Raised on a New Mexico ranch, teamwork still a priority for this Los Alamos National Lab employee

Loretta Ortega’s commitment and determination pay off on the Lab’s Nuclear Materials and Transuranic Waste Shipping team

November 21, 2022

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From a young age, Los Alamos National Laboratory employee Loretta Ortega picked up the meaning of hard work, discipline and respect as she helped her father and siblings on their ranch with everything from feeding animals and tractor work to helping with equipment maintenance. Her father never differentiated between the boys or girls in her family. In his eyes, they were all capable of doing everything on the ranch.

Growing up in El Rito, a small Northern New Mexico town, Ortega formed the mentality that you can do whatever you put your mind to. These life lessons surely are paying off not only in Ortega’s personal life but in her career as well. She values herself as strong-willed and believes she can persevere through any challenges, prove herself strongly and be an outstanding leader.

From the ground up, a timeline

Ortega has spent almost three decades working at the Laboratory in various jobs from office work to managing waste drums. She started working as an administrative assistant for the Radiological Liquid Waste Project Office in 1994, and then moved on to other various administrative support positions.

Her supervisor at the time, Bill Zwick, quickly saw Ortega’s potential. He encouraged her to push herself and expand her career into new ventures, which soon led her to an assignment helping manufacture heat sources in the Lab’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4).

“From the beginning, I’ve had some pretty exceptional managers who have encouraged and given me opportunities to learn and grow in my career with LANL,” Ortega says.

Before joining the Lab, Ortega had completed some radiological-related courses. That background gave her a leg up when she moved from administrative work to working with actinide materials.

After working with heat sources for the Lab’s NASA missions from June 1999 to November 2000, she went to the Chemistry Metallurgy and Research (CMR) facility for the Nuclear Process Infrastructure Division. She remained there for the next 16 years, working in various capacities that supported waste management and shipping.

She then had a three-year stint at the Actinide Analytical Chemistry group at CMR in Uranium Operations before joining the Move, Verification and Preparation team in 2019 as one of the two manufacturing managers.

All along the way, she realized that her on-the-job training under the excellent guidance of her managers and co-workers was her greatest form of education.

A day in the life

Today, Ortega’s Nuclear Materials and Transuranic Waste Shipping team manages waste drums after they’ve been packaged. Their job is to constantly create a map of drums and locations based on the content, where they came from and where they’re headed. At the same time, the team ensures there’s enough floor space in PF-4 for the waste materials that come out of daily production operations.

Ortega’s days are never the same. When she isn’t guiding and planning day-to-day work or mentoring new technicians, she might be observing drum movement out of PF-4 to the storage pads outside and tracking their materials-at-risk compliant levels.

When she’s not at work, Ortega especially loves being outdoors, which she’s loved ever since she was a kid. She was often found outside with a book in her hand and her love for reading has continued into adulthood.

“I still love the outdoors today,” Ortega says. “The mountains are my happy place.”

The meaning behind team

Ortega has used the strong work ethic she developed working on the family ranch to advance her career. Her colleagues recognize her ability to carve out a different career path by using her determination and initiative. She’s shown them that if you’re determined enough to learn new job skills, you can take advantage of all sorts of opportunities.

Throughout Ortega’s 28 years at Los Alamos, she’s been a part of many strong teams. Now, Ortega wants to make sure as a supervisor that she will never ask anyone to do something she’s not willing to do herself.

“Loretta has had a very interesting career path that our diverse workforce can relate to,” says Nestor Trujillo, Ortega’s group leader. “She’s an inspiration and shows that the opportunities LANL has to offer are traditional and nontraditional career paths.”

One thing that sets Ortega apart from the crowd is that she knows that you must earn respect and not just expect it. She lets her team know that she is working right beside them, and they can come to her for direction.

Ortega values integrity and teamwork.

“Teamwork is huge … I don’t care if you’re the newest person on the team or the most seasoned, everyone has something to contribute to the team as a whole,” Ortega says. “Someone’s strengths may be someone else’s weaknesses and vice versa.”

Ortega’s advice to anyone thinking about joining the Lab’s Weapons Production team: it’s important to keep learning new skills and information, because regardless of how insignificant you might think something is, everything leads to the bigger picture. She also says to keep an open mind and always strive to learn more and do more, and you will be surprised where those attributes will take you.

“I thoroughly enjoy where I’m at today. We are a very close-knit team and the thing I’m most proud of is that we’re always willing to go the extra mile to accomplish tasks and do so in a safe and secure manner,” Ortega says. “I have excellent teammates and we genuinely care for each other, not only as co-workers but as people. I hope we continue to grow and do good things for the organization.”

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