The SAMES concrete crew makes a 241 yard pour behind the Pantex Fire Department in January 2020. SAMES is a small-business partner and is CNS'protégé in the mentor/protégé program. Please note the photo was taken prior to COVID-19 protocols being in place.
Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC (CNS) is demonstrating a continued commitment to business partnership, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of ongoing outreach to business owners and potential vendors, CNS representatives are continuing their Partners in Excellence (PIE) event series virtually.
CNS began the PIE event series in April 2018 because the government contract solicitation process is sometimes considered complex or cumbersome for businesses, particularly newcomers and small businesses.
The latest round of online PIE workshops and forums allow potential business partners to attend while adhering to local social distancing guidelines in Texas, Tennessee, and across the country. PIE workshops are targeted based on agenda content, but larger events like the recent August PIE forum are open to a broader audience of business owners.
“Our goal is to increase the capacity and capability of our contractor base to support our small project execution,” said Cindy Morgan, director of CNS Supply Chain Business Management. “In our world, small projects are defined as $50 million or less.”
While CNS has a focus on modernizing the aging infrastructure of Pantex and Y-12, the company doesn’t only need construction contractors.
“We purchase a variety of goods and services from small and large businesses, and we need vendors for everything from general office supplies to information technology and staff augmentation,” said Randy Crawford, Pantex Small Business Program Manager.
The PIE events are a chance for CNS leaders to offer attendees a slice of knowledge about successfully doing business with Pantex and Y-12, break down the requirements, and share upcoming opportunities. During the August 29 PIE event, Bill Tindal, the CNS chief operating officer, provided an overview of the Pantex and Y-12 site histories and explained why the company uses subcontractors as partners.
There’s also a chance to network with fellow business owners to encourage partnerships. “Sometimes a small business is not able to bond for a large job, but they have the expertise and skills that a larger business does not,” said Morgan. “Providing a chance to network encourages those businesses to work together and submit a joint bid.”
Each year, CNS awards over $1 billon in subcontracts to businesses that help accomplish specialized tasks in support of its vital national security mission.
Dr. Mark Izzard conducts a telepsychology session from his office at Pantex.
The Pantex and Y-12 Occupational Health Services departments have always had a mission to maintain and improve the safety, health, and wellness of employees in the workplace, and their work is more important now than ever before. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve proven themselves responsive, adaptable, and innovative. OHS is rising to the challenges of meeting ongoing occupational health needs with reduced staffing levels, finding ways to improve for the future, and even blazing new trails.
“I don’t think anyone in Y-12 OHS will ever forget that Monday in March when we learned we had our first case,” said Gary Hall, Y-12 OHS senior manager. “I looked around the room, and I think every single person there felt the tsunami of change coming fast our way. In hindsight, I think it was our exceptional people skills that got us through - we needed to quickly problem solve and then execute. We talked our way through the anxiety our coworkers were feeling.”
To practice proper social distancing, the Pantex and Y-12 groups alternated medical and administrative staff on site with weekly shifts. Even with reduced on site staffing levels, personnel were still able to provide fitness for duty and case management functions.
Procedures that didn’t allow for social distancing, such as audio and pulmonary function tests and physical therapy, have been paused to protect the providers and patients. For other procedures, the groups looked for new ways of meeting requirements.
Pantex and Y-12 OHS started telepsychology, or virtual psychology exams. With the employee in one room and the psychologist in another room, they connect via Skype. The simple solution was a first in the Nuclear Security Enterprise. OHS hopes to soon allow psychologists to offer this service while teleworking from home to further reduce the amount of clinical staff on-site.
Pantex has also changed procedures for alcohol testing. To reduce use of breathalyzer tests and protect Fire Department personnel administering the test, employees called in to work off-shifts now receive saliva testing as a pre-screening and breath alcohol tests only following a positive saliva test.
In addition to providing ongoing health support to the plants, both OHS departments played a major role in the sites’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Site Operational Medical Directors Dr. Michael Paston and Dr. Warren Sayre helped develop policies and procedures to protect on site employees and prepare for when the workforce returns during the three stages of the recovery plan.
“We are functioning like our own public health department. The case management staff, led by nurse Melva Davis, is perfecting contact tracing, and we are coordinating with the Amarillo Public Health Department,” said Paston.
Don Morris, Pantex OHS senior manager, said the situation has also encouraged the team to identify opportunities for improvement in other internal processes.
“In some ways, I don’t think we will ever go back to the way we used to do business,” Morris said.
The continuous improvement demonstrated by OHS has not only helped reduce the spread of COVID-19 at both sites but also will further improve the quality of service provided in the future.
Across the country, college students have been forced to adjust schedules and routines for the upcoming academic year in response to COVID-19. Despite the changes it has brought, CNS successfully committed to providing educational development opportunities for students this summer as a part of the CNS Internship Program.
