United Way of Tanana Valley thanks TAPS
United Way co-chairs of Tanana Valley, Jerry Evans & Glen Anderson, presented Alyeska with “The Superstar Award” for being the top workplace donor during 2013-2014. Bill Bailey, Alyeska's Fairbanks Communications Manager, center, accepted the award on behalf of TAPS. Fairbanks employees & contractors contributed $119,454 to United Way in 2013. “A huge thank you to Alyeska's Lorena Hegdal & Ann Marie White for co-chairing the campaign in Fairbanks,” said Bailey. In 2013, employees & contractors companywide contributed a total of $597,933 to United Way & its efforts to support the communities of Alaska.
Driving Excellence: More than 1,000,000 miles on TAPS without an accident
Reginal “Reggie” Smyre is among those TAPS employees who have logged one million road miles – and done so safely. Smyre shared some thoughts on his experience during the past 16 years working on TAPS:
Q: How many miles have you logged? What was your typical route? What kind of cargo were you transporting?
A: I worked as the Northern Area Expediter for 11 years and recorded roughly 1 million miles driving from Pump Station 4 to Pump Station 1 daily, hauling passengers between the pump stations and to and from the airport in Deadhorse, while hauling various materials and equipment.
Q: How do you stay safe and focused on the job?
A: I stayed safe by focusing on the task at hand and my surroundings, and focusing on the changing situations that may occur on the road.
Q: What’s your motivation for staying safe?
A: My motivation for staying safe was being able to go home to my family safe at the end of each shift and making sure whoever I transported experienced the same.
Q: Share a memorable experience from your time driving on TAPS.
A: A memorable experience for me would have to be driving from Deadhorse to Pump Station 2 one evening. When I started my journey the weather was not bad, but three and half hours later I finally arrived at my destination, Pump Station 2. The wind was blowing so hard it was pushing the truck, and down the road since you could not see anything, it was like driving through cotton delineator to delineator, very slow moving. But that’s the northern, area where the weather can change fast and no trees protect you from the wind.
Q: What was your favorite stretch of road?
A: My favorite stretch of road would be from Pump Station 2 to Pump Station 3 because of the view and the road surface seems to always be in good shape.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: While I was expediting I was fortunate to meet and talk to a lot of good people, which made the time I experienced on the road enjoyable and safe.
Driving Excellence: 1,000,000 miles on TAPS without an accident
From Ernie Ford, Security Officer, Doyon:
I have been working on TAPS since May of 1995 (two days after retiring from the U.S. Army and was hired by Ahtna AGA) so in May of 2015 I will have 20 years on TAPS. I have logged well over one million miles on TAPS.
My typical routes as a courier, where I logged most of my TAPS miles, included patrol runs along the pipeline from Fairbanks to Valdez. I carried everything from food products, to HAZMAT materials, emergency parts- or “Hot” as they are classified- for immediate delivery for keeping TAPS running, transmissions, tires, automotive parts of all sorts. There was not much (back in the day) that we did not carry for TAPS and all of their contractors.
You are constantly challenged driving on TAPS, from the constant changing of weather to looking out for the other guy. “The other guy” for us is all of the industrial traffic that we are always encountering along TAPS, as well as the inexperienced tourist. Being vigilant and always on top of your game keeps you safe. Industrial traffic (commercial traffic or semi-trucks hauling supplies to the North Slope) can be extremely dangerous, especially when you have to face them in adverse weather conditions. Couriers drive thousands of miles over a two week period and we had to always be aware of our environment, and our space. It is a lapse in your concentration and that space that could get you in trouble.
It’s our culture as couriers to operate, understand, and practice, and set the example in our safety practices. We drive more miles than any contractor on the line, and with that it initiates a responsibility of setting the example when it comes to safety. We have a saying, especially those of us who have driven these roads for much of our careers on TAPS that if you do this job long enough, the law of averages, or “Murphy’s LAW” will catch up to you. We all strive to beat those averages and “Murphy’s LAW” by executing our day to day work challenges by focusing on safety as our watch word. I coined a phrase with my Director that we use, “Safety First, Safety Last, Safety Always” as a means of accepting our day to day challenges.
