Sandia LabNews

Answering the call

Sandians support national security mission

For this special section highlighting the Nuclear Deterrence Modernization Efforts Rally Cry, Lab News asked several of our fellow Sandians about their support of the mission and what it means to them. We got a lot of answers — many of which we highlight below and will continue to do so in future editions and online — that inspire thought, and hopefully action.

Featured are Sandians at different stages in their careers; there are those that have a history of military service, or family with service at Sandia; and many others from different backgrounds and doing various jobs.

They all have one thing in common: They are answering the call. As we all can. As we must.

Jose Villalva

Functional Electrical Test Laboratory lead technologist
12 years at Sandia

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Jose came to the U.S. shortly after graduating high school in Juarez, Mexico. He became a permanent resident in the 1980s, served in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, then became a U.S. citizen.

Emphasizing his time in the Army 5th Battalion, 16th Infantry with the 1st Infantry Division, Jose said he has a deep appreciation of his Sandia job and its importance to national security.

“I love this country,” he said. “It has given me opportunities I never got in Mexico. I joined the Army, and I was even more proud to wear that uniform.”

His military service, Jose said, makes him aware of the need for Sandia’s work to be flawless.

“Out there in the field, I never thought twice about if the weapon or the system was going to work,” he said. “Now that I’m on the other side, I can see why I was able to have that confidence. I want to continue to keep up the rigor and do my work with excellence, so when the time comes when other people have to use these weapons, they are also 100% confident it will work.

“I do my work with excellence because it matters to the nation.”

— Myles Copeland

Lauren Wilson

Principal statistician
7.5 years at Sandia

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Lauren admits it took several years to find a career that was both fascinating and that utilized her statistics background. That intersection began at Sandia in 2014. Ever since, Lauren has supported the nuclear deterrence mission, conducting analyses for nuclear weapon components, systems and specialized teams for the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear stockpile.

“Every day, I share my expertise in some element of the ND mission,” she said. “I’m part of a small fraction of humanity who will ever get to see and learn about these amazing things, and I am supporting national security. How awesome!”

Lauren’s passion for propagating statistical methods in ND led to her teaching several courses, including Quantification of Margins and Uncertainties and Data Analysis Techniques.

“These classes showcase real ND examples of how practical implementation of statistics improves modernization and stockpile programs,” she said. “These methods can help our scientists and engineers more efficiently achieve their program objectives.”

— Andrea Mackay

Joshua Leroy Smith

Product realization team lead and mechanical engineer
9 years at Sandia

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Josh began his Sandia career as an intern and went on to work as a design engineer and then as a production engineer before taking on his current role as a product realization team lead — all within the same department in which he was originally hired. Sandia’s environment provides a wide array of the types of work that he finds engaging and diverse.

It isn’t just the dynamic nature of the work and the diversity of the job that drive Josh to continue providing exceptional service in the national interest.

“As an engineer interested in history and political science, it’s always been a source of pride to work in a nuclear deterrence department,” he said. “Our work at Sandia continues the great progress we’ve made in the last 77 years to reverse a previously ever-escalating level of warfare. The nuclear deterrent underpins our nation’s defense in every way and makes me proud to contribute.”

— Diane Mendiola

Joyce Purley

Emergency planner
3 years at Sandia

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Joyce collaborates with multiple Sandia sites and partners with internal and external stakeholders, including military installations and first-responder agencies to identify national and global threats and hazards. She leads teams in preparing for these threats and developing solutions to risks in support of Emergency Management’s mission to protect life, property and the environment.

“My remote site and leased space partners are my favorite customers to support,” she said. “They conduct critical national security mission work, and I get to be a small part of keeping their staff and visitors safe through hazards analysis, emergency preparedness and planning, training on emergency procedures and maintaining staff familiarity through drills.”

