Stories of Service to Inspire Us All-The "Sammies": Learn about the Extraordinary Recipients of the 2005 Sammies, Whose Achievements and Stories of Federal Service Remind Us Why Government Matters. Image of Public Service

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These are trying times for Americans. Natural disasters of vast proportions, from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to tornadoes in the Midwest, dealt a staggering blow. The war in Iraq and rising gas prices at home have led to stress and uncertainty. It seems as though all we hear is bad news, and the federal government has certainly taken its share of the blame.

Rarely do we hear good stories about our government, but the truth is that Uncle Sam has some amazing ones to tell. Federal employees have a unique opportunity not only to make a difference in the lives of others, but to leave their mark on history. After all, it was a National Institute of Standards and Technology employee who developed the first computed axial tomography (CAT) scan to help diagnose cancer and other brain disorders. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) performed the first liver transplant in the world. These are monumental achievements by monumental people.

Too often, the people who do the Nation's work go unnoticed. That's why the Partnership for Public Service and Atlantic Media Company have established a national awards program to help raise Americans' awareness of the incredible work done on their behalf every day by federal workers. Created in 2002, the Service to America Medals, or "Sammies," honor the finest achievements of federal employees. Their stories of service remind us why government matters. We recently honored the 2005 Sammies awardees, and I am pleased to share their stories with you.

To Mars ... And Beyond

All the work our government does is important and serves a public purpose, but some of it is just plain amazing, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project.

Although Mars has long been the source of great curiosity and potential for discovery, NASA's efforts to study our neighboring planet have largely been met with frustration. Even though it has long been an agency priority, NASA did not land anything on Mars from 1976 to 1996. In 1997, there was a single "sprint" landing, just to show it could be done, but without a significant research component. That was followed by two failures to reach Mars in 1998 and much NASA soul-searching.

In 2001, Orlando Figueroa was asked to take over the reins of NASA's effort to reach Mars, and the project was on its way. The MER mission was designed to search for evidence of the role of liquid water in the geologic history of Mars by examining rocks and soils using a mobile laboratory. This endeavor has been extraordinarily successful in meeting this goal, clearly showing evidence that water had existed on Mars and helping rewrite our knowledge of the planet. In approximately 400 days of science-driven surface operations, these roving vehicles have produced a wealth of scientific discoveries far beyond original expectations, revealing aspects of Mars as a potential habitat that were previously unknown.

For this work, Orlando Figueroa is the 2005 Federal Employee of the Year Medalist.

A Career of Public Service

Barbara Turner symbolizes career advancement opportunities in the federal government. Turner began her career in government forty years ago as a part-time clerk when she was still in high school. She recently retired as one of the highest-ranking officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Her journey to the top has been remarkable.

As a young health officer, she implemented a new approach to fighting childhood diseases in Egypt, which led to the implementation of USAID's Child Survival Strategy worldwide. She was one of the pioneers in USAID's work with the nations that emerged from the breakup of the former Soviet Union. In 1995, six weeks after the Dayton Accords were signed, she led the agency in opening a mission in Sarajevo. She skillfully positioned USAID to play a global leadership role in the battle against HIV/AIDS during the late 1990s. …