2020 Tillman Scholar

A.W. Simmons

Harvard University

“For years, I’ve fought the threat overseas. But the threat is now here at home— joblessness, addiction, despair—and community-minded business leaders are uniquely positioned to fight it.”

Watching the Pentagon billow smoke on 9/11—a mere 12 miles from his home—A.W. first felt the call to serve. After attending the University of Virginia, A.W. commissioned through Army ROTC as an infantry officer and deployed to Kunar province, Afghanistan with a light infantry platoon. As officer-in-charge of a combat outpost, A.W. worked alongside Afghan National Army partners in a daily struggle to bring security to a 120 sq. km area that included the Waygal, Pech, and Korengal valleys.

A.W. spent three months in a hospital battling back from injury after being wounded in action in late 2011. Convinced by his experience that local partners were vital for U.S. interests abroad, he completed the Special Forces qualification course post-hospitalization, and served for four years as a Green Beret leading a Special Forces detachment working to enable allied forces across multiple countries throughout eastern Europe.

Witnessing the security challenges stemming from a lack of opportunity in both rural Afghanistan and the former Soviet bloc, A.W. believes that America’s next great threat was at home. With ‘deaths of despair’ in the U.S. correlated to both economic and social dislocation, A.W. sees an opportunity for service-motivated veterans to pursue business and community leadership in traditionally capital-poor regions of the country. Currently A.W. is pursuing an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School with a goal to enable the next “Greatest Generation” to own and operate local businesses for the benefit of their customers, employees, and communities.