Minnesota Soybean Business

Flashpoints: Minnesota veteran saw what really mattered when his life hung in the balance

January-February 2022

In early 2010, Jack Zimmerman proposed to his sweetheart, Megan. The next day, the Army veteran was due to return to active duty in Afghanistan, where he served with the venerable 101st Airborne Division.

“I said, ‘Will you marry me, and can I get a ride to the airport in the morning?’” Zimmerman recalled.

Megan said yes. But just 10 days later, on March 9, 2010, Zimmerman’s
– and his future wife’s – life changed forever on the battlefields of Afghanistan. He stepped on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) while crossing a ditch during a gun fight, and was badly injured.

“It felt like ten thousand fingers crawling up my back,” Zimmerman said. “It felt like a really bad dream, like you just kept falling and falling. It was like you couldn’t wake up.”

Zimmerman knew his life was in grave peril. He had trouble staying awake. A surgeon tending to his wounds promised Zimmerman if he could stay conscious for another five minutes, he’d survive.

Zimmerman remained dazed but alert while his fellow soldiers continued battling Taliban forces. His life flashed before his eyes as he waited for the chopper to arrive. He remembered youth ball games with friends; moments with friends and family. Precious memories.

“I realized a lot of things: That all the things in my life I thought were
important, weren’t,” he said.

Zimmerman will share his hard-won wisdom in full detail as the keynote speaker during MN AG EXPO’s “Food for Thought” luncheon on Jan. 20.

“I tell stories and the lessons I learned,” he said, “I teach people how to build their attitude and shape their perspective so one day when their life flashes before their eyes, it’s worth watching.”

Following his arduous 18-month rehabilitation process – which included six days in a coma, several weeks in the ICU and 20 surgeries – Zimmerman lost both his legs but gained an entirely new appreciation for life.

“We can all make a difference in this world, and I’m thankful for
everything I do have,” Zimmerman said.

All the while, Megan stayed right by his side. Two weeks after he left the hospital, Jack and Megan tied the knot at the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio.

Zimmerman recently published his first book, “Five Minutes: 300 Seconds That Changed My Life,” which can be purchased at MN AG EXPO. The book is also available via his website, JackZimmermanMN.com.

After a decade of marriage, the Zimmermans live in Cleveland, Minnesota, and are now proud parents of two sons, William (8) and Benjamin (7).

“Megan never left my hospital room except to shower in her hotel
room,” Zimmerman said. “I’m the luckiest guy in the whole world.”

‘The bright side’

Zimmerman was in junior high on 9/11 when the Twin Towers fell in New York City. By the time he reached enlistment age, “I felt the need to serve my country,” he said. “I come from a very patriotic family.”

Zimmerman is also rooted in his community. His experiences in Afghanistan led him to committing toward paying it forward when he returned home to south-central Minnesota. While leaving an Afghanistan village, he watched as
two children stepped on IEDs. He assisted the wounded kids, led them toward medical attention. Later, while ruminating in a guard tower, Zimmerman thought about the advantages he was afforded simply by being born in America.

Jack Zimmerman remains an avid outdoorsman.

“It was hard to accept, that they got wrapped up in something they had nothing to do with,” Zimmerman said. “What I could do to make it right – when I get back home, I want kids to see how lucky they are to live in this country.”

Zimmerman, an avid bird hunter, decided to dedicate time toward teaching local youth firearm safety. His volunteer efforts led to his current position as Cleveland High School’s trapshooting coach.

“I really enjoy doing it, and giving back,” he said, “because I could never repay the people who have done things for me.”

Zimmerman continues paying back and looking forward. He hunts birds alongside his trusty canine companion, Moose; owns a nonprofit racing company, Warfare Motorsports; and shares his inspiring story with students and organizations. His speech at MN AG EXPO will cover mental health, pain and perseverance, and staying positive in dark times.

“I’m a guy who likes to laugh and find the bright side in everything,” he said. “It’s not a sad story – it’s a story of overcoming tragedy and moving forward.”

Zimmerman also has some farming roots. As a kid, he spent time on a family farm in Cleveland, and his great-grandfather farmed near Gaylord on land that’s still in the family.

“I’m looking forward to speaking to an awesome group of people that I can relate to,” he said, “and I hope I can impact some lives through the experiences I’ve had.”


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