16 students graduate from intensive NGS training program

LeCHEE, Ariz. ­– For only the third time in its nearly 40-year history, all of the students who began one of the most intensive training programs in the energy industry successfully completed it to become regular employees at the Navajo Generating Station.

Last month, two women and 14 men graduated the seven-week-long NGS Power Plant Fundamentals School. The required course instructs each new employee in every phase of NGS’s technical operation, procedures and safety.


100 PERCENT SUCCESS RATE – The latest Power Plant Fundamental School saw all 16 participants graduate. This was only the third time in its history everyone successfully finished the difficult class. From rear left to right, the students are Kyle Begaye, Terry John, John Murray, Justin Noble, Joe Roundtree, Zach Jones, Larry Mallahan and Brian Davis. From front left to right, they are Nathan Clizzie, Scott Gilmore, Celesta Littleman, Freeman Benally, Teresa Hansen, Curtis Slim, Erwin Marks and Darren Redshirt. *George Hardeen Photo

In his 35 years of teaching this course, Tom Hull said he remembers only one class having all participants graduate. In 2001, a class half this size had all of its participants graduate.

About 1,000 applied for the 16 available positions. Currently, 90 percent – or 443 of NGS’s 494 employees – are Navajo preference.

“This will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do,” Hull tells every new class. “We basically teach two years worth of material in seven weeks. So there’s no down time. Everything we teach is important. Everything we teach needs to be learned and remembered.”

“Having the entire class make it is rare to see happen,” said NGS Plant Manager Bob Talbot. “We all have to take care of each other. If you see one of your co-workers about to do something that is unsafe, you need to stop and have that discussion. It’s expected for you to do that, even if I’m senior to you.”

The program consists of 10 hours a day of classroom lecture and field work four days a week, followed by a weekly test. The course outline is 50 pages long.

It includes sections on every aspect of NGS’s parts, equipment, procedures and operations, from electron theory to the railroad that delivers coal, from physics to the properties of superheated steam, from the Federal Reclamation Act of 1902 to the history of why NGS was built where it is on the Navajo Nation.

This class had a diverse mix of Navajo students with a wide array of experience. One is an aerospace engineer with 27 years experience that includes building rocket engines and working on the space shuttle following the Challenger disaster.

Two are recent Marine and Navy veterans. Another is a mechanical engineer and one has an MBA. Some students had experience at other power plants while others are recent high school grads. One was an Italian language interpreter at the Glen Canyon Dam.

Most of the students agreed the course was tougher than most college courses but that teamwork, dedication and devotion was what got them through as a group.

Justin Noble of Kayenta was working at a medical distribution company in Phoenix when he learned a new class would begin and he had been accepted. Both he and his wife wanted to move home and leave the big city behind.

But in the third week of the course he faced a critical decision: skip a day of class when his new daughter was born in Tuba City or stay to avoid risk of not passing.

“My wife and I talked about this possibility,” he said. “We agreed that SRP offers such an amazing improvement to lives that we decided that if this was going to happen for us, it would be worth it for me to stay in class to achieve this goal for our family.”

Now he says both his son and daughter will be able to attend any college they want because of the financial security his new job will provide.

“Their lives will be ten-fold better than my life was, and they will have many more opportunities than I was ever given,” Justin said.

Erwin Marks left home in Tonalea 40 years ago to pursue his education and career. His work in aerospace engineering and design took him to California, Utah, New Mexico, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere around the country.

But in recent years, because the industry has withstood repeated reductions in force, layoffs and budget cutbacks, he decided it was time to leave his job with Raytheon Missile Systems to try a new field, and the energy industry was a good fit.

He said business and people will always continue to need energy as cities, towns and the economy continue to grow. But this job allows him to return home after so many years away.

“I have spent a lot of years away from here,” Erwin said. “I used to visit maybe once a year for a few days. To come back and to live where I have my childhood memories, that’s an opportunity that I can’t express. This is a good opportunity because the way I see it I get to be in my own homeland and be in a position to be able to contribute to the needs of a company and to the needs of a people.”

Teresa Hansen says confidently she always knew what she wanted to do. The Page native and Navy veteran was eager to apply to the course because her mother has worked at NGS for 30 years and her sister worked there for 11 years before transferring to Phoenix.

She said when she joined the Navy, she was already planning her future.

“I told them I wanted a job that when I get out I could go work at the power plant,” she said. “So I got a job in gas turbines and worked on hovercrafts in the Navy.”

Although she loved the Navy and got to see the world, she said always wanted to return home.

“Yeah, my whole idea was always to join the military to come back here to Page,” she said.

Working at NGS, she says, makes that possible.

Scott Gilmore was living in Scottsdale and working at GoDaddy.com. In college he studied subjects from chemical engineering to statistics. He said he had no background in welding or with boilers but that his inspiration was his father who took the same NGS course in 1989.

Scott said he applied twice before but wasn’t selected until now. He was so dedicated to succeed, he said, that he quit his Phoenix job after the first interview but before it was confirmed that he was accepted into the course.