I have had many memorable experiences while operating on TAPS. It would be hard for me to put into perspective what one thing was the most memorable, but one that sticks out more than most was my response to a young lady who was riding on the Haul Road that was from Canada. She was riding for the “Make a Wish” foundation. You will have to excuse me for not remembering her name but I will give you what I remember from that time. I was heading north along TAPS on my daily patrol route heading for Pump Station 4 when I came upon this young lady who had apparently fallen off her bike and sustained, what was later diagnosed, as a broken collar bone. This happened in the vicinity of Beaver Slide as she had just left the Arctic Circle: her start point. I stabilized her and requested a response from the Pump Station 5 medic so she could be transported and flown out of Prospect Creek to Fairbanks for treatment. I stayed with her and assisted in getting her transported back to Pump Station 5 where the medic (Bernie Beatty) called for a Guardian Flight to get her to Fairbanks for treatment. I recovered all of her gear, bicycle, and basically everything she owned for this expedition. I inventoried and secured it. Since I was traveling back to Fairbanks the following day I would stop by Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and insure all of her personal gear was accounted for and locked in a safe place. This lady was riding for children out of Canada for the “Make a Wish” foundation and she seemingly thought that her trip, her desire, her passion, had come to an end. This was not to be...
Curtis Thomas, who at that time was the PR representative for APSC in Fairbanks found out about what had transpired and immediately got involved in assisting her with a hotel room after her release from the hospital. This event hit the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner and with that came an outpouring of public support for her to assist her to meet her goal, and her dream. There were donations from many who wanted her to continue with her dream. A family took her in at Eielson AFB until she was fully healed and could continue on her trek to South America. The day finally came that she was healed and ready to start her trek again. I was honored to be a part of her send-off that we had in Fairbanks at the APSC Headquarters on Bidwell. She was given some gifts, money, and she gave us all a tearful thank you for being her “Guardian Angels”. Then, I mounted my bikes and, along with a police escort, rode with her to the city limits of Fairbanks where I gave her a hug, wished her well, and watched her head off towards Anchorage. I had heard that quite some time later she had accomplished her goal and it did my heart good to know that we all (APSC and contractors) had a part in making her wish, riding for all of the children in the Canadian “Make a Wish” foundation... come true.
Again, it would be hard to choose what part of the road systems that I drove were my most favorite. Each area has its own unique beauty….and challenges. One of the most picturesque areas of the pipeline is in the Yukon River area. The snow and ice clings to the trees in the winter time as you drop down into the Yukon River Valley. When the sun hits these trees they have a unique sparkle as if they had lights on them. If I had to pick one area, I believe this would be the one I enjoy most, especially in the wintertime.
I was a courier for a long time and to me it is one of the most enjoyable jobs or positions you can work. It allows and gives you the freedom to be out on your own, working in the most adverse weather conditions in one the most challenging states in the union. Every day was an adventure; you never knew what you were going to be faced with or have to deal with. Changing a tire at -40, stopping for a public assist to a third party, meeting all kinds of people from all over the world, or just enjoying the beauty of what this state brings to us every day. Traveling along TAPS can be one of the most challenging driving experiences you will ever face in your lifetime, but then again, it can also be one of the most enjoyable.
TAPS employees: delivering excellence and "true grit"
While recently discussing TAPS' new employee recognition program, President Tom Barrett shared thoughts on the excellence and "true grit" of pipeline employees. Click here to hear what he had to say and see video from the field.
17 billion barrels by late 2014
More than 2,000 people work on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). The men and women who work for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company – the company that owns and operates TAPS – as either an employee or a contractor come from a broad cross section of disciplines. From engineers to field technicians to administrative support to marine professionals, each contributes to safely and reliably moving oil across the state of Alaska.
Alyeska’s responsibility begins on the North Slope at Pump Station 1. Here TAPS personnel receive the incoming streams of oil from the North Slope producers. The oil is either managed through temporary storage on the facility or fed directly into the pipeline for transit to the port of Valdez, 800 miles south.
The flow of oil is controlled remotely from Anchorage by technicians who staff Alyeska’s Operations Control Center (OCC) with field personnel all along the pipeline supporting the oil’s movement southward. OCC technicians monitor the entire width of pipeline operations while Alyeska field personnel provide essential services such as pipeline maintenance, major project work and environmental oversight.
