Celebrated annually on November 15, America Recycles Day, also known as National Recycling Day, began in 1994. The day serves to raise awareness about recycling and the purchasing of recycled products. It’s a reminder to all that how we recycle and reuse products is important.
That message resonates with CNS employees, because in Fiscal Year 2023, both Pantex and Y-12 saw substantial increases in recycled materials. While it is a win for the environment, the work also helps support the sites’ national security missions.
Y-12 recycled more than 5.8 million pounds, which is a record number of materials. This exceeds last year’s record amount recycled by more than a million pounds.
The recycling coordinator at Y-12, Lisa B., is encouraged by these achievements. “This means every employee took part in the program. It takes the entire plant doing their part to have such success. Each employee plays an important role. The more we recycle, the more we are able to keep items out of the landfill or items going off-site as waste.”
Pantex recycled more than 1.54 million pounds for FY 2023, which is close to an 8% increase over the previous year.
The intention isn’t simply to recycle more materials, but also to become more efficient in our practices. Alicia B. of Pantex Environmental Compliance notes that her group is working on a new initiative with Waste Operations to get a paper briquette machine. This equipment addition will fast-track the transition of waste paper into functional reusable material.
Sustainability has worked in tandem with Waste Operations to overcome obstacles at Pantex. “To have over 1.5 million pounds recycled this year, and the fact that we have continually been able to increase that number can be attributed to these groups working hard at finding recyclers in the Amarillo area,” she said. Waste Operations administers and manages
multiple recycling contracts through CNS Procurement. It is these contracts that essentially authorize us to offer materials to the recycler and take credit for diverting that material from landfill disposal.
Both sites ultimately attribute success to increased employee awareness and contributions. Adding recycle repositories around the sites has helped make recycling easy and convenient. Technological advances and vendor participation have allowed items to be recycled that would have previously ended up in the landfill or hazardous waste disposal.
“Employees should be proud to be a part of an organization that is so dedicated to keeping as much material as possible from going to the landfill,” said Jeremy P. of Y-12 Sustainability. He added, the goal is to create new material streams every year. This can only continue to foster an environment for recycling success at CNS.
Take 5 minutes to learn about Chris Harkins, CNS chief operating officer. All views and opinions are the employee’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.
CNS Chief Operating Officer Chris Harkins helps manage daily operations of Pantex and Y-12 and works with President and Chief Executive Officer Rich Tighe to ensure the sites conduct safe and productive operations. When you consider there are more than 13,000 employees working to achieve the mission, that is a large undertaking.
“I’ve been impressed by the massive scope at Pantex and Y-12,” said Harkins, who arrived at CNS in May. To help keep safety and security at the forefront, he also provides oversight for investigations, critiques, and corrective action plans.
“The similarities between these and other sites made for a seamless transition,” he said. “From the safety first culture to our link to the national security mission, the Pantex and Y-12 workforces have a sense of purpose, are professional and proud, and know what they are doing.”
It doesn’t take new CNS employees long to understand the importance of the Pantex and Y-12 mission and feel a sense of pride and patriotism in serving that mission. For Harkins, a U.S. Navy veteran, the patriotism was already well established, but seeing an assembled product ready for shipment at Pantex recently, he felt added pride.
“Standing next to and seeing the final assembled product [at Pantex] waiting to be shipped to the Department of Defense was surreal,” he said. ”The Pantex workforce is extremely competent, and that is really important in this line of work.”
He has similar thoughts about Y-12. “I’m amazed at the employees’ expertise on uranium and other special materials and how the site is its own self sufficient manufacturing plant.”
The communities around both sites intrigue Harkins, thanks to a childhood hobby.
“I really enjoy watching the trains in the Amarillo area on the way to and from the site (I was a model railroader growing up),” Harkins said. “In Oak Ridge, it’s the historical aspect and the fact that the activities of the secret city of Oak Ridge were actually kept secret until the time of our choosing in 1945.”
As a U.S. Navy veteran, you likely are more familiar than most people with the mission of Pantex and Y-12. How has working for CNS changed or reinforced your thoughts on our mission (nuclear deterrence, managing the stockpile, etc.)?
My first exposure to nuclear weapons in the Navy came late in my career when I was assigned commander of the Atlantic fleet’s nuclear ballistic missile submarine [known as SSBN] squadron in Kings Bay, Georgia. As commodore of the SSBN squadron, I was responsible and accountable to the U.S. Strategic Command and the U.S. Navy for the readiness of our SSBNs (crews and equipment) to execute strategic missile launch tasking if directed. It didn’t take me long to gain immense respect and admiration for the exacting standards maintained by the SSBN force.
