For Zalmai Faraz, construction has always been more than just a way to collect a paycheck. Rebuilding cities and seeing projects go from the ground up has been a fulfilling career that has allowed him to help improve the communities we live in. With a fortunate twist of fate, his dream of living in the U.S. and working in construction has become a reality.
Originally from Afghanistan, Zalmai has always had a passion for building. He became interested in pursuing construction as a career when he visited his hometown for the first time since he was a child in 2001. The Russian invasion following the civil war left destruction, mortar holes in the buildings, and damaged roads, leaving Zalmai questioning how everything was going to be repaired. This is what fueled his decision to earn a civil engineering degree and join the industry to rebuild damaged towns.
Zalmai’s journey to the U.S. began working on an eight-year project with a general contractor from the U.S. in Afghanistan. His boss was now Vice President of CSG for Layton, Josh Haines. The company’s mission was to support U.S. government goals with construction solutions in a complex and dangerous contingency environment.
“Zalmai did excellent work as the construction manager on the project,” said Josh. “What started as a behind schedule project turned out to be on schedule and completed on time due to Zalmai.” The main struggle with scheduling was that “fighting season” in Afghanistan occurred during the optimum construction weather during the summer. The jobsite would go from having 2,000 workers down to 400 due to the fear of jobsite danger. Zalmai played an integral part in recruiting more workers to get the job done in time. “What Zalmai did was nothing short of amazing,” said Josh. “He did an outstanding job on the project and was a crucial part of completing it on schedule.”
Despite being a memorable place where Zalmai was awarded a Coin of Excellence by a two-star U.S. General, Afghanistan wasn’t safe. Their convoys commuting to the projects would come under frequent roadside ambushes, IED attacks, and kidnappings. Their project sites would also receive rocket attacks on a regular basis, killing many workers.
Working on the project took an immense amount of courage for Zalmai and the team. With the frequent attacks, the workers never knew when it was going to be their time. When the rockets and mortars would come, the team would retreat into the mountains behind the project to seek protection until a drone or fighter would arrive to defend them. With weariness of whether the attacks were actually over, Zalmai and Josh would join hands for the long walk back down the mountain to the project to signify their unity.
In 2014, Zalmai’s contract with that company ended and most of the coalition forces withdrew from Afghanistan. This made him an easy target for the Taliban, causing Zalmai to move multiple times within the country to keep his family safe.
Fortunately, the United States government launched a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Afghan citizens who supported the United States’ mission in Afghanistan. The program was available for those who had experienced serious ongoing threats due to such employment. Zalmai applied for the program in 2014 and Josh wrote his SIV letter vouching for Zalmai that he was an excellent worker and did indeed work for him. Shortly after, Zalmai was granted special immigrant status allowing him to move to the U.S.
“Having been granted United States citizenship is a dream come true for me,” said Zalmai. “When I was interviewed at the USCIS office for eligibility, it took less than 10 minutes for the interviewing office to decide. He gave me a gentle smile with a nod followed by a firm handshake. I was sworn in as a United States citizen on January 8, 2020.”
Zalmai began working for Layton in 2015 as a project engineer and has proven himself as an extremely valuable asset to the team. His favorite job is the Dixie State University Student Housing project. Not only was this his first project with Layton, but also his first in the United States. Learning how to meet tough schedule milestones, being introduced to new sophisticated tools, gaining more experience negotiating, and adapting to new methods of construction have all contributed to his love for this job.
As for his most engaging job? Southern Utah University’s Business Building. While on this project, Zalmai learned that the president of the college loves Afghan food and, without hesitation, Zalmai and his wife offered to cook for them.
“I have always believed that sharing food is the very center of almost all human relationships and helps build trust among the people sharing the food,” said Zalmai. “In today’s world, when everything is digital and can be accessed in seconds, the ability to slow down, tell stories, and meet families is great, isn’t it?“ Zalmai also believes that social gatherings like this can increase the chance of a future partnership through mutual trust, respect, and confidence in future work.
While working in construction is Zalmai’s passion, he finds the key balance between work and home life. When he’s not working, Zalmai loves to spend time with his wife and three children. Together, they love spending time in the beautiful Utah mountains mountain biking and hiking. While Afghanistan will forever be in Zalmai’s heart, he’s grateful for the opportunity to be here, and Layton is lucky to have him!