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Fred Coffey



...in Sarajevo
waiting for the bus to Mostar.

U S I A  A L U M N I
Life After Service in Public Diplomacy

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Photo of Mr. Coffey
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IS THERE LIFE AFTER RETIREMENT FROM THE FOREIGN SERVICE?

ASK USIA ALUMNUS FRED COFFEY



Retirement - A Euphemism for "What's Next?"

Then came retirement, following 33 years of activities from Junior Officer to Public Affairs Officer, from student at the National War College to four years on the faculty, from 12-hour workdays to "Where shall I go from here?" And the rose smelling act? Rocking chair? No way! Throttling down was tough for me. The three-month retirement seminar provided fresh ideas about future possibilities, but even more important, colleagues could talk about the psychological attitudes necessary to refocus. I was determined to maintain activities in the international environment, to employ languages and skills acquired overseas. Yet I didn't want to work full time with a business enterprise not of my own. Friends residing in Argentina, Indonesia and Thailand joined "Coffey Associates" to promote international business ventures. A spin-off became a US corporation to import popular automatic tire pressure equipment from Argentina. Part-time efforts with four years of travel and marketing brought the cultural realization that although our product was useful and practical, U.S. truck drivers didn't like it because it "showed" tubes and hub parts externally. USIA teaches that cultural transplants don't necessary take. So true! Then I became an associate with Global Business Access, a start-up outfit with 140 retired senior Foreign Service types. This provides some activity in Latin America and Asia along with some dead-end projects.

Old friend Paul Modic knew I like to sing and brought me into barbershop singing with the Singing Capital Chorus of the District. It provides a fine outlet for shower-quality singers and lots of new friends and enjoyment.

Not really hungry but aware that inflation was eating away meager Foreign Service savings (four kids through college, etc.) the siren song of the stock market seduced me. Deciding to work toward a little wealth creation, a few lucky rolls of the dice in a sustained bull market brought a lottery-like reward which made both family and Uncle Same happy. The market continues to hold my attention and a few shekels.

But cutting the USIA umbilical completely proved undoable. Right a way I initiated student scholarship program with Indonesia honoring a former U.S. ambassador to that country. Cooperating fully, the Fulbright program, USIS and private funding in Indonesia helped us bring many bright students for graduate degrees.

The advance of democracies and free elections is greatly exciting to those of us who worked to promote them throughout our careers. I got a kick out of supervising polling stations in Cambodia (for the UN but with the Khmer Rouge lobbing grenades), Bosnia twice for the OSCE, and later monitoring them in Paraguay and Venezuela for the OAS. Retirees if interested might volunteer. Sleeping on boards in the jungle may not appeal to all, but we did it before, why not now? Indonesia, where we served eight and one-half years, holds strong linkages. Old friends there let us know how deteriorated the situation has become. Argentina too continues to attract. The USIS program worked successfully to keep the military in its barracks and promoted a civilian-led democracy. Visits and friends continue.

The USIA Alumni Association serves retirees very well. I participated on the Board for several years and found it rewarding to help arrange USIA-related programs and maintain contact with our former employer. Of heart-wrenching disappointment to most of us, the Helms-induced splintering of USIA into State was something we campaigned against with protests to our congressional representatives, letters to the editors, op-ed pieces, etc. Comparable to the separate but cooperative roles of the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army, there is a special role for USIA with its knowledge and skills in reaching key audiences to address issues while State provides policy guidance and leadership. No one except a few disgruntled Army types would suggest folding the Marine Corps into the Army. Separate but synergistic, they succeed. (Am I a former Marine? Well, yes.) Mourn we shall for the USIS field officers who cannot reach into their packet of information tools to address their objectives because that packet is dismembered. The Information Instrument of public diplomacy has been blunted!

Reassembling the six generation family farm in Texas has been a challenge. However, we may not move there. My wonderful wife Jane, who has loved the Foreign Service and brought forth four kids in three developing countries, (now six grandkids), says that she doesn't want to be stuck out on the prairie with only cows for company while I would be in the nearby cities working on international projects. Maybe so but jogging, tennis, travel, some volunteer work, and involvement as described above keep the plate full and fun. P.S. Stay away from Madrid. We were assaulted, strangled and robbed in October. Both of us have trouble talking with bruised vocal cords. Thank God for Public Affairs Officer Pamela Corey-Archer who retrieved us from our hotel. USIS to the rescue!

Note: We have served twice in Brazil; Nicaragua; Medan and Surabaya, Indonesia; Voice of America twice; Thailand; National War College, both student and faculty; Jakarta and Buenos Aires. My pride was in avoiding senior administrative assignments in the Agency, preferring PAOships.



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