Major Jeff Hill believes the United States’ nuclear deterrent is as relevant today as it was at the height of the Cold War, despite the drastically changing landscape of global terrorism and warfare.
“This is the one weapon the president uses every single day,” said Hill, chief of Quality Assurance for the 341st Maintenance Group at Malmstrom Air Force Base. “Other countries make decisions every day based on the fact that we’ve got these nuclear weapons, and they’re ready to go.”
But the deterrent, Hill noted, is only effective as long as the U.S. and its nuclear capabilities are credible. That begins at Y‑12.
“In order to achieve that deterrence, you’ve got to absolutely know that these will work,” Hill said. “Everything you do here at Y‑12 every day leads to that capability. We have tremendous faith and assurance that if we launch a weapon, it will work — every time.”
Hill and a group of his colleagues from Malmstrom visited Y‑12 recently for briefings and tours through the plant’s uranium processing and storage and weapons assembly and disassembly facilities to learn more about nuclear warheads and their inner workings — something they otherwise might not have a chance to see.
“Most missile leaders and operators are just taught broad strokes of how the weapons work,” said Lt. Steven Heizer. “But we want to become nuclear experts, so the opportunity to see the different parts and learn about what Y‑12 does is extremely helpful.”
Hill was instrumental in setting up the trip, a collaboration between Y‑12 Production and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Global Security Directorate. “These visits show the big picture of our community as a whole,” Hill said, noting both this visit and Y‑12’s January visit to Malmstrom. “Whether you’re DOE or DOD, we’re all one big nuclear community trying to accomplish the same thing: deterrence.”
As Hill and his colleagues toured Y‑12’s production facilities, their confidence in these weapons grew.
“It’s really reassuring, as the one who might have to launch one of these one day, to know that you guys know what you’re doing,” said 1st Lt. Michael Kraft, chief of ICBM training products at Malmstrom. “It was really empowering to learn the development process and see that there are a lot of inspections, analyses and surveillances that go into ensuring these weapons will work.”
Heizer was impressed even more by the people he met, though, than by the processes and systems. “A lot of us are young and don’t remember the Cold War, so it’s great to see that people are excited and proud to be working at Y 12,” Heizer said. “The weapons become more real when we can see the different components, meet the people who make them and realize we’re all on the same team.”
Hill left with the same notion. “Every person we’ve seen has a distinct sense of ‘I’m here, and this is my mission.’ For us to see that just gives us a greater appreciation for the work you do,” he said. “We never question whether these will work — and neither does the other guy.”
The Tuskegee Airmen’s “Rise Above” traveling exhibit landed in East Tennessee in April. The exhibit drew nearly 3,000 people. More than half of the attendees were children who were interested in the history of the all-black 99th Fighter Squadron, better known as the “Red Tails” because of the distinctive red markings on the planes’ tails.
One of the original Tuskegee Airmen, Lt. Col. George Hardy, was traveling with the exhibit. At 91, Hardy is one of just 33 original pilots still alive who fought in World War II.
In 2006, Hardy and the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the president, recognizing their service to the country in WWII.
The Green McAdoo Cultural Center in Clinton hosted the traveling exhibit, which was sponsored by Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC. At a reception prior to its opening, CNS employees were treated to a sneak peek and enjoyed a visit with Hardy.
“It was truly an honor meeting Lt. Col. Hardy,” said Y-12 Deputy Site Manager Gene Sievers, who described his encounter with the legendary pilot as “…shaking the hand of a living piece of history.”
A U.S. Navy veteran, Sievers spoke respectfully of the legacy of men like Hardy and what the Tuskegee Airmen accomplished. “The service of the Tuskegee Airmen inspired sweeping positive changes in the military immediately following World War II, and the traveling exhibit is a vivid reminder of their sacrifices.”
Cary Langham, who works in Mission Engineering, agreed with Sievers. “Lt. Col. Hardy is an American hero, and I am proud that I got the opportunity to meet and talk with him,” said Langham. “It was enlightening to me to understand the history behind the role the Red Tails played in WWII. For me, the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen will live on in my mind forever.”
Visitors to the exhibit were treated to a film shown on a 360-degree panoramic screen in a 30-seat temperature-controlled movie theater. The film highlights the courage and determination of the Tuskegee Airmen, who overcame obstacles to train and fight as U.S. Army Air Corps pilots, and describes what their achievements mean to all of us 70 years later.
