The former Army medic and mountain climber-turned-humanitarian calls himself a pacifist and now devotes his life to building schools in impoverished areas overseas, such as remote villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan (also known as terrorist breeding grounds).
Mr. Open-Minded probably would attract a hell of a crowd if he spoke in say, Boulder and he will in the coming week at a 2,500-seat auditorium. But Mortenson's next speaking engagement is actually Tuesday at Colorado College's Shove Chapel. And the event's main sponsor is the Center for Homeland Security at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
The UCCS center's director, 21-year Navy veteran Steve Recca, says he was so impressed with Mortenson's best-seller Three Cups of Tea that he went to see the author speak in July at Breckenridge. Since then, he's worked to put together a Mortenson event here.
"I picked up the book and was intrigued immediately," Recca says. "Most people in uniform are there for service and a sense of service, and Greg typifies that."
Recca says Mortenson's story is more than a heartwarming account of one man making a difference. The book details a smart way to build relationships with other countries, and by doing so, to boost homeland security. You know, the old "hearts and minds" thing.
"If someone came up to me today and said, 'How can you possibly support Greg, because Greg is providing education, something for free, in areas where we know terrorists are coming from?' I'd say, 'That's exactly right, and that's exactly where we need to start,'" he says. "It's to [keep] that next young boy or girl from becoming a terrorist."
After all, he says, that kid might not go to school, and absorb the limited perspectives that come with illiteracy. Or he or she may attend a madrasa, some of which teach religious extremism.
Recca says the UCCS Center for Homeland Security, which began in the '90s, originally was called the Network Information and Space Security Center. For a while, it focused on space and information security, but that changed after 9/11. It took on its new name in 2006.
These days, the center, which currently has about 70 active students, offers graduate and undergraduate courses that address everything from the psychological root causes of terrorism to cyber security.
"Part of the reason for hosting Greg, as well, is to increase awareness of the center and the activities we're involved in," Recca says.
For Recca, it means putting out the word that homeland security involves more than one problem and more than one solution.
Security, he says, means everything from safe transport for kids, to planning for snowy roads, to avoiding and dealing with natural and man-made disasters.
It's not just preventing terrorism. And even when terrorism is the topic, he says, the center spends a lot of time on diplomatic approaches.
"Nothing's more expensive than war," Recca says. "That doesn't mean that war may not be necessary, but cost-wise, in terms of national treasure and that means both blood and financial resources war's incredibly expensive."
Recca says he thinks Mortenson's event is going to be popular. In fact, he thinks crowds might overflow from the 1,000-capacity Shove Chapel. (He's been looking for a secondary space to host a live broadcast, just in case.)
"Greg is a perfect example of how you unite a community, because what's not to like in the very positive effort that Greg is doing?" Recca says. "He was an Army medic, he was a mountain climber, he's a teacher, he's Dr. Greg. He's out there doing what all of us wish we could be doing, which is making a difference.
"So, whatever part of the political spectrum you're on, or whatever your background there's something generally in there for you."
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