This summer, 26 college students worked at Consolidated Nuclear Security and participated in professional development, science and engineering lectures, networking events, and social activities with mentors and peers. The 2016 interns represented 16 universities from across the country and are pursuing degrees in mechanical, electrical, nuclear, and chemical engineering, as well as physics, optics, information technology, and math.
Pantex hosts summer interns (from left): Jeff Kaczmarek, Mikayla Sims, Colton Mooney, Daniel Hutton, Caitlin Bubel, and Jake Dreiling.
Ashley Stowe of Mission Engineering said the interns “are bright, hardworking and fun to interact with. They have accomplished a lot this summer. I am excited that we were able to host six interns at Pantex this summer and look forward to growing the CNS intern program further next summer.” (The six Pantex interns don’t include the two West Point cadets who also spent time at Pantex.)
CNS Student Interns Program Manager Rachel Winningham agreed. “Going forward, I would like to expand the program by providing co-op opportunities and having interns across more organizations.”
Whether they were a Pantexan or a Y-12er, one thing was certain: The interns return to college with a unique experience and the employees with whom they interacted take away something too.
Winningham said, “When you’re around the interns (even for a short timeframe), their energy rubs off on you. I want them to walk away from the internship with newly acquired skillsets, meaningful work assignments to put on their resume, and the opportunity to have networked with other interns and employees.”
West Point. To hear or see the name, most people automatically think of honor and strength. It also makes sense that students of the U.S. Military Academy in New York would want to intern for a CNS site. This year, two West Point interns gained work experience at Pantex.
Michael Grieb (left) and Frederick Albion were Pantexans for a few months this summer as part of a Military Academy Collaboration.
“The West Point cadets we hosted, Michael Grieb and Frederick Albion, were part of a Military Academy Collaboration,” said Nate Davis of Pantex’s Engineering and Science. “Pantex typically hosts cadets as they have a nuclear engineering option in their program.”
While Davis is a first-time host to cadets, he came away with a sense of respect. “The ability of the cadets to go through military and engineering training concurrently gave me a renewed and strengthened appreciation for those who serve,” he said.
The Military Academy Collaboration’s purpose is to provide cadets “a first‑rate experience working cutting-edge research and development opportunities in disciplines and technologies of mutual interest to the Military/Service Academies, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and to the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration].”
Ashley Stowe is Mission Engineering’s Intern Program lead. “It is always a privilege and honor to host West Point cadets. They bring a unique perspective to our work, and this internship allows cadets to see the manufacturing side of the nuclear arsenal.”
Davis said, “Having interns provides a great opportunity. It allows Pantex to show our customers how we work, and it’s also a potential recruitment tool.”
“This program gives us a great opportunity for collaborating with our customers in the DoD, and better allows them the chance to see firsthand the challenges Pantex faces in producing our product, as well as the chance to see our successes and technology advances,” Davis said.
Stowe said, “They are tomorrow’s leaders, and we provide a survey of our processes, procedures and overall role in the supply chain, so they are better equipped to make good decisions.”
The cadets were glad to be Pantexans for four weeks. Grieb said, “I think Pantex was a great experience. It certainly gave me an eye-opening to what future job opportunities could be in the nuclear enterprise.”
Albion was a fan too. “I’ve had a great time these past four weeks. It’s a great place to come to learn a whole lot.” More information about Military Academic Collaborations is available on the NNSA website.
Brenda Vermillion, Carson County Emergency Management coordinator, said she first thought the June 28 head‑on collision between two BNSF trains was an incredibly loud test shot at the Pantex Plant, but she quickly realized the noise was located at the edge of Panhandle, Texas. “I immediately ran outside the building, and could see the cars toppling and then the explosion,” she said.
Several Pantex response vehicles that are a cross between a normal fire engine and an engine designed for a refinery fire respond to Panhandle train derailment. Photos taken by Shelly Zimmerman.
Vermillion went immediately to the dispatch office at the Carson County Law Enforcement Center. “We were already receiving 911 calls,” she said. “I told the dispatchers to call everyone and get everything you can.”
Pantex was one of the first calls. “The response from Pantex was fantastic,” Vermillion said.
Pantex dispatched one engine when the alarm sounded, said Mike Brock, Pantex fire chief. Fire department personnel then evaluated the situation and dispatched another truck as quickly as possible. The Pantex response vehicles are a cross between a normal engine found in a city like Amarillo and an engine designed for a refinery fire, Brock explained. Intended to be fed by a high‑pressure fire loop, Brock said the truck had water pumped to it so that it could blast hundreds of gallons a minute on the blaze. One truck, he said, was manned by Pantexans and ran continuously for about 48 hours.
