Out in Front

Graduate School: Profiles of Achievement

Out in Front

By Anthony Flott

William Grimsley, EdD’17, may have earned a doctorate from Creighton in interdisciplinary leadership, but everything you need to know about his leadership style came one Saturday in spring 2008 on a dust-choked road near Sadr City just east of Baghdad.

Grimsley was an Army brigadier general then whose troops were in the thick of fighting against the Shi’a militia. Every day for two weeks, his troops were attacked whenever on patrol.

That included a patrol Grimsley was making to a combat outpost. The visit, though, ground to a halt in a traffic jam. Grimsley and a few others walked to the front to investigate the impasse, passing a handful of cars filled with families.

An improvised explosive device (IED) had been discovered against a concrete barrier, hidden amid a trash pile and covered with burlap. The troops began securing the area and evacuating civilians. The lead gunner on Grimsley’s truck, meanwhile, identified the IED’s triggerman and drew him into his sights. But before the gunner could fire his weapon, the triggerman detonated the IED.

Grimsley was standing five feet away from it. Steel shrapnel, concrete, dirt and trash blasted violently outward.

Somehow, Grimsley survived — but he was not unscathed. Concrete shattered his safety glasses, embedding into his face, tearing his ear and bursting an eardrum. Blood poured down his face and onto his body armor. Grimsley couldn’t hear a thing, and for a while he didn’t even know he was injured.

“It was a story of wrong place, wrong time,” Grimsley says.

His interpreter was similarly injured, but no one else was hurt. Both were field treated by a medic while the area was secured. The troops returned to Camp Liberty but were back on patrol the next day — with Grimsley.

“I tended to be much more out front than a senior officer might be or needed to be,” says Grimsley, who was deputy commanding general of the Multi-National Division in Baghdad. “If I learned nothing else from my experience, it’s that leadership has to be where you are visible and make an impact.”

Grimsley retired as a major general after a 33-year career that took him around the world, including multiple combat tours in Iraq. He held command and leadership positions at every level from platoon through corps. He served with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in the office of the Secretary of Defense.

He’s 61 now and nearly six years removed from his final assignment as chief of staff of U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. It was during that stint when he attended Creighton. He said there was a lot to like: the faculty, staff and leaders of the program; the soldier roots of St. Ignatius of Loyola; and, though he’s not Catholic, the “Jesuit way of doing things.”

“I felt really at home there,” Grimsley says. “From Day One, the program was exactly what I was looking for.”

He’s now taken his career lessons — “reinforced by my Creighton experience” — and built two new careers. The first was as a consultant in the private sector focused on — what else? —  leader development, human performance training, strategic planning and more.

In 2015, he pivoted to his current post as president and CEO of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE)  Foundation, which supports the fraternity he belonged to during his undergraduate days at Davidson College in North Carolina.

In a sense, it’s like his work in the Army molding young soldiers. He’s putting the foundation through fundamental change in supporting the SAE member development education program.

“The organization is seizing on this idea of aspirational goals and leadership,” he says. “That’s something I can get behind because people, regardless of their age, but especially college undergraduates, need as much support and help as they can get to become better versions of themselves, better citizens.”

He’s behind it — but leading in front.

For more information about the Interdisciplinary Leadership (Doctorate of Education) program at Creighton, visit gradschool.creighton.edu/edd.