News: USACE’s enduring legacy to Afghanistan: New Generation of Afghan engineers
Story by Alicia Embrey
KABUL, Afghanistan – During the Taliban Regime, Saed-Ismai Amiri fought for an education and hope for the future. Years later, after working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Amiri is now an independent business owner who is helping fellow Afghan engineers to succeed.
In 2002, while attending his third year as a civil engineering student at Herat University, Amiri listened to a USACE guest speaker talk about engineering and career opportunities. The chance encounter opened a door for Amiri.
“My interest in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers became the focus of my career dreams because we had engineering in common. I could not believe that one day in the near future I would work for USACE,” said Amiri.
The civil engineering curriculum of Herat University requires fourth year students to intern with a construction firm to gain field experience. “For my internship, I was introduced to the Delta Construction Company, a subcontractor for Contrack International (CII) who had the design and construction contract of the $69 million Camp Zafar Afghan National Army base in Herat City,” Amiri explained. “It is a project funded by CSTC-A and supervised by USACE. This was my first exposure to USACE. The prime contractor, CII, was pleased with my performance and provided me a very nice completion review.”
Upon graduation, Amiri received two offers for employment, the first was as an instructor with Herat Engineering Vocational Institute, and the second as a quality control engineer for CII. He chose to work with CII in the Quality Control Branch.
“My work with CII in quality control offered me exposure to the USACE project life-cycle,” Amiri said. “There is an old saying, ‘When I listen I learn, when I read I learn, when I do I understand.’ My work in quality control taught me the importance of process control and documentation format.”
While working for CII, Amiri was introduced to the USACE resident engineer at the Herat Area Office and was offered the opportunity to join USACE as a quality assurance engineer. “This was an opportunity that I had hoped for and worked toward,” he said. “I joined USACE in June 2006.”
Life during the Taliban Regime
Amiri grew up during the Taliban Regime, where basic freedoms were denied, education was discouraged and entertainment outlawed. But he had the support of his parents to hold on to the dream of a better future, a future that only a solid education could provide.
“The Taliban time was the dark part of my life and my country,” Amiri said. “A backward regime with terrible discrimination. I lost seven years of my life; there was no glimmer of hope for the future.
“The Afghan community lost many of their freedoms under a barbarian and terrorist regime,” he explained. “The authority of Taliban was unquestionable and anyone who had any doubt about them was doomed to be killed and hanged in the city center so that others could see and take a lesson. They used their own version of religion to dominate and intimidate people.”
As a young boy, Amiri had many restrictions under the Taliban system. “I was not allowed to watch movies, play cards, fly kites, go to theater, play or listen to music and so many more restrictions,” he said. “Overall, the basic freedoms were taken from me as a teenager. We felt like prisoners in our own country.”
But Amiri was from an educated family, and during the Taliban Regime he focused on his education with the hope of using it in the future. “My parents were planning to send me abroad, U.S. or Europe, after completing high school so that I could continue my education and have a better future,” he said. “I focused my studies on English, physics, chemistry and math to make it happen.”
The USACE Opportunity
According to Amiri, working for the USACE has opened a world of advantages. Of those advantages he said that four made the difference in his life.
“Working with USACE taught me how to use my engineering knowledge in the field through practical application,” he said. “I was given the chance to know and learn from professional U.S. engineers who were deployed to Afghanistan. By shadowing the USACE program managers, I was exposed to construction management and business administration. USACE provided me access to the Internet, computers, engineering manuals, books and many great U.S. friends to learn from.
“When I resigned from USACE in 2010 to establish my own company, I was working as a project manager,” Amiri said. “As such, I had professional experience and a solid reputation in the construction industry.”
Amiri said that several of his USACE friends encouraged him to pursue his dreams of starting his own company. “The original vision was not a grand one. It was only to act as a consultant and assist contractors through the requirements of USACE projects,” he said. “As the capacity development program was really taking hold, I believed that my understanding of USACE programs and processes would be a marketable skill set. So I started Assist Consultants.”
With the experience Amiri gained from working four years with USACE, he was able to establish and manage his own business. “I learned how to maximize resources, how to plan for unforeseen events, how to create and manage a team where the team members have pride of purpose and integrity,” he said. “I have since expanded my company through contracts with the USACE and other U.S. government entities into the United Arab Emirates and Africa.”
Afghan nationals are the majority of skilled trades in Assist Consultants. Amiri employs 72 staff members, all graduates of Afghan University or technical colleges. He requires them to work in each section of his company -- Design, Submittals, Safety, Quality Control, Project Management and Contract Administration.
Today, Assist Consultants sponsors its key employees in continuing education at the Project Management Institute in Dubai, as well as master’s degree and doctorate courses in India and Thailand. In addition, several of Amiri’s best sub-contractors are past employees of Assist Consultants who want to establish their own companies with the dream of improving their lives and future.
“The improvement in Afghanistan due to efforts of the U.S. is difficult to measure, but our life and social styles have changed significantly in a positive way,” Amiri said. “Due to United States aid and donations, many roads, schools, clinics, hospitals, military facilities, colleges, airports and border crossing points have been built. From having no army and police, we now stand as a state with capabilities.
“Yes, there are still challenges to face,” he added. “But let the April 5 presidential election stand as an example of success. Free elections protected by the Afghan National Security Forces. Thirteen years ago this was only a dream; this year it is our reality.”
Amiri added that today millions of children, both boys and girls, are going to schools and Afghanistan has an economy and the potential for growth. “The efforts of the U.S. and international community in rebuilding Afghanistan is a bright spot in our history,” he said. “Future generations of Afghans will, through educational opportunities and life experience, come to understand and appreciate the support and assistance offered to our country and people.
“As a member of the new generation of Afghanistan, I will never forget the help and sacrifices that the U.S. and international community provided to Afghanistan,” he said.