On the Line

When federal employees put themselves on the line.

In November, on the day before Veterans Day, President Obama traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, to undertake a grim task that unfortunately has fallen all too regularly to recent presidents: memorializing the victims of a murderous and senseless attack on U.S. soil.

In this case, it was the 13 soldiers gunned down while preparing for an overseas deployment. "Their life's work is our security, and the freedom that we too often take for granted," Obama said in honoring the fallen. "Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town, every dawn that a flag is unfurled, every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness-that is their legacy."

As Obama spoke, survivors of the attacks remained hospitalized, including Sgt. Kimberly Munley, a former soldier who was working as a civilian police officer at Fort Hood. She rushed to the scene of the attack and confronted alleged shooter Maj. Nidal M. Hasan. Munley was shot twice in the leg and once in the wrist, but ended up winning credit for helping to bring down the attacker.

Like thousands of other federal employees who face danger in their jobs on a daily basis, Munley didn't seek accolades for her work, before or after the attack. "She is a classic public servant who is not interested in anything other than getting on with her life," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry after visiting her in the hospital.

In a speech this summer, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry noted that between 1995 and 2007, more than 2,000 federal civil servants were killed on the job. And employees continue to put themselves in harm's way routinely.

"In the wildfires of the West, in our embassies and the Peace Corps, enforcing our laws and exploring the final frontier, these brave Americans know the risk their civilian service entails," Berry said.

One of the places where civilian employees face heightened danger is the U.S.-Mexico border, where the ravaging effects of the drug trade make themselves felt every day. In this month's cover story, Katherine McIntire Peters reports that federal law enforcement agencies are trying to work together to attack the drug problem on a new front: stopping the flow of guns from the United States into Mexico.

Historically, the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Homeland Security Department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau haven't worked together well in taking on weapons smugglers. But now they've signed a new agreement aimed at better coordinating their approach.

Such initiatives had better succeed. Americans, along with the civil servants who protect them and the soldiers who defend them, deserve no less.

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