FORT CARSON, Colo. — Chris Zimmerman, grew up in Colorado in the mountains of Rye— hunting, fishing and camping. So when it came to enlisting in the Army, “basic training wasn’t that much of a physical shock,” he said. Zimmerman attended basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in 1977.
“My dad had been in the Air Force and he was just convinced that he should have stayed in, but he didn’t,” he said. “So that’s why I just right after high school I went down to the recruiting office.”
Becoming the Fort Carson police chief took hard work, dedication and many years of service.
His Army career began at Fort Carson where he served seven years as an enlisted military police officer before going to U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) school in 1984. In his 17 years with CID he was a special agent in charge for Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and Würzburg, Germany. Fittingly, he ended his career as the special agent in charge at Fort Carson, where he retired in 2002.
Choosing civil service
He remained at Fort Carson where he became a Game Warden at Fort Carson as a contractor for 10 years.
“It’s not often that someone begins their career and ends their career in the same location, but you’ve managed to do that twice now,” said Lt. Col Ranjini T. Danaraj, commander, 759th MP Battalion, and director of emergency services (DES).
The lifelong lawman has served 42 years with the last 18 as a civil servant. He began his civil service career as a biological science technician and accomplished many feats throughout his next 18 years, said Danaraj. He has provided guidance at the garrison, Army and IMCOM levels, and helped construct all the walking paths around every reservoir at Fort Carson among many other positions and accomplishments.
“I honestly believe we have the best law enforcement conservation program in the Army, due to Chris’ efforts.”
His other accomplishments include first elected chair of the National Fish and Wildlife Association; and he was intermittently involved in the drafting of conservation law enforcement program for all of DOD, Zimmerman said. He also put together the pilot course for conservation officers for U.S. Army Military Police School.
Peak of career
When the Mountain Post was in need of a new deputy chief of police, Zimmerman stepped forward. He then served as the DES operations officer. About five years ago a chief of police was needed, and when asked, there was only one answer for Zimmerman.
“Every police officer — the pinnacle of their career is becoming the chief of police somewhere, so I made it at the top,” Zimmerman said.
“As a chief, his ‘mission first, people always’ motto rang true in much that he did, whether it be the late nights he spent in the office behind the computer, or the institution of monthly chiefs’ lunches,” said Danaraj.
Zimmerman said his fondest memories as Fort Carson’s top cop were the chief lunches.
“We were looking for ways of bringing people together,” he said. “So, every month we got together we had a different theme … It would always stick in my head because everybody participated, everybody loved it and everybody anticipated and looked forward to that last Wednesday of the month.”
Jim Walter, chief of operations for the Fort Carson Police Department, said he most enjoyed the memories made during Zimmerman’s time as police chief and the chief’s lunches. The lunches served to recognize Soldiers and civilians and talk about the branch.
“It paid huge dividends for our department,” said Walter, the upcoming chief of police.
Zimmerman had a good balance between work and down time. Walter said Zimmerman had a calm demeanor, but also knew when to share his sense of humor with the crew.
“There is a time for a sense of humor and he can bring that out to just lighten the mood when that’s needed,” Walter said.
“One of the biggest things is to make sure you’re able to separate work from home,” Zimmerman said. “This is not an eight-hour-a-day: eight to four and out the door job. I carried a phone 24/7.”
He said it was normal to receive calls in the middle of the night multiple times a week.
Zimmerman added the police chief spends “10-12 hours a day in the office out of necessity, just to keep up, just to keep things going, to keep things running, to make sure all the paperwork and procedures and (standard operating procedures) are square.”
The position is a demanding one, and Zimmerman filled the shoes.
“There are 70,000 people on this installation that rely on the confidence and the competence of this police force,” said Danaraj in remarks at Zimmerman’s retirement ceremony. “In an environment that has was increasingly volatile and unpredictable, Chief Chris Zimmerman was a steady guiding force for his department … There were no doubt countless lives saved. due to your leadership. In a community that prides itself on readiness, you truly preserved it.”
Legacy of mentorship
Having served so many years on post, Zimmerman provided guidance to many around him.
“Chief Zimmerman has been a mentor of mine for over the past five-plus years,” Walter said.
Through the many circumstances over the past five years, Walter said his biggest takeaway from Zimmerman is, “no matter how stressful the situation, all those long hours … at work — he’s always the calm in the storm. His even temperament throughout anything was purely something to be emulated.”
While his last five years were spent fully engaged in the duties of police chief, others remembered him from different directorates.
In 2016, Zimmerman was serving as the operations officer for the department and Ricky Oxendine, deputy director for DES, said his transition to Fort Carson was made smooth because of Zimmerman.
“The mentorship and the conversations that we’ve been able to have together; whenever I have had negative days: I could go in and get guidance and mentorship from him,” Oxendine added. “We hate to see him leave, but he will always be a part of the family. The Directorate of Emergency Services, one of our mottos is ‘we’re one team, one fight, and everybody is family here,’ and he will always be a part of the family.”
Other relationships date back even further, Carl Backus, plans officer at Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, has known Zimmerman since 2006.
“He’s always been very professional, very knowledgeable,” Backus said, and when Zimmerman became chief of police, Backus said he was a great sounding board.
Life after retirement
As for his newfound freedom, Zimmerman plans to accomplish hobbies that have been put on hold.
“I wish him the best in his retirement, I hope that he gets to enjoy it,” Walter said.
Which is exactly what he plans to do, as well as woodworking, riding his bicycle and kayaking.
“We (plan) to go down to Florida frequently, and just getting out and wandering around and traveling, and just doing all of the things we couldn’t do because I was in the office,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve got enough things to keep me busy until I am about 100 years old. After that … we will just have to see.”
Starting and ending his career here, Zimmerman said Fort Carson has been good to him.
“Fort Carson, Colorado, is my home … I’ve been a civilian, but right here, I’m a Soldier,” Zimmerman said as he placed his hand over his heart. “Forty-two years, and I am a Soldier, still.”
Zimmerman’s retirement ceremony was held March 24; it ended with many well-wishes for the numerous decades Zimmerman served.
“We wish you and Karen the best. Thank you for your dedication to the Fort Carson Community and 42 years of faithful service,” said Danaraj. “You are absolutely Steadfast and Loyal, and truly held the gate, so thank you.”
Backus said he wished him the best of luck, as well.
“(He was) a fantastic professional who put the people first and understood how important the mission was to safeguard the community, so I am proud to serve with him,” Backus said.
And Zimmerman said he is ready to begin his retirement with his wife, Karen.
“At this point I really have no reservations; I have no qualms about turning the reins over to Capt. Jim Walter,” Zimmerman said, as he walked to Walter and handed him his chief of police badge.