A boot in both worlds: Army captain and county appraiser embodies public service
Even among a workforce devoted to public service, Eric Zimmerman stands out.
At 27, he is one of the youngest property appraisers in Multnomah County, conducting residential and commercial assessments and managing the internship program.
He directs interns the same way that, in his role as Capt. Zimmerman, he leads soldiers in his other job: as a commander of an Oregon Army National Guard company.
“I try to bring a lot of the same principles and tools I’ve learned in personnel development, evaluations, training and finding mentors,’’ Zimmerman said. “It’s a good fit.’’
The decorated combat veteran is one of more than 400 veterans at Multnomah County. But unlike most who’ve completed their military obligation, Zimmerman has a boot firmly planted in both worlds.
“Capt. Zimmerman is a great example of the citizen-soldier,’’ said Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees, the Adjutant General for Oregon. Zimmerman, he said, succeeds in his daily job, advocates for fellow veterans and even coaches high school track athletes.
“The saying goes: ‘If you have a tough job, find a busy man.’ We are blessed to have Capt. Zimmerman in the Oregon Army National Guard,” Rees said.
When Zimmerman started work at Multnomah County at age 22 straight out of the University of Portland, he’d already led a 70-person organization as a ROTC battalion commander overseeing his fellow cadets.
Born and raised in Clackamas, the scholar-athlete grew up knowing he wanted to serve in the military. By the time he was a college senior, he was responsible for all training, personnel development, operations and leadership duties for cadets at the University of Portland, and served as a liaison to other ROTC programs across the Northwest.
But he loved living in Oregon and in order to stay, transferred his commitment from the Army to the Oregon National Guard.
Zimmerman graduated from college in 2007 with a degree in organizational communication. He was hired a few weeks later as a temporary Multnomah County employee to do appraisals.
He’d just become a permanent employee in the spring of 2008 when he received an alert that the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team was being sent to Iraq. The 2,700-member brigade was among the largest deployments in Oregon’s history and would serve scattered across five bases in Iraq.
Zimmerman undertook further training at Fort Benning, Ga. and in intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Then, in spring 2009, he put his household belongings in storage, handed his car keys to his dad, and deployed.
Once in Iraq, 1st Lt. Zimmerman led a platoon with the Guard’s Second Battalion, 218th Field Artillery Regiment running security for convoys on that nation’s troubled highways. On one of the unit’s first missions, the Oregonians were attacked by a roadside bomb. Spc. Jeremy Pierce of Mehama was wounded, losing his lower leg.
For the next 10 months, Zimmerman concentrated on keeping the men and women in his unit alive as they protected convoys traveling from Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad, Iraq encountering a steady current of roadside bombs.
Midway through the deployment, Oregon Guardsmen Spc. Taylor Marks of Monmouth and Sgt. Earl Werner of Amboy, Wash. died after a roadside bomb attack.
In April 2010, Zimmerman returned to Oregon with a Bronze Star for his “exceptionally meritorious service.” The framed citation is tucked into a corner on his desk on the second floor of the Multnomah Building in the Division of Assessment, Recording and Taxation.
Employees in the division work to find identify and value all taxable property in Multnomah County, resulting in more than 345,000 accounts. They calculate, collect and distribute this revenue to more than 60 districts in Multnomah County including all cities, school districts and special districts, ranging from water to libraries. Last year, the division collected and distributed more than $1.2 billion.
Working at Multnomah County “aligns with me legally, morally and ethically,’’ Zimmerman said, “Doing the right thing by people is very important.”
His military experience shapes his civilian work. A military officer is trained to receive a mission and then use his own skills and enterprise to reach the outcome desired without a lot of checking back in with supervisors. Zimmerman’s officer training also drives him to seek ways to innovate and achieve more efficiency.
“I don’t accept the mediocrity that government gets the rap for. I want us to do a lot of great things. At the same time, I’ll be the first to admit we have things to improve.''
Leslie Cech, residential valuation manager at Multnomah County, said Zimmerman's commitment to leadership is also obvious in his county work.
"Eric is a forward thinker who does not hesitate to 'think outside the box' to bring a fresh perspective to traditional processes."
As his career at the county progressed, Zimmerman was also promoted to captain in the National Guard. In March 2012, he was named commander of the headquarters company of the 41st Brigade. As such, he oversees more than 150 people working on all personnel, leadership and logistic support of the brigade, including senior officers.
The ceremony marked a historic turning point for Oregon: Zimmerman’s partner, Adan, was presented with a bouquet of yellow roses, the traditional thank you for the incoming commander’s spouse. It was the first time a same-sex partner was recognized by the Oregon Army National Guard.
In addition to his National Guard obligation drill schedule, Zimmerman spends evenings, weekends and holidays working for the Guard. Every Tuesday for instance, he puts his Doberman, Panzer, in the car, takes him to “grandma and grandpa’s house,’’ and then heads into his other office at Camp Withycombe to participate in the weekly conference call with commanders statewide.
Zimmerman, a former Clackamas High pole vaulter and captain of the track team, also coaches at his alma mater.
In the past year, he’s also become chair of Multnomah County’s new Veterans Employee Resource Group. He joined the group to strengthen awareness of the skills that veterans need and to support their advancement.
“We’re not just rifle-carrying, yelling and dirt-crawling Joes,’’ Zimmerman said. “Everyone does that at some point in their history, but we’re a lot more capable beyond just following orders and keeping a nice bedroom and being punctual.’’
Military veterans, he said, know how to conduct employee evaluations, how to identify end points and how to overcome any obstacle to get there.
Zimmerman will spend most of this Fourth of July on his military duties. He rarely does anything special on patriotic holidays.
Instead, he finds himself much more conscious in the ordinary moment, such as hearing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the beginning of a sporting event or standing at a parade. In that light-hearted moment there is always, for him, a heavier one.
He thinks of the sacrifice.
“I still have a lot of friends still over there.”
Watch a video about Multnomah County's Veterans' Services Office: