Stonington - Scott Bates' career as a national security expert has taken him on numerous trips to Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and other war-torn regions. He's worked in the halls of Congress and was the first senior policy adviser to the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.
But the kid who grew up in the Seaport Heights neighborhood - his father was a Coast Guard officer who later worked at Electric Boat - and worked summers at the Blue Whale package store in Mystic still calls Stonington home.
"This is where my heart is," he said in an interview last week.
Now, Bates will be spending three days a week in Washington, D.C., where he has just been named president of the Center for National Policy, a nonprofit independent think tank that brings together experts from around the world and analyzes defense and economic issues.
Bates follows a group of past CNP presidents and chairmen that include Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, U.S. secretaries of state Madeleine Albright, Cyrus Vance and Edmund Muskie, Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin and 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer.
"It's pretty humbling," he said of the appointment. "It's a great vote of confidence to be chosen to walk in the footsteps of these great leaders. It gives me a lot to live up to.
"But when you get a chance like this to make a difference, then you have to take it," he said. "That's all you can ask for in this life."
Splitting his time and energy between national and international issues and things going on closer to home is nothing new for Bates.
He's worked for several congressmen and is credited with being the principal author of "Winning the War on Terror," which the 9/11 Commission used to develop its report. He also served as the secretary of state in Virginia.
But he's also taught at Connecticut College and is vice president of the Stonington Board of Police Commissioners, president of the Stonington Free Library Board of Directors and a member of the Lawrence & Memorial Hospital board of directors. He also has been active at the Stonington Community Center and served on the Board of Warden and Burgesses.
This dichotomy will be evident next week, when he will listen to President Obama speak about the Middle East and then participate in programs on the Chinese economy and Burmese democracy, before flying home in time to attend the Board of Police Commissioners meeting.
"All the policy work in D.C. is great, but I'm most fulfilled by the community responsibilities I have here. And I get to do both," he said.
Focus on economic security
Before being appointed president of the Center for National Policy, Bates served as the center's senior fellow for national security, vice president and interim president.
"Our board is impressed by Scott's commitment to public service and policy development," CNP Board Chairman Peter Kovler said in a statement. "Scott Bates brings something new to CNP. He has helped build democracy and good governance on the front lines in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. He has worked in the halls of Congress and in his local community. He has written and lectured extensively on topics from national security to international human rights law. ... The Board is pleased to have Scott's vision to take CNP forward."
Now that he has taken the reins of the organization, Bates said, he plans to expand its focus on national security issues to include economic security.
Knowing business owners in town, being familiar with his wife Lisa's work with homeless families as the executive director of Mystic Area Shelter and Hospitality, and serving on various local boards, Bates said, he is keenly aware of the economic difficulties many people face.
"I've always believed you could live your dream and I've been able to do that, but it's much harder in today's world," he said.
Bates said the country needs to re-energize its industrial base and train workers who have the skills to win jobs in the 21st century.
"We need to strengthen our middle class and put people back to work," he said.
He said the country's "place in the world" is in jeopardy if it cannot do these things.
"We need to focus on the economic rebuilding of America," he said.
The center is funded by private and some corporate donations and has a paid staff of seven. Among them is Andrew Lavigne, who grew up in Pawcatuck and now serves as the center's national security analyst. The center also boasts an impressive list of fellows who volunteer their time.
Bates said that while politicians and government officials are often busy reacting to problems, the center has the ability to bring experts together and do in-depth research to provide a long-term look at the issues.
In this way, he said, the center is a resource for organizations such as the defense department, and can bring decision makers together to work on solutions.
The center publishes one-page summaries and videos of its work so they can be reviewed quickly by busy government officials.
"That's what I like most about this job. We take complex issues and make them understandable," he said.