SD senators recommend Guard official to lead veterans departmentLarry D. Zimmerman, of Rapid City, has been state command master sergeant and was awarded a Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — The top enlisted member of the South Dakota National Guard should become the first official secretary of the state’s new Department of Veterans Affairs, a legislative panel agreed Friday.
Larry D. Zimmerman, of Rapid City, has been state command master sergeant and was awarded a Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan. He was appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to head the new department and began duties Jan. 9 but needs approval from the state Senate to stay on.
The nine members of the Senate State Affairs Committee gave Zimmerman their unanimous recommendation after his confirmation hearing Friday morning. The appointment now goes to the full Senate for debate next week.
Zimmerman was introduced at the hearing by Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, a Navy veteran.
When a senator asked whether Zimmerman will have his office in Rapid City or Pierre, Michels answered. He said Zimmerman would have work space in both communities, but his real office would be “his car, his cell phone and the state of South Dakota.”
Zimmerman said he sees his role as “an overall conduit” between veterans and the government. There are approximately 70,000 veterans of the armed forces in South Dakota.
Zimmerman said he plans to spend his first year traveling South Dakota and meeting with veteran service officers in the counties and with veterans directly.
“They’re out there,” he said. “I still find Vietnam veterans who don’t want to talk about it.”
Zimmerman described the county offices as “our storefront” and said he wants to touch base to learn their needs.
The motion to recommend Zimmerman’s confirmation came from Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, a long-time officer in the South Dakota National Guard. “We are very blessed to have that opportunity right now in our state,” Johnston said.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Larry Rhoden, spoke up in support too. Rhoden, R-Union Center, praised Zimmerman for his experience, expertise and character.
Rhoden, who said he had served in the National Guard, said he knows one thing for certain: “Experience matters in the service.”
The governor in his 2011 reorganization of state government decided to split apart the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Michels said the candidates they interviewed to head the new agency were “very, very good” and then they met Zimmerman.
“He’s been there. He knows it compassionately and, candidly, knows the system,” Michels said.
Daugaard was so impressed, according to Michels, that he appointed Zimmerman with a full year delay, because Zimmerman was committed to finishing his work for the National Guard.
Zimmerman was born at Belle Fourche and grew up there. He was active duty Army in 1973-76 in the 4-th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.
He has a bachelor degree in business and organizational management from Ashford University at Clinton, Iowa. He worked 35 years for the U.S. Post Office in many parts of western South Dakota including time as postmaster at Pierre, Spearfish and Sturgis.
He retired from the postal service in 2009. He retired this month from the South Dakota National Guard after 29 years. His experience includes a tour in Afghanistan as the operations sergeant major for the nine northern provinces.
“He’s been in some rough neighborhoods,” Michels said.