Once the oil has made the transit across Alaska, it arrives at the Valdez Marine Terminal. The Terminal is located on ice-free Port Valdez at the northeastern end of Prince William Sound. The Terminal occupies approximately 1,000 acres on the southern shore of Port Valdez. The facility’s primary function is to load tankers and to provide the storage capacity for TAPS and allow production on the North Slope to operate without impact-related delays from the marine transportation system. The Terminal operates with two tanker loading berths and storage facilities with a working inventory capacity of 7.13 million barrels of crude oil.
After tankers are loaded on the Terminal, Alyeska’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (SERVS) assist the laden vessels in the safe navigation through PWS. SERVS is comprised of a fleet of 11 tugboats, nine response barges and oil spill response equipment pre-positioned throughout the Sound. In addition, SERVS trains people from Alaska’s south-central fishing industry and other vessels of opportunity in the latest oil spill response tactics. SERVS contracts with more than 450 privately owned vessels to bolster Alyeska response readiness.
Alyeska’s mission is to provide safe, environmentally responsible, reliable and cost-effective oil transportation. Each of the more than 2,000 people who work on TAPS contribute to Alyeska’s success in meeting this mission. As of December 31, 2013, almost 16.9 billion barrels of oil have flowed through the trans-Alaska pipeline. This number, at current throughput rates, will surpass 17 billion by late 2014.
TAPS people deliver excellence
TAPS is often referred to as an engineering marvel. However, I believe the real marvel is the people of TAPS – people who, whatever their job, routinely deliver exceptional performance despite Arctic cold, mountains, permafrost and weather conditions that would halt others in their tracks. What I call “Alaskan True Grit” is present on TAPS every day. Tasks that carry a high degree of difficulty are routinely done safely and professionally. In 2013, TAPS reliability was perfect, at 99.7 percent, with the .03 percent resulting from scheduled short-duration shutdowns. Our people accomplish major project work while still safely moving oil. TAPS people are the system’s core strength.
TAPS gets smooth operations and project execution through people, we get innovation through people, we get prevention through people, we get performance through people – people from within our company and from our TAPS contractors. We achieve success from individuals and teams who make sound technical, operational and financial decisions, who seek out opportunities for improvement, who speak up and step up, who act with discipline on every task. Being human we know we are not perfect, but we have people who, if we have a problem, will face it openly, fix it and move forward.
When we discuss performance on TAPS, delivering excellence is always in the background. Whether the issue is safety, reliability, environmental protection or efficiency, our commitment, and our performance expectation is to apply the highest professional standards to every task we do along the pipeline, at the Valdez Marine Terminal or in our offices in Anchorage and Fairbanks. We talk about how simply “being good” is not enough. We want to be the best – to deliver excellence, safely moving oil for our stakeholders and for Alaskans.
Alaskans often refer to TAPS as the state’s “economic artery.” It’s the big straw from the North Slope, delivering the product that funds more than 90 percent of Alaska’s operating budget, the permanent fund dividend, and directly supports more than one-third of Alaska jobs. Our people understand the importance of what they do every day for our owners and for every Alaskan.
The continued safe and reliable operation of TAPS is the hands of our people. And they are strong hands, they are smart hands, they are hands with Alaskan True Grit toughness. We have a proud TAPS legacy to continue, and because of the strength of our people, we will continue it. I am incredibly proud to be part of the TAPS team; and every Alaskan can be rightly proud of the people of TAPS because of what they achieve for all of us, every single day.
Prudhoe Bay fashion accessories
Headed out into the field this winter and hoping to stay warm AND en vogue? Arctic gear is the answer! Fresh from the runways of Prudhoe Bay, this stylish ensemble protects TAPS employees from the harsh polar chill. Consisting of an insulated jacket with a fur ruff, bibs, and bunny boots, the outfit keeps its wearer warm down to -40 below, a temperature common along TAPS in the winter. Available in a stunning array of dark blue, navy and midnight, these pieces can be accessorized with balaclavas, hard hat insulators, sheep skin gloves, and of course, true-Alaskan grit. These outfits will keep you Haut. Haut Couture, that is!
Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel
On a snowy winter afternoon, a tanker truck makes its way onto the Valdez Marine Terminal. This is a typical sight – equipment and vehicles on Terminal require lots of fuel – but this is not a typical fuel delivery. The truck carries Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) from the PetroStar refinery less than 5 miles away. This marked the first such delivery from PetroStar destined for the boilers at Power Vapor after switching from High Sulfur #2 last fall.
“Transitioning to ULSD is something we’ve wanted to do for a while,” said John Fannin, Valdez Marine Terminal Utilities Manager. “The group put their heads together and came up with a proposal, and coordinated with PetroStar to make it happen. It’s a win for the environment, economical and certainly more convenient. And it’s safer, too."
Most vehicles and equipment transitioned to ULSD when new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required it in 2010. Boilers were – and still are – exempted from those regulations. Until November, the boilers in Valdez ran on High Sulfur diesel that had to be trucked in all the way from the refinery in North Pole, over 300 miles away.
While it was economical to truck the HSD from North Pole, environmental and safety factors led to the shift to ULSD.
For example, switching to ULSD led to a significant decrease in emissions, since HS #2 has 5000 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, compared to just 15 ppm for ULSD. The sulfur in the HS #2 fuel oil converts to sulfur dioxide (SO2) as a result of the combustion process, contributing to air pollution. Switching to ULSD will reduce the VMT SO2 emissions by approximately 108 tons per year.
Then there’s the safety consideration of driving five miles versus 300 miles.
“We never had an incident on the road,” said Gerry Woitel, a key player in the transition. “But at the end of the day, it’s fewer miles to drive…and we’re pretty sure drivers on the Richardson will be happy to see traffic on the road.”
The transportation of the fuel from the Fairbanks refinery required approximately 336 truckloads of fuel annually. The ULSD will be transported from the Valdez refinery which will result in a reduction of 225,000 miles to transport the fuel. The result is a significant reduction in risk with respect to potential accidents and spills.
Teamwork, dedication keep TAPS running year-round
On Thanksgiving, the kickoff to the holiday season, you watch the parade on TV, heap turkey on your plate, surround yourself with friends and family. And at Pump Station 1, the on-shift operator keeps watch over the facility, where all incoming lines from the North Slope converge and the trans-Alaska pipeline begins.
It’s Christmas Eve, a tranquil evening. You wrap gifts, arrange presents beneath the tree, set out cookies. And at the Operations Control Center in Anchorage, two people work 12 hours in a windowless room, monitoring giant screens that fill with data, lights, colors, the quiet cut only by the occasional alarm or phone call.
Christmas day. Shredded wrapping paper litters the floor, stockings are unhung and emptied, and Santa has come and gone. On the Haul Road, near Delta Junction, a lone courier approaches Pump Station 9, a station busy with activity – supervisors, technicians, security offers, a baseline maintenance team, all on-duty and working the holiday shift.
At midnight on New Year’s Eve, you toast the New Year, raise a glass, sing Auld Lang Syne. And at the Valdez Marine Terminal, in the tower at the Power Vapor Facility, a team trains eagle eyes on tank pressure levels and loading operations.
New Year’s Day: you sleep in, watch football, enjoy a lazy day. And a tugboat chugs through the wintry darkness of Prince William Sound, its crew navigating the challenging waters, escorting a laden tanker to sea.
On any given holiday, while most employees are doing – well, whatever they want – there are dozens of people making sure the pipeline runs safely. It has been this way since startup more than 36 years ago.
“It feels like a small honor to be valued so much that we must be at work,” said Janna Miller, Operations and Maintenance Supervisor at Pump Station 1. “Coming to work is always easier when you know someone is counting on you and truly cares about what you do.”
These essential personnel ensure operations go on reliably, a mission critical to Alaska. TAPS delivers an estimated $24 million a day into the state’s coffers, and accounts for more than 90 percent of the state’s budget.
Employees work at pump stations, on barges and tug boats, and in labs. They load tankers, guard security checkpoints, measure and test crude oil, and drive the length of the pipeline, hauling cargo and supplies. They manage the ballast water facility, fly helicopters, and launch and pull cleaning pigs.