Today, having worked at Savannah River, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and now Pantex and Y-12, seeing the production end of the weapons programs brings an even greater respect for the entirety of the team behind our nation’s successful nuclear deterrence capability.
What daily task (specific meeting, report, etc.) lets you know you’re helping achieve the CNS mission? How/why does that task let you know you’re working toward the mission?
In the Navy, it was the ability to keep the required minimum number of SSBN submarines (and their warheads) at sea and/or trained/ready/available to meet national security requirements. Here at CNS, the most important metric is the ability to safely meet our warhead and bomb production rates so that our delivery platforms [bombers, ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), and submarines] actually have the number and types of nuclear weapons required by our national strategy. That’s why I believe it is so important for every employee to see a clear connection between what they do in their everyday job and how it directly contributes to our national security.
What is your favorite aspect about your work environment? How does that aspect make you know the mission is being met?
My favorite aspect about my work environment is the ability to leave my office and go to the shop floor or into the field to engage the team. I am a big believer in getting out and about and engaging employees in their workspace.
I have yet to meet a CNS employee not eager to talk about what they do, share their accomplishments, and even more important for us as leaders, tell me how I can help them. Putting “eyes on target” is a very informative tool and enables the leadership team to maintain confidence that the mission is being met.
What top strength do you bring to your organization and why?
Towards the end of my Navy career, I became an expert in human factors analysis, specifically why smart, trained, and qualified people sometimes make bad decisions, the most significant of which could end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars and/or causing fatalities. Having a good understanding of decision making under various conditions and cognitive biases is essential to the prevention of errors, but that alone is not enough. Getting organizational buy in in this area and implementing the right processes and culture is much harder, but I have had the pleasure of leading it at several organizations. It is exciting to watch an organization become a genuine “high performing organization,” because the ultimate winners are the organization’s employees. If you have ever been on a winning team, you know what I am talking about — it inspires you to be even better and seek ways to improve yourself and your organization each and every day.
What’s your favorite outside of work activity and why?
I love the outdoors and staying active: fishing, boating, and relaxing at our lake house. I also enjoy hiking.
On Veterans Day, I think of the many honorable men and women I served with during my 30 years in the U.S. Navy. I am in awe of the selfless sacrifices my fellow veterans made to protect and defend our country. After all, there’s a reason we call military work “being in the service.” I see this same dedication in our people at Pantex and Y-12.
At CNS, we are proud of the large number of veterans who choose to continue their service to our country by working at our sites. With programs such as Veterans to Engineers and the Department of Defense SkillBridge internship that work to bring in veterans who have retired or are near the end of their military service careers, we attract unique and valuable talent to our sites. For the fourth year running, CNS earned a Gold Award from the HIRE Vets Medallion Program, which recognizes employers for their efforts to recruit, employ, and retain our nation’s veterans.
I am so grateful to the many veterans who choose to offer their skills and commitment to this important national security work. I feel truly fortunate to work alongside you all every day.
In honor of this special day, I wanted to share thoughts on Veterans Day from some of our veteran employees.
“To me, Veterans Day is a national holiday reserved to observe those selfless, brave, and loyal individuals who voluntarily committed themselves to service to defend our great nation both past and present. Never be ashamed to exemplify your patriotism for the United States of America. I am Italian-American and a third generation U.S. Armed Forces veteran on just the paternal side of my family. The love for my nation, fellow Americans, and beliefs pulses through my veins. ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ Proverbs 27:17 NIV”
Retired U.S. Army
“Veterans Day, to me, is an opportunity for all veterans to reflect on our individual obligation we took to our nation, state, and community. It is also a chance to remember our associations and friends, and the common incidents we all shared.”
Retired U.S. Army
“Veterans Day is a day to remember and honor the sacrifice and dedication that our brave brothers and sisters in uniform have made while defending our country’s freedom and way of life. It’s also a time for us to reflect on the time we spent serving our country and how we can continue to support those we trained to take our place. I’m thankful to have the unique opportunity to continue to contribute to our national security by providing the highest quality products from here at Y-12.”