Each airman wore a dog tag that read: “Aim High - Believe In Yourself - Use Your Brain – Never Quit – Be Ready To Go – Expect To Win.” Those goals are still relevant today.
April 13, 2016, was another memorable day for HonorAir Knoxville as 125 war veterans traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials built to honor their sacrifices. The one-day trip represented the 20th flight for HonorAir, which has flown more than 2,600 East Tennessee veterans to our capital and back, with all expenses paid.
Hundreds of family members and supporters were on hand at McGhee Tyson Airport to greet the veterans who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Among the World War II veterans was James Seal, who is 100 years old and the oldest veteran to have ever traveled with HonorAir.
A contingent from the Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC Y-12 National Security Complex was in attendance as the flight returned. Y-12 has been greeting the returning veterans since 2011.
Linda Neal, who works in Business Management at Y-12, was there. “Greeting the HonorAir veterans is so meaningful to me because my father was in the Marine Corps for 27 years,” she said. “Shaking hands and talking to these military men brought tears to my eyes because they reminded me so much of him.” She added, “Having grown up on a military base, I saw how the men who served in Vietnam were treated by the civilians. It was awesome to see them finally get the welcome home they deserved.”
Flight 20 consisted of 47 Vietnam veterans, 25 World War II veterans and 53 Korean War veterans. CNS has been a sponsor of the flights for several years.
Lisa Roberts, who works in Safeguards, Security, and Emergency Services, has celebrated the veterans’ homecomings since 2014. Flight 20 was her fourth time to thank the veterans.
“I attend the HonorAir homecomings because it’s a way to celebrate our veterans and a chance to thank them for their service,” Roberts said. “I have family that served in Vietnam, my father fought in the Korean War, my Aunt served as a nurse in WWII, and my grandfather fought in the Spanish-American War. To me, it’s a great way to honor my family who’ve served our country well. HonorAir is an awesome event and one that I’m very proud to be a part of.”
HonorAir Knoxville is the brainchild of founder Eddie Mannis, president of Prestige Cleaners. The next scheduled flight is planned for fall 2016. In addition, the organization announced that, on June 8, it will take a flight of Vietnam veterans only on a special trip.
During their visit to Y-12 on March 29, the 2016 class of Leadership Oak Ridge learned about Y-12’s history and current missions. As a part of their efforts to learn about Oak Ridge, the Y-12 National Security Complex tour has always been a highlight of the class, according to Greta Ownby, the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Center for Leadership & Community Development Coordinator.
The tour began with an overview of Y-12’s missions in the Major General Kenneth Nichols Conference Center of the Y-12 History Center. Participants also toured one of the facilities designated to become part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, Y-12’s Building 9731. Y-12 Historian Ray Smith said, “This building was the first one completed at Y-12 and houses the world’s only Alpha Calutron magnets.” The group also saw display examples of the different nuclear weapons for which Y-12 has provided components. “Y-12 provides components for all our nation’s nuclear weapons and contributed to the winning of the Cold War,” Smith said.
Class member Tracy Beckendorf-Edou, executive director of teaching and learning at Oak Ridge Schools, said, “The Y-12 tour was informative, interesting and helped us learn not only about the history of Y-12 itself but also about how the community evolved before, during and after World War II.”
Beckendorf-Edou continued, “We learned about the security mechanisms in place to protect Oak Ridge residents from pollution, contamination and aggression, and we also learned about how safe it truly is to reside next to this national security complex. We also saw how Y-12 works with locations across the country so, therefore, how, we in our community, are part of a larger national defense profile.”
The 2016 Leadership Oak Ridge class includes two members of the Consolidated Nuclear Security team, Alison Sides and Ken Harrawood.
Harrawood was pleased with the response from his classmates about the tour. “As a CNS employee on the tour, I saw the amazement in many others who have lived in East Tennessee their whole lives but did not fully appreciate what this site has done and continues to do. It made me proud,” he said.
Employees in Tennessee and Texas celebrated Earth Day in many ways. From beekeeping and recreational opportunities to celebrating the success of a wind farm and planting trees, employees had the opportunity to learn about sustainable activities at each site and in each region.
Employees at both sites also donated gently used athletic shoes to the MORE Foundation Group to assist in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming.