THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
JANUARY FEBRUARY 2015
Steven Alan Honley, a Foreign Service o cer
from 1985 to 1997, is
e Foreign Service
They Also Serve
BY STEVEN ALAN HONL EY
ans of “Jeopardy” know that after
the rst commercial break, host
Alex Trebek chats with each of the
three contestants brie y, often
about a hobby or a romantic or embar-
rassing moment (ideally one and the
same) in the player’s life.
ose conversations are not impro-
vised on the spot, of course. Rather, those
who pass the annual online audition and
go to a tryout—the equivalent of the oral
portion of the Foreign Service entrance
exam—are asked to list ve “fun facts”
about themselves that could be the topic
of an exchange with Alex.
Coming up with those sounds like it
should be a piece of cake for us Foreign
Service folks, right? But when I worked on
my own list after passing the online test
last spring (and two years ago, when I also
passed, but wasn’t selected for the show),
I found it a real challenge.
My rst two entries were easy enough
to identify: I stood at the South Pole on
New Year’s Eve 1988 and, as a result, have
set foot on every continent. Much as it
pains me to admit this, however, I can’t
honestly claim either of those distinctions
as an achievement.
I only got to Antarctica because I was
the science o cer (one of many hats I
wore as a second-tour political/economic
o cer) at Embassy Wellington, and all my
superiors had either already gone down
to the ice or didn’t want to do so during
the Christmas holidays. And while it was
an unforgettable experience, I was still
essentially a glori ed tourist who never
even got cold.
In contrast, surviving the massive
September 1985 earthquake in Mexico
City, my rst posting, certainly quali es as
a dramatic incident. And as if that weren’t
traumatic enough, I happened to be the
deaths and estates o cer in the embassy’s
citizen services section at the time.
But I got o lightly because, miracu-
lously, just a handful of Americans died
in the quake—and my intrepid Foreign
Service National, Olga Meza, did just
about all the work anyway. ( at tech-
nicality didn’t stop me from dining out
on earthquake stories throughout home
leave, of course.)
As for the rest of my Foreign Service
career, spent entirely in Washington, I am
proud of the work I did as a desk o cer in
the Political-Military A airs Bureau and
the Bureau of African A airs, as a watch
o cer in the Nuclear Risk Reduction
Center, and as a bureau representative on
countless task forces.
But again, it’s hard to come up with a
snappy story from those years—though
the night of Aug. 1, 1990, might qualify.
Moments after I arrived to repre-
sent PM on a task force monitoring the
Marines’ evacuation of U.S. citizens from
Liberia, Embassy Kuwait called to report
that SaddamHussein’s tanks were moving
into the country. I then spent my shift on a
secure line comforting a terri ed summer
intern who passed on developments as
heavy artillery boomed in the background.
Was that historic? Absolutely. But
it’s not exactly fodder for a 30-second
interview with Alex Trebek on national
Indeed, I think that is the biggest
drawback to Foreign Service work: some
of our most valuable contributions entail
working behind the scenes, monitoring
crises and keeping overseas situations
frommaking the news in the rst place.
Yet, to quote the nal lines of John Mil-
ton’s sonnet, “On His Blindness,” written
when the poet lost his eyesight in his 40s:
ousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
ey also serve who only stand and wait.
So to all the Foreign Service members
who toil in anonymity—whether in the
Operations Center, the bowels of a govern-
ment annex or at a remote overseas post—
I say this: Take heart! Your hard-won
expertise may not lend itself to a sound
bite, but it still matters.
Speaking of waiting, I’m still hoping
for a summons to sunny Los Angeles to
appear on “Jeopardy.” Even if I do get that
call before my 18-month eligibility expires,
Alex may be more interested in my having
perfect pitch than diplomatic exploits.
But I still have those Foreign Service
highlights on my “top ve” list, just in
Surviving the massive 1985 earthquake
in Mexico City, my first posting, certainly
qualifies as a dramatic incident.