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Medford graduate new U.S. ambassador to Slovenia

Brent Hartley's job has taken him from the ancient ruins of Rome to the turquoise waters of Cyprus to the gritty, violent deserts of Afghanistan, where he wore body armor and his transportation always was an armored car.

The 1973 Medford Senior High School graduate is off to another assignment overseas, this time as U.S. ambassador to Slovenia, an Eastern European country that emerged in 1992 following the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Hartley will live in the capital city of Ljubljana in what's considered one of Slovenia's most beautiful neighborhoods, Rozna dolina. The ambassador's residence was built in 1926 as a staff apartment building on a private estate. The estate was nationalized after World War II and is used by the government for official guests.

Hartley says his work in Slovenia will be a far cry from Afghanistan, at one point named the second most dangerous post in the Foreign Service.

"It is new territory for me in one sense, but I have visited there when I had responsibility for Central European relations," Hartley says of his new post. "And with regard to policy issues, I have a fair amount of background from my previous jobs.

"It will be very different from any assignment I've had before. In Afghanistan, I was focused on security issues. In Slovenia, I'll have responsibility for our entire agenda we have there, which will include security related issues, NATO, counterterrorism."

Hartley was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Nov. 20, 2014, for a three-year appointment. He settled into his new post this month, with plans for his wife, Liz Dickinson, an attorney in Washington, D.C., to visit regularly. The couple have two grown children.

Known in the State Department for his sweater vests and love of the outdoors, Hartley has served in various capacities both in Washington and overseas in areas of Europe and the Middle East since the early 1980s.

In Slovenia, Hartley hopes to focus on trade between the U.S. and the Eastern European country of 2 million people, "to work toward more opportunities between our two countries to hopefully encourage job creation and prosperity on both sides."

The United States established diplomatic relations with Slovenia in 1992 following its independence from Yugoslavia. Unlike Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia's independence occurred with little violence. Slovenia joined NATO in March 2004 and the European Union two months later.

"A good bit of my time I'll be talking to student groups and trying to help people understand better what the U.S. is about," Hartley says. "Sometimes people have the notion because we are so close to Europe in so many ways that we understand well what we and our customs and cultures are about — and vice-versa.

"Superficially, that may be true, but when you scratch the surface, there's really a lot we don't know about each other. One of my most important roles is to represent our country accurately and in a way that will encourage our Slovenian allies to want to travel to the United States and want to do business with us."

Hartley's lifelong friend and fellow Medford grad, Dan Thorndike of Ashland, says Hartley's success in the Foreign Service was of little surprise to his group of childhood friends.

"All of us knew he was a smart guy and his career in the Foreign Service has certainly proven that to be true," Thorndike says. "I'm sure that all of my Black Tornado classmates are very proud of all he has done.

"We had an interesting group that ran around hiking and doing Rogue Valley kind of activities. I was thinking about it, and I don't think we have any other foreign ambassadors that came from Medford."

In a recent interview from Slovenia, Hartley chuckles at mention of his sweater vests.

"Is nothing sacred?" he asks.

"It is true. I am great aficionado of sweater vests. They are a wonderful article of clothing, and it can get a little chilly in Washington."

Hartley says he's eager to see how much like Southern Oregon his new temporary home will be.

"My sense is that it will be very similar to Medford, maybe slightly colder in the winter. They've got about 30 miles of coastline on the Adriatic," he says.

"I've been told you can ski in the mountains and, on the same day, make a short drive down to beach and sit in the sun for the afternoon. That's something I'm hoping to test."

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Traditional Pletna boats await visitors on an alpine lake in Slovenia, where Medford Senior High School graduate Brent Hartley is the new U.S. ambassador. Photo by Mirko Kunsic, www.slovenia.info