CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- 1st Sgt. Miguel Rodriguez stood before a full house as he called Marines to attention.
He spoke clearly and boldly of the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device awarded to Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Zimmerman.
“Staff Sgt. Zimmerman led more than 100 combat patrols, conducted 22 reconnaissance missions, uncovered eight improvised explosive devices and captured six high-value individuals,” Rodriguez read from the citation.
It would be the final award for Zimmerman, awarded posthumously at a memorial service held by 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion Sept. 30 at Camp Fallujah’s Chapel of Hope. Zimmerman, assigned to the battalion’s B Company, was killed in action Sept. 20. He was 28-years-old.
Marines from 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion are on duty in Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 5.
The memorial ceremony began with a video pieced together by Zimmerman’s fellow Marines, featuring photos and video clips of Zimmerman with his Marines. Scenes included Zimmerman in training exercises at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the battalion’s home base as well as a series of photos taken of Zimmerman while on operations in Iraq. Voices of Zimmerman’s friends and comrades were interlaced among music that accompanied the video, speaking to the friendship and admiration the battalion’s Marines shared for Zimmerman.
“He was exactly the type of warrior we seek, mentally strong, confident in his own abilities, yet humble in nature,” said Lt. Col. James M. Bright, commanding officer of 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion. “As a combat veteran, he was a natural leader – a man who cared about the Marines around you and let his actions do the talking. He was revered by him team members and all in his platoon.”
Zimmerman, from Austin, Texas, graduated from McNiel High School in May 1996, where he participated in football and basketball. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in July 1997 and graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego the following October. He attended Naval Aviation Crew Chief School in Pensacola, Fla., graduating as the honor graduate and earned his Aircrew Wings in October 1998. He served with Marine Light Attack Squadron 267 and Marine Light Attack Squadron 773 until he ended his service with the Marine Corps in July 2001.
Zimmerman took one year off from the Marine Corps before reenlisting in July 2002 as a mortarman. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and completed a combat deployment to Afghanistan in December 2004. Zimmerman volunteered for duty with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion and graduated the Basic Reconnaissance Course in June 2005. He was initially assigned to C Company and later to B Company where he served as an assistant team leader for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Chris was the consummate professional,” said 1st Lt. Nicholas Pishtun. “Having spent time both active and reserve, with the wing, the infantry and finally with recon, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Chris had a knowledge base in the Corps that was extremely diverse.
“Chris’ greatest attribute was which the degree he involved himself in his Marines’ lives,” Pishtun added. “He took training them extremely personal. Their failures were his failures; their successes – his proudest moments. In the end, the Marines he trained and worked closely with will attest they are better Marines and better men for having known Chris. I can certainly say the same.”
The citation for Zimmerman’s final award attested to that personal level of leadership.
“On 20 September, 2006, his platoon was tasked to kill enemy mortar teams operating in the Zaidon region,” Rodriguez continued to read aloud. “With courage and selflessness, Staff Sgt. Zimmerman volunteered to be the point element in a dismounted security patrol. Moving along the reed line, his reconnaissance team received a heavy volume of fire from a concealed enemy position. He quickly identified the enemy position and orientated the team to return fire.”
Cpl. Timothy L. Donoho, a fellow reconnaissance Marine who was a good friend of Zimmerman’s, explained to the crowded chapel why Zimmerman was so revered by his fellow Marines.
“Chris was an exceptional Marine, a professional who was always making sure his team was squared away,” Donoho said. “He didn’t always do it because he was supposed to. He did it because he cared and that’s a rare quality.”
Donoho shared stories of Zimmerman that brought smiles to those who knew him. He called him a “Snivel Queen” because he would layer on cold-weather clothing even as temperatures hovered around 100 degrees. He spoke of a night patrol when Zimmerman tried to cross an irrigation ditch and slid into neck-deep water.
Mostly, he spoke of his awe-inspiring performance in combat, even until the moment he was killed.
“While displacing to ensure the safety of the team’s radio operator, Staff Sgt. Zimmerman was mortally wounded,” Rodriguez read from the citation. “Staff Sgt. Zimmerman’s noteworthy accomplishments, perseverance and devotion to duty reflected credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
“He would always say, ‘I just want to make sure everyone makes it back safe,’”
Donoho said. “‘Z’ performed that job until the end. When he went down, he was on his own two feet, in a gunfight, with the respect of his team and all those who were helping fight with him.”
A memorial of an inverted rifle with a helmet resting atop, identification tags hanging from the rifle’s grip and empty combat boots was placed at the front of the chapel for Zimmerman. Nearby, a candle was lit, burning next to an enlarged photo of Zimmerman.
“Staff Sgt. Zimmerman gave his life for freedom’s cause and now he hands that fight on to us,” Bright said. “He expects no less from us than to continue and be successful, and therefore, we will cherish his sacrifice and do just that.
“When the final roll is called and Staff Sgt. Zimmerman no longer answers, he is still with us,” he added. “Though we may not see him, his spirit is emblazoned on our hearts, a man forever in our memory. And know that he is by our side watching over us as we face the perils of each passing day.”
Zimmerman’s awards included the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon with gold star in lieu of second award, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal with bronze star in lieu of second award, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with two bronze stars in lieu of third award.