Pantex has to maintain a level of readiness at all times. Brock said they called off‑shift personnel and set up a rotation schedule, which allowed firefighters to rest, clean up, eat and be ready to return if needed while maintaining the site’s requirements.
“Our guys operated flawlessly, and I could not be more proud of them,” said Brock.
Carson County Judge Dan Looten agreed, saying, “We stretched everyone to the limit, but Pantex ran very well while transferring people in and out.” Hundreds of first responders from across the Texas Panhandle were sent to the small town about 10 miles from Pantex.
Pantex also provided an Incident Command Vehicle that served as a command center on one side of the train. Looten explained the length of the trains made it difficult to quickly travel from one side to the other because the railroad crossings were blocked by rail cars. “We were managing two scenes — one on the north side and one on the south,” he said. Pantex’s ICV was vital to the response, he said.
Meanwhile, Vermillion, who was running the response from the county’s emergency operations center, received a call from Pantexan Chuck Rives, who was in the Pantex emergency operations center. Rives, a member of the Pantex Emergency Management Department and team lead for the Consequence Assessment Team, was able to work with Vermillion’s team to identify areas of concern in the trains’ manifests.
“Chuck was fantastic,” said Vermillion. “We couldn’t have done it without him. He stayed on the phone the entire time.” Rives quickly pointed to his co-workers — Brenda Graham, Sheryl Moran, Raj Sheth and Teri Vigil — who sorted through dozens of pages of the trains’ manifest to identify possible hazardous cargo, material properties and toxicity information. “Their work narrowed our focus to just a few dangerous cars so that I could quickly and accurately relay information to Brenda,” Rives said.
The team also provided smoke plume modeling working with the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center. Knowing what the Panhandle winds were expected to do was vitally important, Vermillion and Looten said. Early in the day, portions of the town were evacuated because of smoke. If the winds changed, driving the fire farther down the train, other actions would be needed to keep the community safe.
Todd Ailes, Pantex site manager, praised the response efforts. He said, “This was a tragic accident that touched the lives of hundreds of our employees who live in Panhandle. Our concern was to help our neighbors in any way possible. Pantex Fire Department, Emergency Management and Communications & Public Affairs personnel worked diligently to provide any services needed by the town, and to provide accurate updates and safe route information to our employees who live in or travel through Panhandle.”
Brock conducted an after‑action review and identified some lessons, including improved interface between the agencies, different types of equipment that could be included on the trucks and the need for new communication equipment that will enable the Pantex team to hear and respond to the other teams.
“Unfortunately, when we get called to do what we are trained to do, it is someone else’s worst day,” said Brock.
The Pantex Fire Department Rescue Team, along with Y-12 firefighter John Fife, who was visiting Pantex, recently participated in a Confined Space Training event in Panhandle. Members of the rescue team are trained in five disciplines—confined spaces, heavy vehicles, structures, rope and trench rescue.
Pantex Fire Department Rescue Team members participate in a confined space training event in Panhandle, Texas.
“All of our team is highly trained,” said Lee Foster, Pantex Fire Department captain. “They have all been to specialized school throughout the tri-state area and are extremely skilled when it comes to these difficult rescue scenarios.”
The rescue team, made up of 23 members, has to train in the five disciplines annually. “We have to train in each area a minimum of eight hours each year,” Foster said. All of that training has been used as the team has been called upon for rescues in the Palo Duro Canyon area as well as other surrounding areas.
Since 2002, Pantexans have sent more than 9,000 care boxes to U.S. military stationed overseas and are continuing the tradition—thanks to Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC.
Packing day volunteers pose before heading to the post office with the boxes they prepared.
During the recent Pantex Day of Volunteering, Pantexans and their friends and family members teamed up with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 430 to pack 28 care boxes. CNS contributed $2,000 to cover the shipping.
“Packing these boxes requires a lot of volunteers,” explained Verlene Dickson, retired U.S. Army member and director of the Veterans Resource Center in Amarillo. “There’s a lot that goes in to collecting the items that are donated, organizing the volunteers during a packing day and then getting these boxes shipped.”
Kimbel Leffew, a Pantexan who knows first-hand the importance of care boxes, offered to lead the team of volunteers during packing day.
“All of my children are or were in the military,” said Leffew. “I know how meaningful packages from home were to them, especially when some of the military receive absolutely nothing.”
In total, the volunteer team packed and shipped 28 boxes for 14 individuals in seven different United Service Organizations (USOs). Each recipient received two care boxes: one full of snacks such as chips, jerky, peanuts and even Girl Scout cookies; and the other loaded with an assortment of hygiene products such as deodorant, shampoo, lotion and hand sanitizer.
“When they open those boxes, they don’t just see the snacks, they see the love that is put behind these boxes, and that matters more to them than the actual contents of the box,” said Luan Martin, packing day facilitator and retired Pantexan. “It’s a piece of America.”