After 31 years of federal service, NNSA’s Nevada Field Office (NFO) Public Affairs Program Manager Darwin Morgan retired this past month. The NFO serves as the federal oversight for the Nevada National Security Site.
Morgan began his professional career in 1981 working in the news industry in Roswell, New Mexico. Three years later, he worked at an NBC affiliate in Las Vegas as a weekend anchor and reporter. He did a lot of reporting at the former Nevada Test Site and Nellis Air Force Base. At the time, the NFO manager was Nick Aquilina, who, for some reason, would personally call Morgan to correct him if he felt he got something wrong. Come to find out, it was only Morgan who Aquilina had that relationship with.
One day out of the blue, Morgan received a call from the then NNSA NFO director of public affairs saying they had a job opening and were seeking someone with broadcast experience. Morgan applied and was hired, and in 1989, he left his news industry career to become a federal employee.
When Morgan joined the NNSS, he was already familiar with the Site. He had made several visits as a reporter between 1985 and 1989 and did several historical pieces with the Desert Research Institute. Another highlight was the Joint Verification Experiment, composed of international and national reporters. He had also been out to Area 25 to see the fledgling Environmental Management program separate contaminated materials out of dirt using the same methods used for sifting gold.
Who would have thought a C-student from Hobbs, New Mexico, would have been able to spend his life as part of this Nation’s national security? To quote Don King: ‘Only in America.’
When he became a public information officer for NNSA, it was Morgan’s turn to share the Site’s news. Over the past 30 years, he’s been interviewed by the BBC, the Smithsonian Channel, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.
Morgan’s role with the NNSS also required him to obtain a Q clearance. Upon receiving it, Morgan’s then manager, Chris West, threw him a set of car keys and told him to learn the Site. And Morgan did just that – although getting lost driving around the Site was not the right way to see it, but that was his way. His first assignment was to learn.
Morgan’s long-lasting career with NNSA has exposed him to every aspect of the NNSS. He has been able to see and learn a little bit of everything and has written and talked about (almost) everything notable and newsworthy at NNSS including being a part of the test control panel for six underground nuclear tests, seeing the beginnings of the environmental program, and performing a detail at Yucca Mountain.
Everyone says they have the best job, but Morgan knows he truly had the best job, since it gave him the opportunity to travel around the world. His career took him to Amchitka, Wake Island, Hawaii, Marshall Islands, Bikini Island, Israel, and England.
He’s also enjoyed meeting a wide variety of individuals, including high-ranking officials and dignitaries. He’s experienced different cultures and stood on the international dateline. He’s gotten to know and learn the history of the Site and how that work has allowed the NNSS and NNSA to conduct the vitally important national security work they do today.
I was trusted. Management trusted me and gave me the freedom to do my job and do it to the best of my ability for the U.S. government.
One experience Darwin will always remember was an underground nuclear test which NNSA broadcast live to the media, and which he gave a play-by-play of the countdown.
“It was amazing, the feeling of the ground motion hitting the building,” Morgan explained. “People think it would be like an earthquake, but it is very smooth. The media would want to know what it felt like, so I would tell them it feels like you are sitting on a small boat in a small pond – that feeling when another boat comes by and you feel the smooth waves. Watching the geophones, you could see the subsidence craters forming on camera. The teams working on the tests believed in what they were doing, believed in this Nation and believed they were doing what they could to make our country secure.”
Morgan’s favorite parts of the Site are Frenchman Flat and Sedan Crater. On tours, he would tell the story about a reporter who didn’t bring enough cable to get to the bottom of Sedan Crater, being told it was 340 feet deep. However, the hypotenuse was the important number, it’s more like 650 feet to the bottom. The best part of that story – he was the reporter.
“Who would have thought a C-student from Hobbs, New Mexico would have been able to spend his life as part of this Nation’s national security?” Morgan marveled. “To quote Don King: ‘Only in America.’”
Regarding the key to his successful career at the NNSA, for Morgan, it’s all about trust.
“I was trusted,” he said. “Management trusted me and gave me the freedom to do my job and do it to the best of my ability for the U.S. government.”