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USDA employees recognized for volunteerism

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently recognized the efforts of more than 30 USDA employees who volunteered to serve as agricultural experts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It is an honor for me to recognize these brave and devoted employees for their tremendous service to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the important role they played in furthering political and social stability throughout the world by building a foundation on which the economies of these countries will prosper," Vilsack said. "With President Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, USDA's role in providing agricultural knowledge and expertise has become increasingly important. Whether in forestry, soil and water conservation, food safety, agricultural extension, or veterinary services, I hope the example provided by these brave men and women will inspire others to volunteer."

USDA agricultural experts began serving in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003. Their goal has been to help Afghanistan and Iraq rebuild these agricultural sectors by planning and implementing reconstruction and agricultural development projects. Projects vary depending on the agricultural needs of the area, but can range from improving food and animal production and marketing systems to veterinary infrastructure, soil and water conservation, and reclamation programs. Experts working with the national government help to build capacity of ministry officials and collaborate with ministry staff to develop long-term strategies for agricultural development.

Secretary Vilsack also announced at today's ceremony that "Paths to Progress," a 19-minute documentary-style film showing slices of life from USDA career employees working on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan, can be viewed by the public at www.usda.gov/afghanistan.

This inspiring film was produced by USDA's Office of Communications staff, who traveled to four different Afghan provinces over a one-month period. The team interviewed USDA agricultural experts, military and government officials and Afghan citizens and government officials to get a real, on-the-ground sense of the difference USDA projects are making in the lives of the Afghan people.

Currently, 14 USDA agricultural experts are serving in Afghanistan. As of July 1, 2009, 33 USDA agricultural experts are serving in Iraq. In addition, USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service has stationed Foreign Service Officers in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, since 2003 and will station a Foreign Service Officer to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the fall of 2009.

The following employees were recognized for their service in Afghanistan: John Mott and Brian Sorenson from Colorado; Kathleen Dobler from Hawaii; Thomas Billak from New York; Bruce Dubee from Virginia; and Steven Berk and Daniel Markus from Washington, D.C.

The following individuals were recognized for their service in Iraq: Dr. John Stephenson from Arkansas; Johnny Gomez and Frank Toupal from Arizona; Joseph Carrigan and Jim Conley from Colorado; Logan Barbee from Florida; Richard Whitten from Georgia; Willie Ruffin from Maryland; David Glenn and Gary Tietz from Michigan; Michael Stevens from Minnesota; David Speidel from Missouri; William Huston and Steven Welker from Ohio; Gregory Kindell from Oklahoma; Joseph Carroll, currently stationed in Islamabad, Pakistan; Daniel Skotnicki from Pennsylvania; Jane Broussard and Dennis Neffendorf from Texas; Jonathan Gressel from Virginia; Dr. Gregory Brooke from Washington; Dr. Jerry Namken from Washington, D.C.; James Bright from West Virginia; and Mark Mitchell and George Stickles from Virginia.

A posthumous Iraq service recognition award was presented for the family of Maged Hussein. Hussein was killed in 2009 near Fallujah when an improvised explosive device struck the vehicle in which he was riding. A former USDA employee who was working with the U.S. Department of State at the time, Hussein was helping reconstruct water infrastructure and develop water resources.

For more information about serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, U.S. citizens or USDA employees should go to www.usajobs.gov and search for Agricultural Advisor, Washington, D.C.

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