Ask Samed Khafaji’s supervisors about him. First they’ll tell you that he’s a joy to work with, then they’ll tell you about the native Iraqi’s remarkable life story.
Now an IHI E&C (engineering and construction) senior CSA (civil, structural, architectural) designer, Sam worked in Iraq as an engineer for U.S. companies during Operation Iraqi Freedom to rebuild Iraqi military bases and police stations, as well as infrastructure.
He never intended to start a new life in America, but a death threat delivered with a bullet in an envelope set him on a new course.
“It was a bad situation for me and my friends. They (the terrorists) were targeting U.S. military and everyone working for them. We were threatened. I lost some friends killed by car bombs,” Sam said.
Fortunately, the U.S. government created a program to bring Iraqi supporters like Sam and his family to the U.S. to start new lives.
In 2013 the Khafajis settled in Houston, which has a strong Iraqi community. Sam and his wife Hala, also an engineer, earned their Plant Design Management System (PDMS) certifications at Houston Community College. He joined IHI E&C in 2014.
Sam is IHI E&C’s field CSA designer for Dakota Gasification Company’s urea project in North Dakota. He provides civil and structural design guidance to ensure that the project is being built as designed. He also advises the construction team if they have questions about the drawings. Sam is the right man for the job because he was a civil and structural designer for the project during the engineering phase before taking the field assignment.
He conducts daily job safety walk-downs, resolves problems in the field and advises the client on how to minimize construction delays and cost impacts.
Phil Nielsen, IHI E&C senior subcontracts manager, said, “With Sam’s insight and knowledge, he shows the client and the contractor the value that IHI E&C brings to the project. He really lives the IHI E&C business model.
“And how he ended up where he is today is inspiring to me. It shows me that with perseverance you can do anything you want to do.”
Amit Patel, IHI E&C’s project manager for the Dakota Gas urea project, said that Sam is the go-to guy in the field and brings all interested parties together to resolve issues.
“Sam’s dependable and accountable. His work contributes to a smooth transition from engineering to construction to keep the project on track. I don’t have to worry about the day-to-day civil and structural construction issues because he’s there. He’s an outstanding employee who goes above and beyond.”
Sam said that he is inspired by the American work ethic, how people work hard and how they enjoy life outside of work.
He admitted that it was hard to leave his parents in Iraq and imagined early on that he would return with his family. Sam and Hala have three children – son Abdullah, age 15, and daughters Durah, 8, and Mas, 5.
“The kids like it here. They like the new life of new schools, friends and culture. Every weekend we plan to go somewhere. Things like public parks, ice skating and fishing,” Sam said.
He admitted that he felt some guilt for leaving his country. At first he thought that they would return to Iraq when things settle down.
“But now I have friends here, a job and good opportunities. And there is a good future for my kids. This is my new country, my new home.”