Weapon Intern Program graduates 25th class

By Stephanie Holinka

Thursday, August 13, 2020

2020 graduating class gets national security enterprise education during a pandemic

WIP class of 2020
POLICY WORK — The 2020 Weapon Intern Program class visited Washington, D.C., prior to the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

See below: WIP: A history in photos

This month, Sandia’s Weapon Intern Program will graduate its 25th class in 22 years. The program was created in 1998 to accelerate the learning process and transfer decades of knowledge and experience in all phases of the nuclear weapon lifecycle, from experienced weaponeers to the new generation of stockpile stewards.

Program administrator Katheryn Pape said this year’s class has been unlike any other.

WIP class group photo in front of missile
CLASS TRIP — A 2019 Weapon Intern Program class visited the Strategic Weapons Facility, Pacific, in Bangor, Washington. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

“With all the unknowns, it has been unpredictable, disappointing and frustrating. It’s also been rewarding when we were able to find new and inventive ways to help educate the next generation of weaponeers,” Katheryn said.

This year’s class was challenged by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting need for staff to isolate or work from home. The program administrators had to get creative with how to deliver meaningful education and how to redefine the class’s capstone project. The solution was to have students collaborate on nuclear policy research. The class co-authored, in groups of about seven, several major policy papers.

“This pandemic is a teachable moment for how the enterprise needs to be flexible and prepared,” said Will Frankland, Sandia engineer and class of 2020 graduate. “We can now imagine a future where we’re expected to deter war while our entire population is incapacitated and isolated. We’ve discussed how it can be done. These challenges felt very real to the class and were experienced in real time.”

WIP class looks at weapon drop test
ON TARGET — A Weapon Intern Program class reviews the drop of a mock weapon at Sandia’s Tonopah Test Range in Nevada in 2012. The WIP curriculum includes lectures, briefings and site visits that reinforce classroom work and allow the interns to understand the breadth of the overall nuclear enterprise. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

Just as it did this year, the WIP curriculum is intended to evolve to better address the challenges of maintaining the nation’s nuclear deterrent for the future. It seeks to strike a balance between a healthy appreciation and respect for the past while focusing on the present and future.

Nuclear deterrence work accelerated

In the current accelerated path toward nuclear stockpile modernization, Sandia’s nuclear weapons workload has dramatically increased, and Sandia is working concurrently on more weapons programs now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. To help Sandia deliver on its important nuclear deterrence work, the program trains new nuclear security complex workers from throughout the enterprise, to prepare them for the challenges of maintaining the nation’s nuclear arsenal and expertise.

WIP class in front of Nike missile
MISSILE SITE — A Weapon Intern Program class takes a close look at a Nike command-guided, long-range, high-altitude anti-aircraft missile model. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

Since its beginning, 514 participants have graduated from the program, including 301 Sandians and 213 professionals from other organizations, including the U.S. Air Force and its Nuclear Weapons Center, U.S. Navy, Kansas City National Security Campus, Pantex, Y-12, Savannah River Site, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Defense Threat Reduction Agency and students from intelligence community organizations such as the FBI and CIA.

WIP prepares its participants so they can contribute in a way that better serves themselves, their home organizations and the nuclear weapons community.

The 2021 class begins in September. Candidates for the 2022 class can learn about becoming an intern on the WIP website. Applicants must have a Q-clearance and one to five years of nuclear weapons experience in a nuclear deterrence organization or have directly supported the nuclear deterrence mission.

Sandia’s weapon engineer professional development department also offers a manager’s course, Essential Topics for Nuclear Weapon Management (affectionately called WIP-lite), to provide a broader overview of the nuclear security enterprise.

The graduating ceremony for the 2020 class will take place Aug. 27. The event will be live-streamed and recorded for later viewing. Employees can visit the Weapon Intern Program website to learn more.

WIP: A history in photos

WIP class takes a look at an MK-5 weapon
DETAILED ORIENTATION — Sandian Erick McIntire explains features of the MK-5 bomb to members of a Weapon Intern Program class in 2019. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
Leon Smith at airfield
FROM TINIAN TO ALBUQUERQUE — But for the toss of a coin, Sandia pioneer Leon Smith would have served as the weaponeer on the Enola Gay on its fateful mission to drop a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, precipitating the end of World War II. Leon, seen here in front of a B-29 at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, died in 2012 at the age of 92. He served the Labs for 41 years, rising into management early and overseeing several critical technologies and decisions in Sandia’s evolution. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
black and white photo of people talking at Trinity site
SIX MILES WEST — Ben Benjamin, left, describes what it was like to observe the first test of an atomic bomb to U.S. Air Force Capt. Brian Gaude, member of the 2001 Weapon Intern Program class, and Michele Caldwell, member of the 2000 WIP class. They are standing next to the western monitoring station where many of the test cameras were installed, six miles from ground zero at the Trinity site. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
exec talks to WIP class
BIG MISSION, BIG TEAM — Retired Sandia Executive Vice President and Deputy Labs Director Jerry McDowell gives an impromptu talk to a Weapon Intern Program class that toured Sandia’s Nuclear Weapon Legacy Hardware collection. Jerry spoke to the class shortly before his retirement, telling them that the nuclear weapons mission requires a very big team. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
black and white photo of Edward Teller
HISTORY REVISITED — At a special meeting with a WIP class at Sandia, students and mentors alike sat spellbound and enthralled by the wisdom of Edward Teller, the “Father of the Atomic Age.” (Photo by Randy Montoya)
Harold Rarrick turns in his Sandia badge
ONE LAST LOOK — As Harold Rarrick prepares to turn in his clearance badge after 65 years, he reflects on two lifetimes’ worth of service to Sandia and the nation. Harold started at the Labs in 1949 and retired in 1993, but remained involved with Sandia as a consultant and senior mentor in the Weapon Intern Program until 2014. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
colonel talks to WIP class
FAMILY BUSINESS — Col. Paul Tibbets IV, commander of the U.S. Air Force Inspection Agency at Kirtland Air Force Base, took time out of his schedule to brief a Weapon Intern Program class about B2 operations in advance of their trip to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Tibbets is the grandson of Col. Paul Tibbets, who commanded the 509th Composite Group and flew the Enola Gay in the atomic attack on Hiroshima at the close of World War II. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
WIP class members look at weapon model
CLOSER LOOK — Participants in the 2006 Weapon Intern Program class examine a B61 weapon shape. The class had 21 students, including 11 Sandians as well as students from the U.S. Air Force, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, NNSA and the Kansas City National Security Campus (formerly Kansas City Plant). (Photo by Randy Montoya)
WIP class onboard USS Alabama
‘MIGHTY A’ — A 2019 Weapon Intern Program class visits the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)