In June, Pantex and Y-12 welcomed 40 participants, 16 at Pantex and 24 at Y-12, to the 2020 intern class! Each had the opportunity to learn what CNS has to offer, virtually and in person.
Behind the mission
Brittany Schidel, a mechanical engineering major pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, was prepared to begin her first internship at Y-12. Growing up in Knoxville, she was familiar with the site’s history and even got to attend student outreach events at New Hope Center. Nonetheless, the knowledge she has gained from her time interning with Y-12 Reliability & Maintainability was eye opening.
“I was surprised by the amount of information I have learned in such a short period of time,” Schidel said. “I have been able to participate in field work along with supporting the condition based maintenance team in their future projects on site. Everyone has been so helpful with teaching me about the site and allowing me to work hands on with them and understand what the Preventive Maintenance team does at Y-12.”
As a Ph.D. pre candidate in nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan, Thomas Folk looked forward to interning at Y-12 for the first time. Along with having the opportunity to relate his curriculum to real world experience, Folk was also eager to apply and contribute to the mission after learning more about Y-12 at the Millennial Nuclear Caucus at New Hope Center in 2019.
During his interview, Folk admittedly knew he was in the right place for the summer.
“A big reason that drove me to want to intern at Y-12 is through the conversation with my hiring manager during an interview,” Folk said. “Not only did I want to take on an internship for the technical aspect, I equally desired to build leadership qualities and strong team working abilities.”
A ‘new normal’ summer
With her sights set to become a future chemical engineer, Danica Ruiz, a chemical engineering major at Texas Tech University, knew Pantex would allow her to gain the skills to do so through improving her technical experience and problem solving skills. As the summer approached, Ruiz admits she was thankful that CNS made the effort to preserve the internship program despite the pandemic.
“CNS has made every effort to ensure our safety and well-being by implementing teleworking and a remote onboarding process,” Ruiz said. “Since I have been able to start working on site, everyone at Pantex has been welcoming while still encouraging and participating in social distancing. I am incredibly thankful for the valuable experience I have gained in this short amount of time. CNS has shown their ability to continue towards their mission without compromising safety.”
For Bryce Rogers, a business management major with a concentration in project management at Elon University, his second year interning at Y-12 looked a little different than the last. As Rogers primarily teleworked through his internship, his experience with Y-12 Supply Chain Management proved to be just as valuable and engaging.
“Everyone who I’ve spoken with has tried to keep a positive outlook on everything,” Rogers said. “This is obviously not how many of us expected to be performing our internships this summer; however, many of the employees continue to be just as engaged and impactful to my experience here, just as if I was standing right there in their cube.”
While working with Y-12 Supply Chain Management, Rogers admittedly not only took away practical skills for the future by getting involved with daily meetings and tasks. He also began to understand the gravity of the mission.
“The fact that I get to tell people the work that we perform every day helps keep the country safe is something that I never thought I’d get a chance to say,” Rogers said. “To be completely honest, the work that we do here is just plain cool.”
Thomas Folk took part in the CNS mission this summer interning with Y-12 Global Security. (No mask necessary in private space.)
As a mechanical engineering major at West Texas A&M, Hector Rivero Figueroa (left) looked forward to interning with Pantex Engineering, “because it is one of the best careers to have here in the Amarillo area.”
Drew Rowlands (center), an intern with Pantex Fire Protection, was able to refine his skillset as a fire protection and safety engineering major at Oklahoma State University.
For Brittany Schidel, taking part in hands‑on experiences, means learning how condition‑based maintenance is able to improve workflow on‑site and assist areas of the plant.
Electronics Technician Galen Boothe, a 50-year Pantexan, works on a Micro-Plasma Tig Welder in the Electronics Shop
In honor of World Photography Day, we’d like to introduce you to Pantex Photographer Michael Schumacher.
You may have seen Michael around the plant – he has a camera in tow and a smile on his face – ready to snap photos of the people, places, and events of the Pantex Plant.
Michael has taken photographs since he was a young boy, first learning basic photography, cameras, exposure, and darkroom film processing and printing from his father who was a hobbyist photographer. His first camera was a Kodak Brownie, and he took family snap shots and silly pictures of his feet.
He fell in love with photography while living in Wyoming.
“I caught the photo bug while living in Wyoming with all beautiful scenery around Big Horn, Sheridan, and Yellowstone.”
Michael said he has always wanted to be a photographer and had his first news photo published at the age of 15 – a breaking news story photo of a smashed tricycle.
“After that, I wanted to be a photojournalist,” he said, “so I went to school and began working in the newspaper industry for 35 years at papers in Oklahoma and Texas.”
Most recently Michael spent 20 years at the Amarillo Globe-News before coming to Pantex in 2019. He says he’s photographed a lot of wonderful and amazing people and has seen a lot of bad things he’d like to forget in his career as a photojournalist.
