- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 19, 2002

Unsung heroes are the stuff of which America is made. In places like La Plata, Ground Zero, and a thousand communities nationwide, they are the sudden, steady wind beneath fragile wings. They come uncalled, lift us unrewarded, and reassure us asking nothing. They confirm the power of serving a greater good, and breathe new life into the word hope. When worry and pain retreat, slow as the tide, they have left us safe again, upon the beachhead of renewed faith.
At our elbows, almost unnoticed, these are individuals of good heart, groups that care more for service than strife, companies that put aside wants to meet others' immediate needs, and government employees drawn by a chance to really help. Among our unsung heroes are churches and synagogues, grandparents and teens, people of public note, people unknown to all.
On a larger scale, these are groups like the American Red Cross, Partnership for a Drug Free America, Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and United Way. Asking little, giving a lot, the ocean of unsung heroes includes government employees drawn by duty and service.
Somewhere in many of these swirls, especially those affecting children and parents, teachers, police officers, community-based groups, is a set of government employees who deserves special notice especially right now. Like many nongovernment groups, these folks seldom get and do not seek special mention. Still, what they do affects all of us for the better.
Can you guess who they are? Does President Bush know? Do members of Congress know? Does Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld know? Hints are easy to assemble. Yet ironically, this group is both admired at the local level and largely unknown by national policy makers.
Men and women in this group live in nearly every community in every state and territory of the United States. They are united by a mission and uniform. They make disproportionate sacrifices, place themselves at unnecessary risk, teach others what they alone know, support others where there is no one to help and invariably leave an indelible footprint on the communities they serve.
Hint: This unsung group gets a government paycheck that barely covers a fraction of its contribution to our health and security. Hint: They serve on homeland soil, giving kids, teachers and law enforcement officers the benefit of learning and protection that makes measurably safer each community served.
Who are they? What is the mission? How can they be in every state, yet so seldom given their due by policymakers and opinion leaders? Hint: They are the dots that when one stands away create the picture of community-based safety and counterdrug support. Hint: They are servants we barely notice, yet who create and deliver information and physical support to communities from Florida to Maine, Washington to California, Alaska to Hawaii.
Hint: Racking up countless hours of community-based sweat, they have reduced the risk that American kids will become entangled in drug addiction. Hint: They have trained state and local police officers by the tens of thousands in techniques of information analysis, surveillance, mission planning and execution.
Hint: They support life-saving State-Federal partnerships called High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, offer incomparable military discipline and expertise to those facing international foes on home turf, and are essential to catching drug traffickers at U.S. borders, stemming drug-based terrorist funding and establishing the beachhead for a drug-free America.
So, do we know these people? And do we thank them? Who are they? They are the National Guard, in particular, the National Guard counterdrug personnel who give life to thousands of state and federal counterdrug programs, cascading into almost every hamlet, city and police department in the country. If there be wind beneath the wings of state and local law enforcement, or border agents with too much data and too little time, or community-based groups hungry for planning, material and the knowledge to blunt international drug groups in their midst, it is here in the National Guard, and the National Guard's counter-drug personnel. Here are unsung heroes.
Why remember them? Because communities and nations are not held together by fences and walls, nor even strong defenses against those outside. Communities and nations are made safe by countless individuals, asking little, getting little, contributing a lot. We are stronger through belief that such efforts as those of the National Guard's little noticed counterdrug officers truly matter. The depth of our nation's commitment to a secure future is in the pulse of such people, and the hearts that drive that pulse.
United we stand yes, but here is the stuff of which America is made, people who care about our kids and work daily to brighten our future.

Robert Charles was staff director and counsel to the U.S. House National Security Subcommittee (1995-1999) and chief staffer to the Speaker's Task Force on a Drug Free America (1997-1999). He now is president of Direct Impact, a strategic consulting firm in Gaithersburg focused on security and counternarcotics matters.

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