At the Valdez Marine Terminal this Christmas Eve, a new team of technician trainees report for their first official day of work. Others will spend the holiday shoveling snow off the acre-sized tops of the Terminal’s crude oil tanks.
Those who work holidays say the quieter pace gives them a chance to catch up on work, maybe complete company-required training and sort through old emails.
“There is a certain peace in working a holiday,” said Andres Morales, director of the Ship Escort/Response Vessel System in Valdez, who worked holiday shifts for many years. “Everyone else is off and engrossed in his or her own activities. It lets you see what work is critical to the moment-to-moment operation of TAPS.”
And employees who have spent years working holiday shifts say no matter where you are on the pipeline – on board a ship, on shift at pump station, or in a control room – people try to make it feel special.
“I love working the holidays because it seems like we all come together as a group to make the holiday at work a little more enjoyable,” said Dameon Kowalke, a Utility Rover based out of Pump Station 9, who has spent more than 14 years working holidays in the field. “It’s great being part of the TAPS team over the holidays. We help make it as fun and festive as we can and we give the other shift a chance to spend time at home with loved ones.”
That’s a reoccurring theme: field-based employees say they are glad to make the sacrifice of working the holiday shift so their counterparts can enjoy the time off. One Environment Team member said she chooses to work holidays because “it’s more important for my alternate to have the holidays off than for me.”
Those on shift say they make the most of sharing the time with each other.
“When you work in the field, the personnel at the pump stations become like a second family to you,” said Susan Graham, a Pump Station Assistant working out of Pump Stations 5 and 7. “If you can’t be with your actual family, being with these friends is next best.”
We asked employees to tell us more:
Question: What do you like about working holidays?
“I love working the holidays because it seems like we all come together as a group to make the holiday at work a little more enjoyable.” - Kowalke, Dameon Kowalke, Utility Rover, PS 9
“Holidays tend to be very quiet so it is a great time to catch up on those “do later” jobs.” - Sue Graham, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 5/Yukon Response Base/ Pump Station 7
“Everyone is wishing each other a merry Christmas or happy Thanksgiving and seems to go to a bit more effort to smile and be kind to each other.” - Janna Miller, Pump Station 1 O&M Supervisor
“No matter where you are, you are with others who are missing the holiday and their homes. People pull together to make the day special. You see the best come out in co-workers and leadership on holidays or when you have to work on a traditional day of rest.” – Andres Morales, SERVS Director
Question: What’s it like to be away from home and friends and family on a holiday working?
“I don’t think that it will ever be ‘just another day’ for Christmas / Thanksgiving. Even though you are concentrating on the task at hand, your thoughts do slip back to your family once in a while. We had a family tradition when the kids were little where we always went ice fishing on Christmas Eve. So on the years that I had to work Christmas, two days before I went back to work I would announce that it was Christmas Eve and we would go ice fishing. The kids loved it. The following day it was ‘Christmas’, of course. The kids were excited when they got up, opened their presents and we cooked the turkey, watched Christmas movies, etc., just like it was Christmas Day. Kids don’t watch the calendar like adults do so I was able to pull the wool over their eyes for a few years before they caught on. “– Paul Eckman, Electrician / Fire Systems Tech, Pipeline Operations
“It has become the norm over the last 14 years but I still miss my family and friends every time I have to be away. … All in all its what you make of it.” - Dameon Kowalke, Utility Rover, PS 9
“The only holidays that seem “different” to me are Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s always nice to be with your loved ones and I find myself thinking of them several times during those days.” - Sue Graham, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 5/Yukon Response Base/ Pump Station 7
“Being relatively new to the experience, it is a bit strange for me, especially at Christmas which is so family-focused. I’ve seen some folks bring things from home, such as birthday cards, that they wait until the actual day to open. I’d like to try that, too, to make the day a bit more special.” - Janna Miller, Pump Station 1 O&M Supervisor
Question: How does it feel to be part of the core group of essential personnel that keeps TAPS going during these times when most others are off shift?
