I’m fortunate for all the great employees we have here at the DOT, but today I want to single-out a 19-year Department veteran whose service has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Unfortunately, we’re soon losing him to the Department of State, but I hope his example continues to be a source of inspiration for all of us.
When Sam Nassif started out in FHWA’s Federal Lands division, he never imagined his career would take him to the front lines in Iraq, Afghanistan and New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But after more than ten years in the Federal Lands and Federal Aid divisions developing an expertise in emerging transportation technologies and building national transit systems at the Federal Transit Administration, Sam had established a reputation as one of the agency’s best and brightest. He also possessed the courage and leadership to contribute those talents in difficult times for our country.
In June of 2004, former Secretary Norman Mineta asked Sam to travel to the U.S. embassy in Iraq to assist the fragile Iraqi interim government rebuild their country. Over the next year and a half, Sam faced enormous obstacles to progress, working in wartime conditions with little resolve coming from Iraq’s temporary political leadership. Although it was tough, Sam was sustained by the knowledge he was improving life for Iraqis and making roads safer for American troops every day.
Shortly after Sam returned home from Iraq in 2005, disaster struck closer to home. Hurricane Katrina had leveled New Orleans, wiping out homes, businesses, and schools; halting critical public services; stranding residents; and leaving lives in tatters. In Katrina’s wake, Secretary Mineta once again called on Sam’s expertise to help New Orleans rebuild their transit system. Over the next two years, Sam worked day and night to get public transit up and running so that children could return to school, parents could go back to work, and life could begin to return to normal.
When Sam returned to Washington, DC in October 2007, he once again found himself being called on to aid U.S. efforts overseas. In early 2008, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) asked Sam to travel to Kabul, Afghanistan to help build up the nation’s rudimentary transportation system. When he arrived, only 5 percent of Afghanistan’s roads were paved, creating unsafe driving conditions for Afghanis and a major security concern for American troops. The poor road conditions are also a crippling barrier to improving commercial activity, and access to education and healthcare. Sam’s work over the following 18 months not only helped build up Afghanistan’s infrastructure, but it has undoubtedly saved lives and increased opportunities for Afghanis.
When I asked Sam how he dealt with the difficulties of his assignments, he said he constantly told himself, “We cannot fail.” He knew every day that the work he was doing was making roads safer for Afghanis and our troops, and he also saw a better future for the next generation of Afghani children. “Life can be grim if you have no hope,” he said, referring to Afghani children who would benefit from better access to schools, hospitals, and increased economic activity between cities.
Sam’s passion to make the future a brighter place for others around the world has led him to the State Department where he will continue advising on infrastructural development overseas. And although he looks forward to going abroad, he is quick to note that one part of him will always remain in DC – his daughter Jessica, a student George Mason University, who he proudly calls his “heart on two feet.”
From myself and the rest of the DOT, best of luck, Sam.