The work of a few security guards has been heavily scrutinized and repeatedly criticized since the July 28 security breach at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
Last week, the criticism came from members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who also directed their frustration at U.S. Department of Energy officials and the plant’s contractors, calling the security breach “appalling” and an “all-out failure.”
But in recent interviews, a guard and union representative defended the performance of the security police officers at Y-12.
“I did my job exactly the way I’ve been trained for 30 years,” said Kirk Garland, who was the first security guard to reach the three anti-nuclear weapons activists who sneaked into Y-12 before dawn on July 28 and vandalized a building where bomb-grade uranium is stored.
Garland, 52, was fired Aug. 10, a few weeks after the intrusion. He received a termination letter the same day former plant manager Darrel Kohlhorst retired and contractor B&W Y-12 was given 30 days to show why its contract should not be terminated.
Garland said his termination letter cited a failure to take immediate control of the intruders.
But Garland said he didn’t feel threatened by the unarmed peace activists and didn’t need to pull a gun on them or slam them to the ground. The protesters, who had spray-painted slogans on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, followed his verbal commands as he waited for a supervisor to arrive to back him up, Garland said.
He was alone with the three protesters—Greg Boertje-Obed, 57; Megan Rice, 82; and Michael R. Walli, 63—for three to five minutes. They wanted to read from the Bible when he arrived, Garland said.
“I personally didn’t feel the threat and didn’t feel the need to have to pull a weapon on those people, mainly because of their age,” Garland said. “They posed no threat.”
If they had pulled a knife, he would have responded differently, Garland said.
“I did take immediate control of the situation according to my training,” he said. “When I got up there, I knew what was going on. I called for backup and handled the situation the way I was trained.”
Boertje-Obed, Rice, and Walli were later arrested and taken into custody. They have been charged with property destruction, property depredation, and trespassing, and they face a Feb. 26, 2013, trial in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.
Garland said he had not received any training at Y-12 on how to control demonstrators, but he had at other sites.
“I don’t understand why I got fired,” said Garland, who has now moved back to Amarillo, Texas, until his termination goes through arbitration. “I handled my job exactly the way I was trained.”
A DOE guard for 30 years, Garland worked for 21 years at the now-closed Rocky Flats plant west of Denver and three years at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo. He said he didn’t have any blemishes on his record in his 30 years, no write-ups and not one reprimand.
“I had a perfect record,” he said. “I know my job, and I know it well.”
He is challenging his termination with help from the International Guards Union Local 3 in Oak Ridge, but that could take a year or more. In the meantime, Garland said he could lose his home and two vehicles, and he isn’t sure how he will pay for his wife’s medicine.
“I’m going to lose everything I got,” he said.
Randy Lawson, president of International Guards Union of America Local 3, said a grievance had been filed over Garland’s firing. WSI Oak Ridge had 12 days to respond, Lawson said recently, and the termination could then go to arbitration.
“We are not expecting them to re-instate his employment,” Lawson said. “We fully expect them to deny the grievance.”
Lawson said union members will decide whether to pursue arbitration. He said the arbitration could take months.
The union represents guards at Y-12, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Oak Ridge Protective Force, which protects federal office buildings. The total number of guards is classified, but about 98 percent of guards at those sites are union members, Lawson said.
Although he didn’t offer details, he challenged portrayals of the guards that suggest they have been inattentive, or worse.
“The security police officers all involved did their job,” Lawson said.
He declined to comment on an August report by the DOE Inspector General, which documents a range of alleged problems during the unprecedented July 28 security breach, including the failure of guards to respond promptly and detect and neutralize the trespassers.
“Things will come out in the arbitration that maybe haven’t been spoken of yet, once they’re declassified,” Lawson said, again without providing details.
A spokeswoman for WSI Oak Ridge has declined to comment on the company’s response to Garland’s grievance.
“We are not going to comment on personnel issues,” said Courtney Russell Henry, WSI Oak Ridge public affairs manager. “We confirmed that an employee was terminated following the July 28 incident but will not further discuss any details of this personnel issue.”