Jason Armstrong, SRFO Manager
Jason Armstrong, left, is the new manager of the Savannah River Field Office. “I am very happy to be here and so appreciative to be part of such an amazing team and community,” he said.

When newly arrived NNSA Savannah River Field Office Manager Jason Armstrong was growing up in California in the 1980s, the last thing on his mind was that he’d ever work in the nuclear field, much less become a senior leader within the federal government.

“I thought I’d be a vet. I love animals and figured I might do something with that,” Armstrong said. “When I got a little older, I thought maybe a doctor. The last thing on my mind was how life has turned out, but it surprises you and I’ve been very fortunate.”

Despite his initial thoughts before following this path, having a nuclear engineering consultant for a stepfather, who he affectionately refers to as his papa, meant Armstrong’s exposure to the NNSA’s missions started early.

“Some kids might have been grounded when they got into trouble, but for me I had to read nuclear engineering textbooks,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was fun, but now I understand what he was doing: exposing me to the subject early on. Seeing the importance of the work he did stuck with me from an early age even though I didn’t really consider that to be a path I’d end up following.”

Armstrong also credits his mother, a first-generation Mexican American, for instilling a sense that he could follow any path he wanted as long as he was willing to put in the hard work, and also for appreciating what he had.

“I remember I was 8 years old and my grandmother told me to pull weeds for a quarter,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it, so I argued and that’s when she said you’re doing it anyway – but now it’s for a dime. That lesson stuck with me.”

Later, as a teenager, Armstrong’s family moved from California to Oregon where his papa left the nuclear field to follow his own passion of starting a vineyard and farm. It was hard work and long hours, and 15-year-old Armstrong was tasked with managing up to 20 of his father’s employees doing multiple jobs around the winery. That’s when he says he learned the importance of not only of following your passion, but also of motivating and connecting with people rather than just giving orders.

“That’s where I found early on the importance of treating people with respect and fostering a sense of teamwork and dialogue with them. Those are really important things to me that I hope to continue at the Savannah River Field Office where everyone, no matter what their position, knows they are a valued and important member of our team. The truth is everyone on a team plays an important role in getting things done,” he said.

Armstrong experienced that philosophy first-hand when he landed his first job in the nuclear industry – washing radioactive laundry at an Illinois nuclear power plant – in the early ’90s.

“I made $6 an hour cleaning garments and ensuring they weren’t radioactive. It was hard, but it gave me the 2,000 hours working in a nuclear power plant that I needed to qualify to sit for the exam to become a radiation safety technician. My nuclear career really started from there working nuclear power plant outages across the United States,” he said.

Armstrong ultimately found his way to Oregon State University, where he graduated with a degree in health physics in 1994. Then he worked several years as a contractor and private-sector employee before joining the Department of Energy as a federal employee in 2005 at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York.

More than 15 years later, and now just a few months into his position as an NNSA field office manager, Armstrong says he is amazed by the dedication, creativity, and innovation of the employees at the Savannah River Field Office, as well as the local community support from both South Carolina and Georgia. He noted the friendliness of the Aiken community in particular, and its support for the NNSA and Savannah River Site as a whole, as something truly special.

“People were so welcoming right away, even when they didn’t know who I was and that I was the new incoming manager whom no one has met before,” Armstrong said. “The support from this community is amazing, and I really want to build on that to inform more people about the specific missions we do here that are so important to the Nation. This community’s support is critical to make those things happen, and I really enjoy talking to people about things like how Savannah River is the only place in the country where the nuclear arsenal is resupplied with tritium gas and the importance of the proposed plutonium pit mission to come.”

With COVID-19 vaccinations increasing among both the Site and off-site populations, Armstrong also looks forward to personally reaching out to Site personnel and the community.

“We’re at the top of the hill with COVID-19, and the downhill goes fast. I want to make sure the team has time to adjust and is prepared, and I also greatly look forward to building on this community’s support and teamwork to continue doing great things now and in future. I am very happy to be here and so appreciative to be part of such an amazing team and community. I’m so excited for what the future has in store for us.”