Take five minutes and learn about Chris Howard, HESE project manager, at Pantex. All views and opinions are the employee’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.
Chris Howard is making an impact on the landscape of Pantex as the new project manager of the line item High Explosive Science and Engineering (HESE) Building. The main construction portion of this project will start this summer and supports the High Explosives Center of Excellence for Manufacturing within the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Howard has been at Pantex for 15 years and has worked in the Project Management organization the entire time.
“The advantage of working in this organization is we touch every part of the plant,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work on IT, security, maintenance, and environmental projects throughout the plant.”
Previously, Howard was the portfolio manager for the Bay Cell Portfolio, which is upgrading the Flame Detection System, High Pressure Fire Loop, and the Radiation Air Monitoring System in the bays and cells. The upgrade of these systems is reducing risks associated with legacy systems.
Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult? If so, describe how you got here.
From my second year of college, I planned to work in the construction field, but the locations of the construction projects are not what I thought. I never thought I would work on oil and gas projects in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai or hotel and casino projects in Las Vegas. I also never thought I would be working at Pantex. I grew up in Amarillo and never gave much thought to working here. Our kids were in second grade and kindergarten when we started talking about moving to Amarillo from Las Vegas, and Pantex was one of the few places that met our goals. You never know where your career path will lead.
What is your favorite aspect about your work environment? How does that aspect make you know the mission is being met?
I enjoy the actual construction phase and the team working together to put the plan into action. Every construction project either directly touches a system supporting the mission or a support organization need so they can better support the mission.
What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex or Y-12?
I don’t think this applies to just work, but be on time, work hard, have a good attitude, learn from mistakes (both yours and others), ask questions, and be prepared.
What’s your favorite outside-of-work activity and why?
I enjoy time with the family, hunting, skiing, and occasionally mountain biking. All of these activities provide me an opportunity to unwind, relax, and enjoy a little friendly competition.
Modernization is a goal at Pantex as the site is transformed into a more modern, agile, and responsive asset for the nation. For more than a decade, the efforts to update and re-focus the vision of the future have been a major undertaking, and they are now being realized with new facilities, an expanded workforce, and an increase in production work.
There has been a large amount of both demolition and construction activities at Pantex as unused and 75-plus-year-old buildings are replaced with newer structures designed to handle increased production capabilities and bring the site up to date. The John C. Drummond Center (JCDC) is the largest and one of the newest buildings at Pantex, replacing more than 50 obsolete structures and housing more than 1,100 employees. Opened in 2018, it is already undergoing renovations to address future needs and accommodate additional employees.
Pantex Site Manager Jeff Yarbrough says, “The modernization of our stockpile means that our workload is increasing...so we're adding a lot of new staff, a lot of engineers and scientists and support staff, and we need space for those people to work in. “We are repurposing a lot of the JCDC for space for CNS employees to support the modernization of the stockpile.”
VNR - Modernization
Meet Ralph Eubanks, metrology technician in the dimensional lab at Pantex. He is one of the Pantex team of metrology specialists who works to exceed customers’ requirements and expectations. His primary role is to calibrate cutters (milling bits) that are used in the various machining operations throughout Pantex.
Ralph Eubanks works as a technician in the dimensional lab in Pantex’s Metrology group.
Pantexan Maria Holt was the first intern-to-employee in the SkillBridge intern program, a partnership of the Department of Defense and CNS. After 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, Holt now works at Pantex in Environmental Compliance.
More than two years ago, Pantex and Y-12 began a partnership with the Department of Defense SkillBridge internship program to help service members transition to civilian employment by spending their final six months of active duty as interns. SkillBridge interns complete a specialized training program that fits their background and career goals, as well as the partnering organization’s goals.
Since March 2020, Pantex and Y-12 have hosted 31 SkillBridge interns, and 25 of them have transitioned to full-time employment. Another 11 are currently completing internships, with nine more scheduled to begin interning soon.
Emily Graber, director of Engagement, Inclusion, and Performance, is the program manager for CNS's SkillBridge. She said partnering with DOD on the program builds the sites’ capabilities. CNS can tap into a talent pool of transitioning service members to recruit not just interns but employees who understand the foundation of CNS imperatives and values.
