Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Sen. Kaufman Recognizes Great Federal Employee, Zalmai Azmi

October 14, 2009

   This Monday, Americans across the country marked Columbus Day. It is a day that holds different meanings for different communities. I had such a meaningful experience attending the Columbus Day Mass and breakfast at St. Anthony's of Padua in Wilmington. I know in the Italian-American community, Columbus Day is a vibrant cultural celebration. But Columbus Day, above all, reminds us all that America is a patchwork; that we are--in the words etched on the wall behind you, Madam President--one Nation from many. This has always been a source of great strength for our country.

   This is as true for our Federal workforce as it is for America as a whole. So many of our outstanding civil servants were not born in the United States. Some came as students and found in America jobs and a new home. Others came as infants, carried onto airplanes in the arms of loving parents seeking a new beginning for their families. Some traveled halfway around the world driven by the dream of a better life. Others braved the short but perilous journey over turbulent waves fueled only by the hope of freedom on our shores. The diversity of our Nation is reflected in the diversity of those who choose to serve it.

   The Federal employee I am recognizing this week has had a distinguished career in the Department of Justice, both in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

   Zalmai Azmi was 14 years old when he fled with his family from Afghanistan. He arrived in the United States speaking very little English, and he became fluent while in high school. Zalmai, wishing to give back to the Nation which gave him refuge, eventually joined the Marine Corps. He served in the corps for 7 years as a communications and intelligence specialist, and he also trained in special operations. While in the Marines, Zalmai studied computer science, and he later obtained a bachelor's degree in the field from the American University and a master's from George Washington University.

   In the 1990s, Zalmai continued his Federal career by moving from the military into the civil service. He was working as chief information officer for the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys when the September 11 attacks occurred. Zalmai helped implement the Justice Department's continuity of operations emergency plan, and by September 12, he was at Ground Zero in New York setting up departmental field offices.

   Just weeks after the attacks, he volunteered to be dropped into Afghanistan as part of a Marines special operations team. In the 2 years that followed, Zalmai, who is fluent in Dari, Farsi, and Pashto, served two tours of duty in Afghanistan. While at home, he was detailed to the CIA's Counterterrorism Center.

   In 2004, FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed him as the Bureau's Chief Information Officer. In that role, Zalmai led the effort to revamp the FBI's virtual case file system and helped transform its IT infrastructure to meet the needs of a post-9/11 environment.

   He was honored with the prestigious Arthur S. Fleming Award for Applied Science and Technology in 2002, which is presented annually to an outstanding public servant. Additionally, he won the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award.

   Zalmai retired from the FBI late last year. His story, while unique, is reflective of the commitment to service and patriotism embodied by all of the immigrants who work in government and serve in our military. Just as America would not be as strong without our great Federal employees, that workforce would not be as vibrant or successful without those who, like Zalmai, came to this country from other lands.

   I hope all my colleagues will join me in honoring his service, that of the men and women in the Department of Justice, and all immigrants who work in the Federal Government.

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