“It was a lot of information at one time,” he said. “It just came fast and quick and yet you had to pick it up. You had to apply yourself. You had to try. It was really just go home, eat, study, go to sleep. Get up, learn something else, go home, eat, study.”

Freeman Benally of Shonto also was inspired to get into the course and successfully complete it because of his father, although for a different reason. The Fort Lewis College biology graduate felt the need to be home to help.

“It means a lot to me because my father is not in great health,” Freeman said. “Winters can be hard and I’m glad I can be here in order to help him. That’s really what makes me want to stay here, my father. And NGS provided a job for me in order to do so I’m grateful for it.”

He said the program “helps you dig deep within yourself to actually find out who you are in stressful situations.”

Terry John, known as TJ, grew up at Navajo Mountain. He said he’s one of those students who always struggled in school and felt like he struggled after high school as well.

His last job was at the White Mesa Uranium Mill in Blanding, Utah, but he wanted to come home. He said he had to successfully complete the Fundamentals School or face the prospect of going on the road for construction and other jobs.

He credits his classmates with helping him learn the material and push everyone through.

“It was a lot harder than anybody ever told me it would be,” TJ said.

He said he got support from his entire family and that his wife was overjoyed when he told her he passed.

“She actually started crying because she was so happy,” he said.

Curtis Slim grew up in Page and always knew about NGS. He said it was a big move on his part when he gave up his job as an Italian language interpreter at the Glen Canyon Dam. He said he learned Italian as a missionary to Italy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

He said Italian visitors to Page were astounded when a young Navajo approached them and said in perfect Italian, “I’m from Arizona. Where are you from in Italy,” Curtis said. “One guy actually gave me a piece of his jewelry because he was, you know, really excited, really happy.”

He said moving to the power plant from the dam is definitely a big career change and big opportunity.

“I was teaching people about hydroelectric power,” he said. “This is a whole different world, and it scared me. But those teachers are some of the best. As far as college professors, they were above that. I love what I’m going to do, whether operations, maintenance or railroad.”

Celesta Littleman of LeChee said she “had it rough” growing up. She was a teenage mom struggling financially to get by for years.

With determination and grit, she was able to put herself through Arizona State University, earn a degree in criminology and criminal justice in 2009, and then graduate from the New Mexico State Police Academy. She went on to work at the maximum security New Mexico State Penitentiary, surrounded by and competing with men.

“If you put your mind to it and stay devoted and committed, anything’s possible,” Celesta said. “I believe that, I really do.”

“I was a single mother, I was on welfare, but I did it and I graduated from ASU,” she said. “I did the same thing as well in New Mexico with law enforcement. All men. And I made it though all those academies, New Mexico State Police and the penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe. And then I went through this. It’s a big accomplishment.”

Navajo delegation calls repatriation efforts a success

PARIS—The Navajo delegation on a mission to Paris, led by Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim was successful in their repatriation efforts of all seven sacred Navajo masks that went on sale at an auction house by bidding and outright purchasing all seven sacred Navajo masks.

“This was a very delicate mission,” Vice President Rex Lee Jim said at the conclusion of the auction. “We are happy to be taking these Navajo sacred masks home to be cleansed by our Navajo medicine people, who will determine when these masks will be used in our wintertime ceremonies,” he said.

The Navajo delegation arrived in Paris France on Friday. Upon arrival, the delegation wanted to verify the masks as being of Navajo origin. In a private ceremony held at the Drouot Auction House, the vice president offered sacred Navajo prayers for the masks, believed to be authentically of the early 1900s.

“In our prayers and songs to these sacred Navajo beings, we spoke and our deities know that we do care. Our ceremony was a way to reconnect with them and to let them know that we are here to take them home. We did not forget them. We care about who we’re taught to be—Diné. It’s a way to communicate with the inner beings of these sacred masks,” the vice president said.

In bringing awareness while in a foreign country, the vice president said there is an urgent need to understand that nationally and internationally and out of respect for one another’s cultures and ceremonies, and respect for human dignity and diversity that, “we all need to be aware that there are certain sacred beings that we should never, ever sell. In this case, one cannot imagine selling other peoples sacred beings. These masks are living, breathing beings,” the vice president added.

“These masks are spiritual beings and the Navajo people have strong connections with them. We need to regard them as such,” Vice President Rex Lee Jim said.

The Navajo delegation offers gratitude for the tremendous support from those who have stepped forward urging Eve auction house to halt the sale until Navajo and other tribal representatives can view and authenticate the masks. They thank United States Ambassador Jane Hartley, and officials for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “This was a government to government cooperation, and we are grateful,” said the vice president before leaving Paris.

The Navajo delegation returns to Window Rock, Ariz., Tuesday.

Navajo delegation pursues sacred masks at auction in Paris

PARIS—Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim and Navajo Human Rights officials will attempt to purchase seven confirmed Navajo sacred masks up for auction in Paris, France. Hundreds of items representing different Indigenous nations will go on auction at 2:30 p.m., Central European Time.