Joyce’s efforts prepare and protect our workforce and assets, supporting the Labs’ nuclear deterrence mission. Her expertise from years in New Mexico local and state government allow her to mentor organizations in disaster simulation exercise preparation, conduct and evaluation, as well as training development and facilitation of key process improvement workshops.

— Dan Ware

Kenneth Armijo

Systems engineer
10 years at Sandia

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Although climate and energy may seem to be only tangentially connected to Sandia’s ND mission, the way Ken explained it, there is a deep connection between energy and national security. Since energy is a major component of a lot of challenges — supply chain issues, Russian oil, geopolitical issues — creating new solutions to address these energy-related challenges is more important than ever.

“In an ever-changing world where the security of our nation is strongly dependent on the climate and energy resources, with broader implications in our geopolitical climate and long-term sustainability for the human race, I believe that the fundamental research we’re doing in climate and energy security is not just of importance now, but also ensures that we can have a healthy and productive society going forward,” he said.

“Research we’re doing in concentrating solar power directly impacts energy and aerospace research and development and has lasting implications far into the future,” Ken said. “To me, that is what makes working at a national lab that much more special — we aren’t here to profit, we’re here to improve security, but also to improve many people’s quality of life. To make the world a more sustainable, and safer, place.”

— Antonia Cardella

Shamina Hossain-McKenzie

Cybersecurity researcher
5 years at Sandia

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Shamina’s electric grid cybersecurity research is crucial to national security; as recent events have shown, cyberattacks against critical infrastructure systems are on the rise. New analytics and defenses are needed to make these systems more resilient.

Shamina researches the cyber-physical characteristics of the grid to inform development of intrusion detection systems for distributed energy systems, adaptive special protection schemes, improved interconnected system observability and emulation-based cybersecurity experiments.

Her interdisciplinary work allows Shamina to connect with Sandians across the Labs to solve challenging research problems, she said. “It is really important to me that my research has impact, so I’m proud to be working in an area that can immediately strengthen national security.”

— Diane Mendiola

William Tierney

Corporate investment planner
20 years at Sandia

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William works in Facilities leading the investments for the Recapitalization, Replacement, Revitalization and Sustainability program. The RS3 program has an average annual budget of $25 million Facilities uses to support the repair or replacement of existing real property assets, sustain existing assets within a facility or infrastructure system, renovate existing space, alter interiors of facilities and decontaminate and dispose of a building or structure.

“The RS3 program ensures there are funds for these urgent and high-risk types of projects to keep the lights on and the doors open at Sandia, so mission work isn’t impacted,” William said.

William comes from a legacy of Sandians. His grandfather had a full career of 38 years at Sandia, and his mother worked for Sandia for 31 years. William said he is continuing that legacy because Sandia has provided for his family for three generations, and he values the mission work that occurs to protect our nation.

— Lyndsy Ortiz

Marc Kniskern

Engineering lead
32 years at Sandia

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Helping develop the hypersonic weapon system for the U.S. Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike program and the U.S. Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon program has reminded Marc of the national importance of his work.

“The design posed numerous engineering challenges related to the flight environment, including complex aerodynamic phenomena, severe surface heating with temperatures exceeding thousands of degrees and multidisciplinary system design and analysis,” Marc said.

As an expert in applied aerodynamics, flight mechanics and flight safety, Marc contributes to national security by developing new technologies for advanced and exploratory flight systems. He has been designing vehicles for robust flight in this regime for more than 30 years and is world-renowned for his expertise. In 2019, Marc was named a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

“I’m proud to work on hypersonics because of the national impact of Sandia’s work,” Marc said. “I’m intrigued by the numerous challenges posed by the severity of the flight environments, and I enjoy how vehicle designs are highly coupled across multiple engineering disciplines.”

— Troy Rummler

Alexander Tappan

Distinguished member of technical staff
24 years at Sandia

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Alex studies small-scale detonation and combustion, which includes making explosive samples through advanced manufacturing techniques.

