On January 12, the US Embassy in Kabul held a ceremony to honor USDA employee, Steven Thomas Stefani IV who was killed when his PRT team convoy was hit by roadside bombs in 2007. USDA also announced the establishment of the Tom Stefani Award for Reconstruction and Stabilization in Fragile States. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made the following remarks:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been deploying civilian agricultural experts to Afghanistan since 2003. Among the nearly 100 who have accepted the challenge was Steven Thomas Stefani IV – “Tom” to his family, friends and colleagues at the U.S. Forest Service.
Today we are gathered to honor Tom, who until his untimely death in October 2007 was a model of how Americans and federal employees can make a positive impact on the lives of those around them.
Tom was raised in Auburn, California. His friends remember a sweet-natured kid with a sideways smile who ran around in oversized cowboy boots and a giant hat falling over his eyes.
He was the kind of boy who worked hard and made his parents proud. He raised prize-winning sheep for the local fairs where he was a standout 4-H-er. He was an Eagle Scout and an honor student. And like his parents, Barbara and Steve, Tom lent a hand to those in need in his community, helping to organize fundraisers and gatherings.
As a student, Tom studied soil salinity in the deserts of the Western United States. And as a Range Manager for the U.S. Forest Service in Nevada’s Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, everything began to fall into place – his Eagle Scout background, the 4-H accomplishments, years of helping his Dad with the family construction business, his education, and a lifetime of caring for animals.
Tom loved the Forest Service and he loved the outdoors. Naturally, the challenge of Afghanistan’s beautiful, hardscrabble landscape beckoned to him.
Like so many other dedicated USDA employees, Tom requested to serve in Afghanistan because he wanted to work to improve the lives of the Afghan people who live in this great country, people who have suffered through years of strife and conflict.
While some people saw only denuded grazing lands and wasted soil in Afghanistan, Tom recognized the opportunity to restore a once legendary agricultural region. He accepted his responsibility to serve as he had so many other challenges in his life — he embraced it in a great, big bear hug.
In Afghanistan, while Tom was developing projects he worked directly to plan a large-scale poultry farm and a cold storage facility. He worked alongside grape producers to improve trellising methods. His contributions were real and they’re lasting.
Tom made the ultimate sacrifice to this nation and to our nation when his PRT team convoy was sabotaged by roadside bombs. But unlike his assailants — who scattered into the rocky hills like shadows – Tom, even today, continues to accomplish positive things for the people of Afghanistan.
While Serving in Afghanistan, Tom decided that he would build a playground, but he was killed before he could initiate the project. So, his family collected contributions toward his dream. And today, as a result of our efforts to get the Minister of Finance to approve that playground equipment, two containers of equipment are en route to this country.
There are plans to create a fellowship in his honor at the University of Nevada – Reno, his alma mater. And at USDA in Washington, a young American chestnut tree planted in Tom’s honor. It’s already put down roots and grown several feet. Each year, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world have a chance to stand in front of that chestnut tree and read its dedication to a man who helped
build this great country and build better lives.
His life and his work and the stories about Tom’s big heart and sideways smile will always be his greatest legacy. But to the 1,000 U.S. federal civilian employees here in Afghanistan who have also responded to the call of duty, Tom’s story represents the essence of their service.
Today USDA is celebrating and honoring Tom’s life of service – and particularly his work here in Afghanistan — with the establishment of the Tom Stefani Award for Reconstruction and Stabilization in Fragile States.
We intend to grant this award annually to one or more employees in recognition of their leading efforts to rebuild the agricultural sectors of post-conflict countries.