Ambassador Gary Grappo received a warm Sheridan welcome and reception last week as the featured speaker at the University of Wyoming’s Center for Global Study. The program, “Sen. Malcolm Wallop: Conversations on Democracy,” also brought forth programs by three UW graduate students and their study abroad in the Middle East and Europe. Sen. Wallop served three terms in the Senate representing Wyoming. He died in 2011 and is buried in Sheridan.

Grappo spoke at Sheridan College, Sheridan High School and last Saturday at the WYO, inside the Mars Theater to a near-capacity audience.

Grappo spent 26 years in the State Department’s foreign service with postings in Nicaragua, Portugal, the Soviet Union, Jordan, and was the Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. at the embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. For three years, he was the U.S. ambassador to Oman. Grappo is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and has advanced degrees in engineering and business from Purdue and Stanford. His wife, Becky, an educational consultant, joined him in Sheridan as well. They live in Denver.

• Grappo gave a brief history of the U.S. bending its national will for regime change with examples from 1953 Iran and 1954 Guatemala. He explained the “soft power” of the U.S., which includes new, U.S.-backed governments to embrace human rights, open markets, a free press and free commerce in contrast to U.S. “hard power,” which came into play after 9/11 with the military. Congress, he noted, is often after “short-term diplomatic successes” when it will in fact take generations to affect societal and governmental change.

• He spoke of the rebuilding Iraq after dictator Saddam Hussein was killed. The U.S. was faced with rebuilding Iraq’s government “from scratch.” That meant, too, rebuilding institutions like local governments, a free press, education systems and so forth. He also recalled the 2010 Arab Spring revolution that ignited the Arab world protests and violence and led eventually to civil wars, most notably the one that’s ongoing in Syria, which has impacted the world. It started, he said, simply enough with a college-educated Libyan street vendor protesting government through an act of self-immolation.

• Through his long and distinguished career as a diplomat, Grappo said the U.S. has always brought stability abroad with its institutions, its coalitions, its alliances that transcend generations of U.S. leadership. “They will disagree and argue and criticize us fiercely, but they never want the U.S. to leave their countries,” he said. He also noted that the best tool the U.S. has in foreign policy and global influence is its educational system. Students from abroad come here to learn, they experience American freedoms in speech, religion and the media, unlike at home, and share those experiences when they return and they influence others. One student was recalled sharing with him the freedom of renting a car and driving from Maine to Los Angeles.

• With humor, Grappo also noted that working in the Mideast and on the Israeli/Palestinian “two state solution” was an impetus to retire: “you get tired of beating your head against the wall.”

The three-day session in Sheridan with Ambassador Grappo was a collaborative effort of education, private business, volunteers. Former Wallop “alumni,” like Kendall Hartman, longtime aide to Sen. Wallop, was involved along with the United States Senator Malcolm Wallop Fund for Conversations on Democracy, UW’s College of Arts and Sciences, the American Heritage Center, the University of Wyoming Foundation, the Homer and Mildred Scott Foundation. Kim Love and Sheridan Media were primary local sponsors as well.

Programs like this one, which also include students, lift the community. I’m looking forward to the next one.