The Navajo delegation arrived in Paris Friday and accomplished one of its goals by gaining access to the sacred masks at the Drouot auction house on Saturday, Dec. 13. Vice President Rex Lee Jim offered sacred Navajo prayers to restore harmony from the masks being removed from the four sacred mountains.

It is also important to note that item 77 in the catalog is not of Navajo origin. Eve auction house does not know the origin of this item as indicated in the catalog. 

While in Paris, the news media coverage of the Navajo mission has spread throughout Europe. Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to France, made a public appeal for the sacred masks be returned to the respective Indigenous nations, including the Navajo Nation. The Navajo delegation over the last three days, raised awareness of how the sacred masks belong to the Navajo Nation, and the right course of action, is to return them.

The vice president called the masks “living and breathing beings,” in Navajo, and as sacred to the people used for healing ceremonies during the winter. It is important that they be taken home.

“This is important because we have a cultural and spiritual connection with them. These are not art objects. They were not constructed for decorating homes or to hang art galleries. This is a major difference between the western concept of art and the Navajo concept of cultural patrimony,” the vice president said.

“We understand that many of the dealers do not understand this, that this concept is foreign to their culture,” the vice president added.

“As an elected official of the Navajo people, one of my duties is to protect these sacred masks and that is why I am here with the steadfast support of the Navajo government, our lawmakers and our people,” the vice president said.

The Navajo delegation calls on the Navajo medicine people and all Navajos to pray for a successful mission in returning these sacred masks back to the Navajo Nation.

The delegation will return to the Navajo Nation on Tuesday.

Traffic to switch to new alignment on US 89 in conjunction with opening of new roundabout at the US 89/SR 64 junction north of Flagstaff

The Arizona Department of Transportation will be switching traffic for both north- and southbound travel on US 89 in Cameron during the morning hours on Tuesday, Dec. 2, to allow for construction to continue on the roadway and bridge project currently underway. Traffic will be diverted onto the new alignment directly adjacent to the existing US 89 through the community of Cameron, approximately 50 miles north of Flagstaff. In addition to switching traffic to the new alignment, the recently completed roundabout at the US 89/State Route 64 junction will also be opened.

These improvements are part of a project which includes widening US 89 to two lanes in each direction between SR 64 and the Little Colorado River, replacement of the existing US 89 Cameron truss bridge and installation of a roundabout, with new lighting and pedestrian facilities throughout the project area. Travel will continue on the existing bridge while the new bridge is being constructed. The roadway and bridge improvement project is expected to be completed in fall 2016.

Traffic delays may occur during construction with traffic reduced to one lane. There will be directional signage and flaggers present during construction. ADOT advises motorists to be alert for construction equipment and personnel, and to proceed through the work zone with caution.


PHOENIX — Mercedes Ryden, chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Arizona Chapter, on behalf of the executive committee, released the following statement today:

We welcome the President’s announcement offering his planned administrative action to ameliorate some of the damage done by our broken immigration system in the absence of Congressional action.

The President acted in the best interest of the country after months of delays by Congress.  The actions he has taken will keep America safer, offer relief that takes into account the need to boost businesses, keep families together, and alleviate some of the daily tragedies our broken system engenders.

The President took a bold and courageous first step by turning away from the naysayers, from the critics, and made good on his promise to try and fix America’s broken immigration system.

Congress should be ashamed that instead of doing its job, and passing comprehensive reform, they have done nothing to help the situation.

President Obama was well within his legal authority to act on immigration reform: Presidents from both parties going back decades have taken similar steps, including President Bush, Sr. who gave blanket deferral of enforcement in 1990 to 40% of the undocumented population at the time.

The President’s action does not fix all the problems with America’s current immigration system, it’s a stopgap measure. It’s not permanent but it allows Congress the opportunity to step up and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

What President Obama intends to do on border security remains unclear. Unfortunately, the administration seems committed to increased buildup of resources on the border despite the fact he has already deployed unprecedented amounts of manpower, resources, and technology to secure the nation’s borders in the past decade.

The President’s plan as described today includes:

  • Deferred Action for the parents of U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children who fit the eligibility requirements.
  • Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to remove the age cap and move the continuous presence date up to January 1, 2010.  DACA will now be granted for 3 years (including those with pending renewal applications).
  • Replacement of the controversial Secure Communities program with a “Priority Enforcement Program” program the details of which are still unclear.
  • Ensuring that job-creating entrepreneurs have legal means to enter and operate in the U.S.
  • Increasing access for university affiliated businesses to key talent.
  • Allowing spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to apply for unlawful presence waivers from within the U.S. and ensuring appropriate standards for adjudicating those waivers.
  • Enabling families of individuals trying to enlist in the armed forces to utilize parole in place to ensure legal status.
  • Changing the procedures for adjustment of status to allow legal immigrants caught in the immigration quota backlogs to register their applications and thus begin the final step of the process.
  • Directing agencies to look at modernizing the visa system, with a view to making optimal use of the numbers of visa available under law.
  • Announcement of a new border security campaign and plan.