Michael has been married to his wife Shari for 36 years, and they spend their spare time raising Chow Chows.
His favorite part of being a photographer is meeting people and telling their stories in pictures.
“I like to capture personality in a photo and show people somethings they have never seen before,” he said. “I always wanted to be the eyes for a community and make a difference with my photography.”
Michael said one of his favorite things to photograph is lightning.
“It’s so cool looking and unpredictable,” he said. “One summer night I was shooting at the Cadillac Ranch trying to catch meteors from the Perseids Meteor shower which happens every August.”
In the late hours a storm rolled up and went right over the Cadillacs.
“I got several nice pictures of lightning and this one in particular where my silhouette showed up in the frame,” he said. “I always liked that picture and I still thank God to this day for protecting me while shooting pictures in the middle of a wheat field with lightning striking all around.”
Michael has a strong faith and says that God motivates him, but he has admired Ansel Adams’ black and white photography his entire life.
“I was also inspired by many Associated Press photographers for years, especially the Vietnam era shooters,” he said. “Their photos during the war touched my heart and opened my eyes to the power of photography and its ability to change the world.”
Michael’s bucket list for photography includes spending time in Israel.
“The history and people of that area intrigue me,” he said. “I’d love to spend a year documenting the country.”
When asked how his role at Pantex adds to the mission he said “as a Pantex photographer, my goal is to illustrate the day to day operation at Pantex and to tell the great stories about our proud Pantexan workforce through photos.”
Michael said he has the best job in the world.
“I get to meet new people every day, learn cool stuff and tell incredible stories in photos,” he said. “I usually keep a smiley-face sticker on the back of my cameras to remind me to always have fun. If I’m having fun, then everyone around is usually having a good time and it shows in photographs I make. So let’s have fun people!”
Security Police Officer Payten Pearson training at the Pantex Range
Pantex Tool Maker Michael Gover (QC), a 15-year employee, watches the milling process on a Mazak Mill in the Machine Shop
Take five minutes and learn about CNS’s Laura Valdez, Quality Projects and Programs. “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.
Laura Valdez, Quality Projects and Programs.
With 27 years of experience at Pantex, Laura Valdez has a passion for doing things well. This has made her job in Quality Projects and Programs the perfect fit for the last ten years.
“I enjoy instilling quality in our mission. Even more satisfying is witnessing the same passion in others for quality and for making sure what we do is the right thing and for the right reasons,” she said.
Laura graduated from Caprock High School in Amarillo, Texas and never dreamed she’d be working at Pantex. Attending West Texas A&M University, Laura earned both undergraduate and masters degrees in accounting. She began working at Pantex as a budget analyst. Since then, she has worked in Projects, Program Management, and now Quality. The experience and knowledge gained from each area has paved a path to her passion for what we do at Pantex and for doing what is right.
What is your favorite aspect about your work environment? How does that aspect make you know the mission is being met?
The role I am in now is very gratifying because Quality touches every aspect of what we do at both sites. I have the opportunity to work with many different organizations and processes. I’m also in a position to affect change, whether it’s from a continuous improvement perspective or responding to an issue. I view our role as the conscience of the company, which carries with it a great responsibility to ensure not only that we meet our mission, but that we do it right.
Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult?
No. I knew I wanted to be an accountant from an early age; and, at the time, never saw myself as doing anything else. The significance of what we do at Pantex means so much more to me now than when I was younger or even when I first started working here.
Although my education is in accounting, I have been able to move into positions that helped me grow and learn. I never would have thought I’d be doing what I do now. I’ve been in this position for ten years, the longest I’ve been in any position here.
As an employee, what do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as a person who isn’t afraid to speak up for what is right. Those who know me know that I speak my mind; and, when I do, it’s always from a good place. I’ve seen what can happen if someone doesn’t speak up, and I don’t want to be the one who stood by and let something happen because I said nothing. I am that way at work and at home.
I am also someone who will volunteer where I see a need and have a hard time saying no when asked to help. I hope I am remembered as a person who helps others.
What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex or Y-12?
Don’t hesitate to offer suggestions for improvement. Ask questions. A new set of eyes and perspective on processes are an important aspect of a learning organization.
Another bit of advice that I feel strongly about is to learn as much as you can about different functions at work. Don’t limit yourself or hesitate to try something new. Pantex is a great place to do that, because you have the opportunity to move into other positions and build on your experience and knowledge base. It can be very rewarding personally, especially as it increases your contribution to the organization and our success.
What’s your favorite outside-of-work activity?
I spend a lot of time with my family. My husband, Jason, and I have been married for 21 years and have two children. Madison is 13 and Alex is 16. I enjoy being involved in their school and sport activities. I recently coached my daughter’s club volleyball team and will be helping coach her team at Holy Cross Catholic Academy this year.