On his 24th anniversary at Sandia, Alex said, “I get to blow stuff up. That’s every boy’s childhood dream. So, I have my dream job. Not only is the work incredibly interesting and satisfying, but it is for an extremely important mission and purpose, and I love that aspect.”

Alex also loves working with the people and enjoys the day-to-day collaborations.

“For me, like many other Sandians who do fundamental research — scientific work, it’s often difficult to see where you fit into the mission. The work that I and other scientists do on fundamental questions enables the engineering staff to do their jobs — to provide components for national security,” Alex said. “I like being a piece in the national security puzzle. Everyone at Sandia has that role to some extent, even if it’s not immediately apparent. Getting to work with component engineers who are doing direct design on nuclear weapons — doing a little part whether it’s teaching or advising on certain materials or explosive performance questions, it’s very fulfilling.”

— Antonia Cardella

Gary Hall

Systems engineer
20 years at Sandia

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Photo by Randy Wong

“The work that Sandia is doing, and a way to serve our country” attracted Gary to the Labs. As a systems engineer, he answers the call by partnering with nuclear deterrence groups.

“I feel that by partnering with the systems engineers on different programs and product realization teams, I am providing a service that will help them complete their mission.”

Gary also highlights Sandia’s culture strengths. Gary said he had a midlife career change and went back to school for a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems. He then applied for a job at Sandia doing computer support.

“Once I got my clearance, there was a job open in the same department, so I got that. I spent at least 13 years in that position. Then a manager from my current team asked, ‘Do you have anyone in mind’ to take this position? I decided it would be a good career move. I’m still here, and I was recently promoted as systems engineer.

“Sandia gives great work life balance. It gives flexibility in career advancement, and I love working with the people here. The hundreds of people I have worked with here are fully dedicated to the mission.”

— David Hill

Carlos Jerome Tafoya

Desktop software developer
15 years at Sandia

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Carlos recently witnessed how Sandia’s strong culture of innovation, teamwork and partnering resulted in a smooth transition of new technology developed for the U.S. Air Force.

“The systems needed to ensure our national security grow more complex as time progresses. These systems crosscut multiple disciplines and require seamless integration,” he said. “The diversity of skillsets and backgrounds of our team members not only helps to meet these needs, but it is also necessary to meet them.”

The team’s strength stems from a combination of depth and breadth of knowledge, he said. “This knowledge base alongside a passion and dedication to the mission makes the work our teams do engaging and exciting. Being around our nation’s best and brightest generates a positive feedback loop, elevating the capabilities of all involved.”

— Jill Janov-Kelly

Keith Yehle

Government relations officer
11 years at Sandia

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Nearly 2,000 miles separate Albuquerque and Washington, D.C., yet Keith helps shorten the distance for Sandia’s nuclear deterrence leadership team. With more than 20 years of experience working in the capital, for a representative and a senator, he understands the dynamic political landscape and uses this knowledge to assist executives as they navigate government interactions.

“My job keeps me keenly interested in the world,” he said. “It’s a privilege to work in national security and to use my skillset to share the critical work of our scientists and engineers.”

He closely follows what’s happening on The Hill and shares this information with ND senior leadership for their situational awareness. He coordinates briefings with key congressional committees and members of Congress, promoting consistent messaging, while maintaining compliance with all appropriate legal and contractual obligations.

As a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, Sandia has a responsibility to interact with our government’s leaders, anticipating their needs, responding promptly to requests, and providing objective, accurate information they can use to make informed decisions in the national interest. Keith helps fulfill that duty on behalf of Sandia’s ND mission.

— Jennifer Awe

How will you answer the call?

On June 23, Labs Director James Peery put out a call for all Sandians to support critical Nuclear Deterrence modernization efforts. The need to accelerate nuclear weapons modernization is a top national priority as China multiplies its arsenal and Russia threatens nuclear war.

Employees can go to the Nuclear Deterrence Modernization Efforts Rally Cry internal website to let Sandia know how they can answer the call or submit questions.