Jim Zonar of Y-12 Development shares his experience as a TOPGUN pilot.
It was admittedly the best six weeks of his life and nothing like what Hollywood depicts. For Y-12 Development senior operations lead Jim Zonar being accepted and attending TOPGUN, formally the United States Navy’s Fighters Weapons School, was better than the movie.
As a motivated young adult growing up in Ohio, Zonar hoped that he would follow his familial legacy. His father, who flew P-40 Warhawks, served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He inspired Zonar to do the same one day. In sharing his love for the sky with him at a young age, he and his father attended the Cleveland Air Show every year. Fascinated by the sounds and sights of the jets, Zonar witnessed his dream of becoming a fighter pilot.
“If a jet is flying overhead, I will always look up,” he said. “If it’s a military jet, I am still wowed.”
Following a Navy ROTC scholarship to Ohio State University in 1973, he began his path toward the military. It only took six weeks while on a Navy frigate, between his freshman and sophomore year, to realize he didn’t want to make his home at sea post graduation.
It’s often said that when one door closes, another one opens. In changing direction, Zonar was recruited into the U.S. Marine Corps along with a one way ticket for the opportunity to achieve his dream — a guaranteed seat at Navy Flight School to train to become a pilot.
Jim Zonar, December 1982, in the cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom jet fighter
“It was one of my best decisions ever,” he said.
Along with talent, determination, and 1,000 hours of safe flying, Zonar turned his vision into reality by serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1977 to 1983 as an F-4 Phantom II pilot. With deployments ranging from Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, Zonar has flown around the world and nation to protect the homeland.
Today, after six and a half years of military service, Zonar remains serving the nation. As a Y-12 employee and devoted community member, Zonar has used his experiences to extend opportunities for other young men and women.
“I feel privileged to have worked with him on the Workforce Development Committee for the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce. While serving in an advisory relationship with the Chamber, he played a vital role in bringing the Dream it. Do it platform to students and gives them opportunities to visit local industries and learn about careers related to manufacturing and technology,” said CNS Education and Outreach Specialist Kristin Waldschlager. “He is a true legend with a heart of gold.”
Although he admits, “I’d jump back into the cockpit in a heartbeat,” Zonar continues to pursue excellence for the nation on and off of the ground. With a patriotic spirit, his proudly lit American Flag flies at his home day and night, symbolizing the freedom that he fought and flew for.
Cary Langham in his Y-12 office
The United States flag that spans the wall of Cary Langham’s office has a singular purpose: to remind him of his responsibilities as a patriot.
“This is more than a job,” said Langham, who is Y-12’s director of Cost Savings Reinvestment. “This is my duty to the nation, and the flag is a reminder of that.
“Every day I come to work, I come knowing that I must do my part, give my best, to deliver Y-12’s mission because if Y-12 didn’t exist, I feel sure we’d live in an entirely different world,” he said.
Langham always knew he wanted to have a career serving the nation, and, before college, he thought he might join the military.
“My father George and uncles Marvin, Fred, and John were drafted back in the 1940s and ’50s,” he said. “In those days, they didn’t have a choice, but my parents told me that education was going to be the key to my success, and they were right. I chose to go to Tuskegee University, hired on here at Y-12, and haven’t looked back.”
Working at Y-12 is the only job Langham’s ever had. It’s the only job he’s ever wanted. After graduating from Tuskegee with a degree in mechanical engineering, he hired on as a project controls engineer, tracking project costs and schedules. That was 17 years ago.
Since then, he’s held positions as a process engineer for casting operations, functional manager of engineering staff, and liaison to the United Kingdom under the 1958 U.S. U.K. Mutual Defense Agreement, where he facilitated technical exchanges of defense information to identify process improvements and new manufacturing technologies.
In his current role, Langham oversees site infrastructure improvement projects funded through cost savings. Refurbishing offices; repaving roads and sidewalks; restoring heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems; and upgrading emergency response equipment encourages all employees to take pride in their 75 year old site, he said.
“I like knowing I’m helping improve the everyday quality of life for people on site,” he said. “It’s true that when employees take pride in where they work and what they do, they want to do a good job. Striving for personal excellence becomes a natural follow on.
“I love working at Y-12, and I believe in our mission,” he added. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
Cary Langham is Y-12’s director of Cost Savings Reinvestment. In this role, he works to improve site infrastructure and quality of life for employees.
Jeff Yarbrough, Y-12 deputy site manager
Jeff Yarbrough’s expertise is rooted in ensuring the safety of our nation’s nuclear security. As Y-12 deputy site manager, it is his responsibility to provide an independent perspective in order to keep the site safe and secure from threats or abnormal conditions, including COVID-19.
Along with an integrated team, Yarbrough has served as an essential leader, after joining Y-12 only five months ago, to guarantee operations are transitioning safely and smoothly throughout the pandemic.
“The fact that we continued several mission-critical activities with a significantly reduced on site workforce and were the first site in NNSA to get a recovery plan approved are testaments to that hard work,” he said.
Before moving to East Tennessee, Yarbrough spent 29 years at Pantex where he held diverse leadership roles, implemented a new management organizational structure, and managed a portfolio of programs and projects.
“In the work that we do at Pantex and Y-12, you have to set and follow high standards,” Yarbrough said.
Over the course of his career, Yarbrough has served as a leading proponent of safety performance for the enterprise. While he was a division manager in the engineering and design division at Pantex, he played a key role in the design and implementation of a nuclear weapons process re-engineering and safety basis initiative. This initiative involved several new approaches to how nuclear assembly and disassembly work was engineered, analyzed, authorized, and performed.
“I think you have to have a vision and plan where you want change to take you,” he said. “It’s important to have a process or set of tools that you trust to help you get to that vision.”
“The recipe for success can simply be boiled down to putting the right leadership team in place, developing partnerships with internal and external stakeholders, providing the tools, and empowering the workforce to improve processes,” he said.
What does mission success mean to you, and how was it proven during the sites’ reduced mission-critical operations?
Mission success in a pandemic is new territory for all of us. You quickly realize the principles relied on for mission success, in normal times, are more important than ever in difficult and uncertain times. It was proven by a great team effort that developed and executed CNS’s pandemic prevention and recovery plans to protect our employees and ensure processes, systems, and critical plant infrastructure were maintained and available.
How did your opinion of your work environment change as CNS sites were placed in reduced mission-critical status?
Since I’ve been on site most of the time, I didn’t have to significantly change my routine like those who are teleworking, as I teleworked for only a few days during the reduced mission-critical status. For almost all of my career, face-to-face communication was the way work was accomplished, so this has been a big adjustment. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the excellent transition to teleworking across the sites. This is a tribute to the quick technology infusion and innovation by our Information Solutions and Services teammates. I do look forward to the day when everyone returns to the site.
Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult? If so, describe how you got here.
I grew up in a petro-chemical community. My family worked in the oil and gas industry in Texas, and I always envisioned a career in that field. However, the industry wasn’t hiring engineers after I completed my bachelor’s degree. It was a combination of circumstance and a better engineering opportunity that led me there, and I loved my time at Pantex.
Which CNS principle drives you to be successful?
Verbatim compliance is important because it ties together safety and taking care of employees. While the sites are here to support the nuclear security of the country, if we don’t support safety and compliance, then we are not successful.
What’s your top bucket list item and why?
I am an avid golfer. One day, I would love to play golf in Scotland at St. Andrews (or play at any course in Scotland!).
Y-12 Building Services and Lawler-Wood Maintenance and Facilities Technicians continue to disinfect commonly used areas and ensure their safety using face masks and gloves.
When the presence of COVID-19 approached our corner of the world, causing many to brace for impact, Pantex Utilities and Maintenance, Y-12 Building Services, and Lawler Wood Maintenance and Facilities technicians at both sites were called to action. As the first line of defense against germs on site, these professionals are responsible for contributing to the overall health of employees especially during viral seasons. Only this time, they were courageously working against a different and unknown pathogen.
Armed with a dedicated task force, N95 respirators, gloves, goggles, and other necessary personal protective equipment, teams have worked quickly and diligently over the course of the outbreak to sanitize surfaces and spaces throughout Pantex and Y-12 facilities.
