, “Some see things as they are, and say ’why?’ I see things as they could be and say ’why not?’” As Pantexans, we are challenged every day to be safer and better. It is only by listening to new, improbable and challenging ideas and ways of doing things that we endeavor to do the ‘impossible’ every day.

Affinity Spotlight: Women in Nuclear

Posted: Friday, February 2, 2024 - 07:46

Introduce a Girl to Engineering is one of the biggest volunteer events that members of Women in Nuclear participate in annually
Introduce a Girl to Engineering is one of the biggest volunteer events that members of Women in Nuclear participate in annually.

Cassandra H. started work at Pantex nearly two years ago, and enjoys the career she has.

“I like what we do, working in nuclear; there’s no other job like this at all,” she said. “The people you work with are good. It’s the puzzle, working with your hands, and staying busy.”

Her job role is one populated by a majority of men, and while she emphasizes the cohesion found with her peers, she adds, “it’s important to have sisters you can go to.”

The solution was to join one of the affinity groups that she learned about in orientation, Women in Nuclear, often referred to as WIN. This is an organization of women (and men who support women in the field) who work in nuclear energy and technology fields around the United States. The vision of U.S. WIN is to position the United States for the future of nuclear energy and technology through the advancement of women.

“With WIN I get to talk to other women and make friends I probably wouldn’t have met if I weren’t doing this,” Cassandra said. “You get to be social outside of your work area. It’s a place where women can get together and encourage each other. It’s very encouraging to go to the meetings, because I believe knowledge is power, and the more you know the more you can further your career. I’d like to see more women in the nuclear industry.”

An affinity group, also known as an employee resource group, is a group of employees linked by a common purpose or interest. Affinity groups play a vital role in ensuring an inclusive work environment where all are valued, included, and empowered to succeed.

One of the biggest events for WIN is Introduce a Girl to Engineering, which at Pantex is organized and run directly by the affinity group.

“Introduce a Girl to Engineering is an opportunity for women at Pantex to volunteer in the community for a day and be an example of success in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math jobs,” said Pantex WIN Outreach Chair Brandi S.. “This event is a way to demonstrate that STEM is fun, creative, and girls can be great at it. Introduce a Girl to Engineering can be the spark that ignites interest in careers that benefit both the girl and the Pantex Plant in the future.”

Career ONE steers engineering grads toward right path

Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2024 - 13:20

Pantex Career ONE Manager Steve C. (far right) with the latest class
Pantex Career ONE Manager Steve C. (far right) with the latest class.

Consumers may test drive a few cars before they find the right one. At Pantex and Y-12, Career ONE participants take a similar approach to find the right job.

Debuting in 2011, Career ONE (Opportunities for New Engineers) allows recent college graduates to participate in a job-rotation program during their first two years at the sites. The newcomers work in different engineering disciplines in 4– to 6–month increments and gain insights into each field so they can better determine which career path is the best fit.

“I found this middle ground between a job and an internship,” said former Y-12 Career ONE participant Erika R. “It is the perfect program.”

Workshops and training sessions further expand their knowledge and technical skills. In addition, they have access to state–of–the–art equipment and processes. Participants complete up to four rotations, which last a year at Pantex and between a year and 18 months at Y-12.

“It’s an opportunity to get a broader sense of what’s going on in the company and an opportunity to learn more,” said Pantex Career ONE Manager Steve C. “Helps them hit the ground running.”

Y-12 Career ONE Manager Kody C. added, “It’s a great program. These engineers are able to gain exposure to our mission and build technical experience. The managers have said how impressed they are with this organization and commented on how enthusiastic Career ONE classes have been.”

Participants, many introduced to Career ONE at job fairs, hail from schools such as the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Tech University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Texas Tech University.

The past two classes are part of a growth spurt for Y-12 Career ONE. The FY 2021 and 2022 groups boasted 14 and 15 members, respectively. The FY 2023 class had 19. At Pantex, the classes are smaller, with usually eight engineers entering the program each year. The program is in its fifth year there.

“We have plans to grow it,” Steve said. “In the next four to five years, would we would like to see it increase to about 15 people.”

As established groups finish their rotations, new grads come onboard, fostering a mentoring environment.

“Former Career ONE participants are the coaches for the current Career ONE class,” Kody said. “They help them get connected from a networking perspective.”

Although creating those connections is key to success at the sites, the opportunity to work in various areas of engineering is invaluable.

“For this generation that comes out of college, it’s all about choices,” Steve said. “They thrive on that.”

Among this generation is Claire F., who recently completed her final rotation at Y-12.

“This is my first job out of college,” she said. “Career ONE helped me to see my strengths and weaknesses and to see what parts of engineering I enjoy. I was worried coming into a new job and not liking it, but with this, I got a chance to try a few jobs. I really like my current position in Process Engineering, but I also enjoyed my time in Design. It’s been great to see all of the different sides. It gave me some really good options.”

The options also allow an easier entry into a new and sometimes daunting job world.

“Going in blind (to a single job) would have been intimidating,” said former Y-12 Career ONE participant Adam, who was deployed to Process Engineering. “This way, I got a chance to see what I liked and didn’t like.”

Also recently deployed to Y-12 Process Engineering is Michael H.

“This program has been fantastic,” he said. “It was perfect for my personality type. I’m always thinking, would I be better somewhere else or would I be happier somewhere else? Thankfully, I enjoy this job so much. It’s like a birds-eye view of what’s going on here, like being backstage, which is perfect, because I’m always craving knowledge.”

For former Pantex Career ONE participant Austin F., “I came in not knowing what exactly I wanted to do. All I knew is that I wanted to be an electrical engineer. Career ONE allowed me the ability to shift around and choose a group that was the best for me.” He works in the Projects Electrical Design group at Pantex.

There’s a good chance Austin and other Career ONE employees will remain at Pantex and Y-12 for years to come, which is good news. Both sites have been focused on attrition rates.

“Because of the positive experience they have in the program, they tend to stay at Y-12 for a while,” Kody said. “We set them up for success with all the access to the site.”

Steve has seen strong retention at Pantex as well, with Career ONE graduates on average working at the site for several years after program completion.

“It takes a few years to get acclimated and to contribute fully,” Adam said. “I could easily see myself being here five-plus years.”

Austin said, “The chances of me staying at Pantex are high, I would say, as long as I’m putting out quality work. I’m in a good group and I love the people here.”