“Veterans Day is a day of honor and appreciation for those of us who had, or still have, the privilege to serve our country and enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that are available. I hope that future generations come to realize the sacrifices that our armed forces and their families endure to promote the lifestyle that we, as Americans, have become accustomed to.”
Retired U.S. Navy
“The military will forever have a prominent place in my life – I was a military dependent as a child, a military member for 28 years, and a Marine Corps spouse. Our children are young and didn’t live through what our commitment to service truly demanded of us. Veterans Day affords us the opportunity to share that with them and open their eyes to all the possibilities in serving. I don’t want them to think of the military as Plan B for their own lives. Honoring the past makes way for the future – and we need them.”
Retired U.S. Air Force
“Veterans Day to me is a day of reflection on the sacrifices made by my fellow veterans, the 1% that choose to serve this great nation. It is an opportunity to thank them and their families. I am proud and honored to say that my daughter is one of those veterans that I will get to thank! It is such a great feeling to be a part of such an elite group of people even though I no longer wear the uniform. I will forever carry that pride within me every time I see beautiful Old Glory fly.”
Retired U.S. Air Force
Pantexan Brandi L. has contributed her efforts to Pantex and its mission for a decade-and-a-half in several different departments.
Brandi is an Amarillo native and graduated from West Texas A&M University with a degree in chemistry and biology.
“I had always been interested in a job at Pantex,” Brandi said. “I was born and raised in the Texas Panhandle. While I certainly didn’t understand the full mission of the plant when I was younger, I knew the mission was important to the United States and felt I wanted to be a part of that mission.”
While still a student, she made use of WT’s career services to assist with things like resumes and interviewing skills and, after she graduated, got a job working for a local environmental company. Then the personnel in the WT Career Services called her. They were having a career fair and knew that Pantex was looking for personnel with her skills. They had printed off her resume and asked her if she’d be able to come in for an interview.
“That was 15 years ago, and I still think about that scenario from time to time and feel blessed that the Career Services people, even though I had already graduated, were in my corner, and that [Pantex] took a chance on me,” Brandi said.
As an employee, what do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as a transparent leader who could be trusted to do what I said I was going to do.
What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex?
Never stop listening and learning. The opportunities to make an impact at either site are endless. However, in order to make an impact, you must be willing to listen twice as much as you speak. Find the mentors and confidantes that you can run your ideas by and who are willing to provide constructive feedback.
What’s your favorite outside-of-work activity and why?
I love to fish, even when I don’t catch a thing! Going fishing with my husband and son provides for me a work-life balance and much-needed downtime where I can truly be present with my family.
Linda Brohlin has worked at Pantex for more than 50 years, and she was recognized for her service by Site Manager Colby Yeary
On May 14, 1973, the United States launched the Skylab, the world’s very first space station. Stevie Wonder had the nation’s No. 1 hit, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” And Linda B. reported to her first day of work at Pantex as an experienced clerk.
An Amarillo native, Linda had graduated with a degree in business education and office administration at what is now West Texas A&M University on May 12; she started her job at Pantex, which was at that time operated by Mason & Hanger, two days later.
“My mama and daddy were so proud of me [getting this job],” Linda says with a smile. “When I first got the opportunity to come out here when I was in college, I was so excited. I had friends’ parents who worked out here, and I thought it sounded like an exciting place to work. And it is interesting stuff.”
Half a century later, she now supports the efforts of the Metal Trades Council, which itself represents the interests of more than 1,200 Pantex workers.
What is your favorite aspect about your work environment? How does that aspect make you know the mission is being met?
My favorite thing is being able to help people.
When I can help somebody – they ask, “how do you do so and so?” And I can help them figure out how to do it, and then the light comes on, “Oh, I get it now.” I enjoy being able to interact with the people I work with.
Anything I can help do for someone brings joy to my heart. I like to be able to help people with whatever they need, whether it’s a work question or just being a friend to them and help them be comfortable.
How does patriotism factor into your life? Did your level of patriotism change after working at Pantex?
It makes me think of my daddy, who was in the U.S. Coast Guard, and my grandmother, who worked out here when it was Proctor & Gamble, way back long ago.
My daddy was so proud to be a Coast Guard veteran. He would put the flag out on the house, and when we had family gatherings, we’d talk about it. It makes me feel proud that I know how proud he was to be serving his country. And, in my way, I can do the same thing.
I know so many people that have a patriotic mindset; we’re all willing to do what we can do and work together to make all this come together for the good of our families, the company, and our whole United States.