ATF Celebrates Women’s History Month: Sara Abel

Sara Abel in ATF attire being interviewed on camera for a local news stationSara Abel (née Walkingstick) is the public information officer in the Dallas Field Division. She has been with ATF for more than 14 years, beginning her career as an industry operations investigator and transitioning to the PIO role in 2020. Her father and many other relatives have served in the military, and her husband currently serves in law enforcement, all of which instilled in her a deep pride for the nation. When asked about her decision to join ATF, she said, “When a career with ATF presented itself, I was totally on board with the mission. After speaking with ATF employees, I was all in!”

Abel feels fortunate to have served all her time with ATF in the Dallas Field Division. She plans to stay in that field division while she has school-aged children, but is excited to see where her future might take her once her sons have graduated from high school. Being the PIO has allowed her to meet a variety of people and experience new places, which has taught her much about the agency and herself. Her future goals are to take on detail assignments across the agency, continuing to build on her knowledge of ATF. She believes such opportunities will allow her to “learn something new every day.”

Cultural Heritage

Abel is multiracial, including Cherokee. Growing up in Oklahoma, being Native American wasn’t unusual, but “being out in the ‘real world’ has made me aware of how unique my ethnicity is,” said Abel. Though her family participated in few tribal events, being American Indian was an underlying theme in her home. Abel’s late grandfather Charles Walkingstick and great-aunt Kay WalkingStick, both professional artists, focus(ed) on the Native American aesthetic in their artworks. “The walls in my childhood home are filled with reminders of Native Americans – past, present and future,” said Abel. “The history of the Native American, including my direct ancestors, is riddled with heartache and disappointment, but my parents raised me to rise above my ancestors’ past and make my own future with hard work and determination. I am instilling the same in my children; we are owed nothing and create our own path.”

"Buffalo Country," artwork by Kay WalkingStick, 2018, oil/panel. Used with permission from the artist.

"Buffalo Country," artwork by Kay WalkingStick, 2018,
oil/panel. Used with permission from the artist.

Maintaining a Work-Life Balance

“I have been very lucky to have supervisors that believe family comes first,” said Abel. “Your career is what you do, not who you are, although they become intertwined.” She and her husband work well together when it comes to work-life balance, but there have been times that were difficult. They found that explaining their careers to their children at a young age was important, “of course without the ‘scary’ stuff that dad might be involved in,” added Abel. “Understanding the urgency that might be necessary in our careers – especially my husband’s – allowed our boys to be flexible with changes that might occur at home. We as a family have learned to roll with the punches and not to dwell on what didn’t succeed but to celebrate what did.”

Importance of Diverse Voices in Law Enforcement

Abel always reminds her sons “how boring the world would be if we were all the same, that our differences make the world beautiful,” said Abel. “Diversity brings different ideas, methods and experiences to the table. For the future of our agency and law enforcement, a mix of old-school and new-school thinking is essential. One cannot learn without being challenged, and who better to challenge than a diverse group of people, all with different upbringings, experiences, etc.?” Regarding the value of women in the federal workforce, Abel believes women offer “a balance of ideas and unique perspectives and solutions. Men and women are created differently, by design,” she said, “and to have a strong workforce, a mix of genders is necessary.”

As far as advice to women seeking to join ATF, Abel said, “Don’t give up. The process to start your career with ATF can be a long one, but knowing that you can be working for an agency that is hellbent on fighting violent crime and keeping citizens safe is worth the wait.”

Reflecting on Women’s History Month

Abel believes that Women’s History Month serves as a reminder that the world is a very different place than it once was because of the women who have fought to make it so. “It reminds me personally that even though I fill a minute place in this world, my place could one day be world-changing,” she said. “Even if I can change just one person’s world, that is enough.” 

Last Reviewed March 21, 2024