“We have a very professional team of building services employees who take safety very seriously,” said Y-12 Building Services Supervisor Nate Criswell. “In addition to our routine best practices, we discussed the virus more in depth and shared as much information as we could get our hands on in regards to emerging best practices as it relates to cleaning, PPE, and hygiene.”
Increased cleaning duties to twice a shift, along with the everyday janitorial duties, made for long days and even some extra hours on the weekends to maintain 24/7 operations.
“Our team performed at a high level,” Johnny Heredia, Pantex Infrastructure specialist, said. “The whole department was focused on the same goal: not getting anyone sick. We sometimes changed what we were doing in order to achieve the goals in an even more effective and efficient manner. Our team adapted and has stepped up our activities to maintain productivity.”
Already ahead of the curve in terms of safety processes and equipment, there weren’t many standard precautions for the building services team to take that weren’t already in place. Through team briefings, crews were refreshed on the differences and processes for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, choosing the right chemicals for the job, and using correct PPE at all times. With plans drawn and scheduled, personnel were ready to eliminate the wake of the virus.
“Early on, our team was asked to respond to situations where employees were being sent home with symptoms or had been confirmed to have the virus,” Criswell said. “Through preparation, knowledge, and having the proper PPE, our teams deployed out to these responses more confident in the fact that they were protected and they knew the best ways to treat these areas to prevent further spread.”
As attention was directed to slowing the spread, crews began expanding to common zones, offices, breakrooms, waiting areas, etc. At the John C. Drummond Center, Lawler Wood Pantex also took advantage of reduced personnel onsite to deep clean areas such as air filters, windowsills, elevator shafts, and floors.
Throughout Jack Case Center and New Hope Center, Lawler Wood Y-12’s first, second, and third shift crews performed efforts beyond routine deep cleaning.
“Lawler Wood Y-12 employees have worked tirelessly 24/7, often overtime, to respond to requests for additional deep cleaning and disinfecting areas,” said Lawler Wood Y-12 Facility Manager Vicky Bowling. “We greatly appreciate these efforts.”
For Y-12 Building Services, members were divided into teams of two using Clorox 360 equipment. One person to help set up the area and direct the disinfectant cord, and one person to spray. This resulted in an efficient process to cover more ground. Successful disinfection sweeps were completed when all requested areas were sprayed, labeled, dated, and closed.
“I have continuously reminded my folks that what they do day in and day out matters more than they know,” Criswell said. “We are working tirelessly to keep our work family and our nation’s valuable nuclear workers safe and healthy.”
Fearless and focused, both teams remained dedicated to the safety of the mission by taking pride in the details of their work. All the while, knowingly protecting the site’s most precious assets — its people.
“Thank you to who are putting in long days to make sure we have access to the necessities during an immensely challenging time,” Heredia said. “We know you are doing crucial work, and we appreciate you. We couldn’t get through this without you.”
Mandy Miller of Lawler Wood Pantex cleans and disinfects the breakrooms in the JCDC.
Y‑12 archivist Natalie Hansen recently obtained her digital archivist certification. She is already a certified archivist, but this newest certificate covers digital archiving in a more focused and specialized manner.
“I technically earned a ‘Digital Archives Specialist Certificate’ through the Society of American Archivists,” Hansen said. “This more specialized certificate deals with the special problems presented by digital records. I took about 40 hours of courses over the last year. I took the last course and studied for the comprehensive exam while we were teleworking. The comprehensive exam is one hundred questions and is SUPER HARD because it covers all kinds of digital archiving.”
Now Hansen is prepped on archiving web pages, creating trusted digital repositories, best practices for safeguarding personally identifiable information and sensitive information in a variety of documents, and creating detailed preservation metadata.
“With us being a DOE site, as archivist, I have to follow curation and preservation best practices to ensure our records meet DOE requirements and National Archives and Records standards. We are obligated to offer our permanent records to NARA for them to keep indefinitely, so we take our role in preserving them seriously,” she said.
“The knowledge I gained will help ensure our media records are authentic and reliable sources of information about operations. If our records are preserved well and we know they are credible, we can rely on the information in them and use them in the present to make good decisions about our current practice, and in the future they will be able to look back and understand exactly what went on at Y‑12.”
Y-12 certified digital archivist Natalie Hansen.