“It’s great being part of the TAPS team over the holidays. We help make it as fun and festive as we can and we give the other shift a chance to spend time at home with loved ones.” - Dameon Kowalke, Utility Rover, PS 9
“I’m working for NMS as an embedded tech for the winter here at Pump Station 7. We have to maintain a running Mainline Unit to add temperature to the crude oil as it flows down the Pipeline to North Pole Metering. It is very important that we keep the oil above a certain temperature for pipeline integrity. When I’m not working in Operations, I’m working on maintenance on the Pump Station Fire System which is important for the safety and protection of personnel and equipment. I feel it is important to maintain and keep things tip-top shape even though we have to work holidays to do it.” – Paul Eckman, Electrician / Fire Systems Tech, Pipeline Operations
“When you work in the field, the personnel at the pump stations become like a second family to you. If you can’t be with your actual family, being with these friends is next best.” - Sue Graham, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 5/Yukon Response Base/ Pump Station 7
“It feels like a small honor to be valued so much that we must be at work. Coming to work is always easier when you know someone is counting on you and truly cares about what you do.” - Janna Miller, Pump Station 1 O&M Supervisor
Question: What does a holiday look like at your facility? Do you do anything special?
“Holidays at Pump Station 9 are great! We always make sure to cook a meal and invite everyone in the asset area to join us. This year will be a bacon-wrapped turkey.“ - Dameon Kowalke, Utility Rover, PS 9
“Our catering / housekeeping crews always do a great job at decorating for the appropriate holiday and of course there is always a special dinner which is greatly appreciated.” - Sue Graham, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 5/Yukon Response Base/ Pump Station 7
“The PLQ looks very Christmassy with a tree and decorations. We also we have a small tree in our Control Room. It’s decorated with lock-out chain, caution and danger tags, crane inspection tags, equipment tag metals, earplugs, flags, etc. It even has a homemade Moravian Star. It’s one of a kind and I like it.” – Paul Eckman, Electrician / Fire Systems Tech, Pipeline Operations
“Often the break room and office are decorated for Christmas with stockings, tinsel and knickknacks. Our PLQ doesn’t have an active kitchen and we brown bag lunches every day. For holidays we order appetizers from our camp then call everyone over the radio to announce when the food is ready. We invite baseline, projects, and other support groups to join us. Everyone fills a paper plate, the big screen TV typically has The Game on, and we dine, cheer and visit. We realize people’s hearts and minds are elsewhere so it’s a day of simple work tasks. We remind ourselves to look out for each other and stay focused. Lots of people duck out for a few minutes to call home then return to work smiling. We make the most of it.” - Janna Miller, Pump Station 1 O&M Supervisor
“Working at the station is fun on various holidays, because we really are a family. We normally will cook a big or special meal on the station – turkey, ham, or in the summer holidays a big barbeque. For my part, I like Thanksgiving time best at Pump Station 9 because my family bakes pies – so many pies. This year there was only one shift impacted so for the station we made seven pies, but the past two years we had our shift change out day on Thanksgiving, which impacted both shifts of technicians. Those were 14-16 pie years for the station!” - Jessica Lipscomb, Pump Station Assistant, Pump Station 9
“The Christmas days I spent with the O&M teams on the Valdez Marine Terminal were wonderful. We pulled together, visited other teams, and had huge meals together. Often, there was snow removal to help us burn off the Christmas calories. When I worked for Crowley in the office, my wife and I would buy a gift for all the people who were working on the tugs for Christmas. I would deliver then on Christmas morning and stay to visit for a few hours.” – Andres Morales, SERVS Director
Alyeska's 13th annual Military Appreciation Luncheon
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many military personnel stationed in Alaska were unable to go home for the holidays. Alyeska employees wanted to find a way to support these men and women. Since a hallmark of the holiday season is time with family and friends around a dinner table eating a well-cooked meal, Alyeska’s employees decided a luncheon would be a great way to bring the holidays to some of the military personnel serving on Elmendorf and Ft. Richardson.
In this spirit, an annual tradition of conversation, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and prime rib was launched. Every year, employees from departments throughout Alyeska pair up with military personnel from every branch of the American Armed Forces. Employees and service members get to know each other while enjoying the aforementioned traditional holiday meal.
“2013 is the 13th year that Alyeska has had the opportunity to show our support and appreciation for the military folks stationed in Alaska,” said Patti Altom, Sr. Communications Assistant. “It is truly a privilege to share this meal with the men and women who serve our country.”