“The program is a wonderful opportunity for service members to easily transition into a new norm of life after their commitment to our nation during their time with DOD,” Graber said. “It is an honor to see the success of our partnership with DOD and each and every SkillBridge intern as they continue their service to our nation in a slightly different capacity.”
Maria Holt at Pantex was the first SkillBridge intern to transition to full-time employment through the CNS program. She retired from the U.S. Air Force in August 2020 after 20 years of service in bioenvironmental engineering. By then, she had already completed her internship and was hired by Pantex Environmental Compliance as an environmental science specialist.
The goal of SkillBridge is to ensure that service members have employment set up well in advance of their military departure. Holt said her transition process began two years before she left the military. She selected Pantex for its proximity to her hometown of Dumas, Texas, where her husband is a police officer, as well as for its patriotic mission.
“It’s been a good transition,” Holt said. “DOD and DOE are similar in how they manage, so I still apply the ideals of teamwork and completed staff work. I just don’t have to wear a uniform anymore.”
After spending 29 years in the U.S. Army, Jay Aspray is now the recruiter for all SkillBridge interns at Pantex and Y-12. Aspray said he was able to quickly align his vast military experience to the Y-12 mission.
“The benefits of the program are significant in that it allowed me to be fully operational by the time my internship was complete, so I could immediately begin providing Y-12 with meaningful and impactful work once I was hired full time,” he said.
John Toliver III spent 14 years in the U.S. Army before deciding to take another path, becoming one of the first three SkillBridge interns. He is now the program manager for U.S. Special Operations and Interagency Partnerships. He said learning the language and culture of Y-12 reminds him of learning to speak Arabic to better understand the culture of his partner forces.
“Learning the language and culture of the NSE, CNS, and Y-12 is priceless as I join this dynamic team,” Toliver said. “The internship helped me determine that CNS was a right fit for me and my family and that I was a right fit for CNS.”
Due to the nature of the work done at Pantex, severe weather, especially area lightning strikes, will halt production. To monitor weather conditions, Pantex subscribes to two lightning-detection networks for cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground strikes.
One of those lightning-detection networks is Earth Networks, which has lightning-detection systems located all over the United States. Pantex added additional lightning-detection sensors that include weather stations to the four corners of the Texas Panhandle. The cities of Texline (northwest), Follett (northeast), Friona (southwest), and Childress (southeast) were selected to meet that need.
These four new weather stations update every 30 seconds, and new photos from an HD SkyCam are updated every 15 minutes to a webpage that local schools can embed on their websites. The weather data can be used by the students and teachers at the respective schools to teach lessons such as basic meteorology, mathematical skills, and of course, earth science. It can also be a vital component in the schools’ use of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in the classroom.
“I looked into these weather stations, the equipment they use, the range of the lightning-detection sensors, and how easy they are to deploy and use. I found that the equipment used is identical to the 250+ SchoolNet sites that I installed more than 20 years ago at a local TV station,” said Pantex Meteorologist Steve Kersh. “When we contacted the superintendents of the four schools to see if they were interested in helping us, they jumped at the idea, and it was approved quickly. I see this as a way to promote Pantex, to increase the sensitivity and reliability of the lightning network, and to give the schools a way to teach their students about the weather, math, and science.”
Kersh and Electromagnetics employee Wayne Blodgett visited each site and got the new equipment installed and working perfectly. The equipment is placed on top of the schools with the SkyCam pointed toward the horizon.
In Texline, Superintendent Terrell Jones was excited about the new weather station and sent Kersh an email once it was up and running. “I love the new station,” he said. “It is instant and has lots of very good information.”
The Texas Panhandle covers approximately 25,600 square miles (more than the state of West Virginia with 24,230 square miles), and weather conditions across that large an area can vary greatly. Pinpointing weather to one small area is very beneficial to people in that location. And that’s why Pantex allows public access to these sites as anyone with an internet connection can monitor local weather. There have already been reports that farmers and ranchers are using the local data to assist them with their livestock, along with preparing and maintaining crops.
Finally, it helps Pantex and many area students interested in STEM. By expanding the number of lightning sensors, and in turn, the stations, the effectiveness, range, and quality of the lightning data monitored and reported continues to increase. Going forward, all eyes are on the SkyCams and the possibility of adding more sites to gather weather data.
Check out the websites below.