- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Breathing for now

If you think you've had a tough couple of weeks, get a load of the predicament in which retired U.S. Army Col. Donald R. Condrill finds himself.

He's dead, officially speaking.

First, some background. The 80-year-old decorated colonel served in the Army for 32 years and has been receiving retirement pay since 1974. He lives happily with his wife in Centreville, Va.

On Aug. 9, the colonel felt it his duty to write to the military's Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to make "doubly sure" it was aware of the June 5 death of his father-in-law, retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Donald F. Burns.

"I telephoned you that he had died," the colonel wrote to the DFAS, "and wanted to be sure that his retirement pay had ceased."

To assist them, he provided his father-in-law's service number, Social Security number and date of birth. There was nothing confusing about the letter.

Two weeks later, wouldn't you know, the colonel's wife, Margaret, whose father had died, received two letters from the DFAS expressing "sincere sympathy on the death of your husband, Colonel Donald R. Condrill. We realize that this is a difficult adjustment period, and wish to offer our assistance."

Assist they did.

"The DFAS decided that I am no longer alive and without warning has cleaned out our checking account of $9,300," Col. Condrill informs Inside the Beltway. (The confiscated thousands covers those payments made to the colonel after his "death" on June 5.)

"It is simply incredible to me that this letter which I signed has been interpreted by DFAS as a notice of my death," he says.

To make matters worse, the colonel's previous wife, who also receives direct bank deposits from the military, had her checking account "raided by DFAS again with absolutely no warning," he says.

"This mistake on their part is having terrible consequences and has made a shambles out of our finances," Col. Condrill says. "This is totally absurd."

The absurdity doesn't stop there.

Col. Condrill, you can be certain, wrote to the DFAS about their "gross error." On Sept. 5, the following response came in the mail:

"You must go to a base, police station or consulate and have them send a letter verifying that you are alive and well and entitled to payment."

Different daughters

Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz's photograph is featured on the cover of State magazine, the in-house publication for State Department staff and retirees.

Not pictured, thankfully, is the former secretary's unique tattoo, a subject of much gossip when Mr. Shultz was chief globetrotting statesman under President Reagan.

There is a long and honorable tradition of tattoos in America, and the State Department is no exception. However, diplomats are traditionally discreet no one more so than Secretary Shultz.

His spokeswoman at the time, Phyllis Oakley, declined comment on her boss' body art, purportedly a Princeton University tiger tattooed upon which Mr. Shultz sits. In fact, when asked whether there was a tiger adorning the left buttock of Mr. Shultz, Mrs. Oakley is credited with one of the most memorable lines ever uttered by a government flack:

"I am not in a position to know," she replied, her comment making front-page news from Washington to Wenzhou. Still, Mr. Shultz had enough discretion to keep his tiger under wraps.

Today, it's a far different world.

Pictured standing next to Mr. Shultz during a recent ceremony renaming the home of the Foreign Service Institute the "George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center" are Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright.

Also pictured is a new State Department foreign service officer, an otherwise attractive woman who looks to be in her late 20s or early 30s. Wrapped entirely around the woman's right arm, as clearly seen in the photograph, is a large blue tattoo.

"It was impressive and inspiring to see so many former secretaries of State together," the woman is quoted as saying. "They care so much about the Foreign Service, and that means a great deal to us."

Impressive bats

An Alexandria-Arlington Young Republican summed up a co-ed softball game against the Alexandria-Arlington Young Democrats this way: "Stormy weather started when the Young Democrats' batted balls began getting through our defense like a liberal lawyer finding loopholes in the Constitution."

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