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Steven Alan Honley, a Foreign Service o cer

from 1985 to 1997, is

e Foreign Service


contributing editor.

They Also Serve




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.