NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. –
Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) Environmental Protection Specialist (Code 106.323) Kenneth Clarke starts each workday the same way – by writing an inspirational quote on his white board. According to his supervisor, Environmental Monitoring Manager Sandra Walton, that is just one of the ways that Clarke brings warmth and positivity to his coworkers, his code, and the shipyard as a whole.
Clarke began his career at NNSY in March 2016 in the Pipefitter Shop (Shop 56). When he arrived at NNSY, Clarke already had 11 years of experience under his belt as a pipefitter. He completed a five-year-long apprenticeship program in 2010 and worked as a contractor before walking through the shipyard’s gates for the first time.
Clarke’s acumen for occupational health and safety as an Environmental Coordinator caught the attention of NNSY’s Occupational Safety, Health and Environmental Office (Code 106) and he eventually transitioned from Shop 56 to Code 106 in October 2019. Clarke said he was interested in making the career transition because it gave him a chance to learn something new and offered him opportunities for growth.
In his current role, Clarke helps the shipyard maintain compliance with the Clean Water Act (CWA) along with the Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) and Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) permits by performing a wide variety of sampling, inspections and surveillances throughout the shipyard. He also performs sampling to support other regulatory programs such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
The transition from being a pipefitter to working with environmental safety had its challenges, but Clarke said that overcoming those difficulties and succeeding in his new role is one of his proudest career achievements. “Just like anyone when they start something new, I was in unfamiliar territory, so I grasped what I could and kept moving – eventually I got it. I was not afraid to ask a question about something if I did not know the answer,” said Clarke.
As a survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Clarke is not unaccustomed to overcoming difficult situations. “I was told the cancer would cripple me – but I didn’t let that get me down. I kept a positive state of mind and accepted whatever God had coming for me. Four years later, I am here with a big smile on my face. I try to motivate others with my story.”
His upbeat attitude has had a positive effect on his colleagues. “If you were to meet Mr. Clarke in the building, the hallway, or within the shipyard, be prepared to get a genuine happy smile along with a ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, or a ‘how are you doing?,’" said Walton. “He brings a warmth to our building and section with his great work ethic, positive attitude and confidence.”
Clarke said that he was drawn to NNSY because of the perks that come with federal employment and the opportunity for growth within his career. But since starting at NNSY, his ability to connect with other shipyarders and impact their day for the better has become his favorite part of the job. “The thing I enjoy the most about my job is interacting with different people daily and helping someone smile that might be going through something,” said Clarke.
Clarke’s three rules for life are, “If you do not go after what you want, you will never have it. If you do not ask, the answer will always be no. And if you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.”
Walton said that Clarke upholds NNSY’s C.O.R.E. values of Care, Ownership, Respect, and Excellence and is a valuable member of the One Team driving NNSY towards its One Mission. Clarke values being a member of the NNSY team and works hard to help the shipyard meet its mission. “You can’t win a championship without a team!” he said.