EAGAN, Minn. — The Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center is continuing to progress daily before the watchful eyes of Vikings Senior Project Manager Jim Cima.
Cima is a United States Army veteran who served 20 years, a West Point graduate and is well-experienced with the construction of sports facilities.
Originally from Western Pennsylvania, Cima was a junior in high school when he decided that attending the United States Military Academy would allow him to continue playing football and receive an advanced education beyond his family's financial capacity.
After graduation, Cima became an infantryman in Vietnam.
"I was an infantryman, so for 13 months I was plodding around the jungles of Vietnam, but fortunately, although I was wounded, I don't have any physical disabilities like a lot of veterans," Cima said.
Asked about the challenges of Vietnam, Cima said, "Everybody looks at things differently."
"I watch movies of World War II and say, 'How could they have ever lived like that?' People would ask me when we were in Desert Storm, 'How did you ever do what you did in Vietnam?' It's all relative," he explains. "It wasn't fun by any stretch of the imagination, but it was professionally rewarding. You are trained to do something, you do it, and you think you're pretty good at what you're doing."
After five years, Cima was able to attend graduate school at Purdue University and resumed his military career that totaled 20 years of service and 16 moves. The stops included Royal Military Academy Sandhurst near London, the Middle East and finally Fort Lewis, Washington, where he commanded an infantry battalion of 1,000.
When Cima retired from the Army, he went to work for the Philadelphia Flyers. The owner's desire for a new home for the hockey team and the NBA's Sixers prompted him to turn to Cima's background in engineering and construction. After that, he switched leagues again but stayed in the neighborhood.
"The Eagles asked me to come across the street and do the same thing for them," Cima said. "They built their new training facility right there in South Philly and then the new stadium. When that was finishing up, the Devils asked me to come to Newark, New Jersey, and I did that one and helped them run that for a while."
Cima also worked on stadiums for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Saskatchewan Roughriders before fielding a call from the Wilf Family ownership group of the Vikings.
View images from the Twin Cities media's late October tour of the Vikings future home in Eagan.
Minnesota was next on the list for Cima, whose wife, Sue, still lives near Philadelphia. Cima opted to remain with the Vikings after the completion of U.S. Bank Stadium to help with the ongoing construction of the team's future headquarters, which is scheduled for completion in March.
"My wife tried [Minnesota] the winter we had 50 days below zero, and she and the dog left," said Cima, before adding that long distances is something their relationship has been able to handle.
The couple will celebrate its 50th wedding anniversary in December 2018. They have three children (Christy, Tony and Brooke) and three grandchildren (James Ryan, Lily and Dawn).
Cima is one of several Vikings employees who are veterans, along with Bud Grant, Paul Wiggin, Fred Zamberletti, Kim Klawiter, Neil Grewe, Paul Nelson, Mike Priefer, Albert Padilla and Jared Kuhn. The Vikings are proud to honor these men, other veterans and active duty members of the military through the annual Salute to Service initiative.
Cima said the respect shown for active service members has "changed dramatically" in the nearly 50 years since he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy.
"When I came back from Vietnam, a military career was viewed a lot like, 'You couldn't find a job, so you went into the Army.' Nowadays, there is a certain reverence associated with military service, and rightfully so," Cima said. "It's an all-volunteer force. When I went in, it was still a draft. I had a mixture of people with advanced degrees from a university, and I had people who never finished high school. It was a good mix. It gave people a bigger perspective of life in general.
View photos of the scoreboard install beginning at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
"The all-volunteer force is exactly that," Cima added. "You're volunteering. You're here for a reason. It makes for a good, efficient force. The incorporation of women in the military — it was, 'How is this going to work?' – It's worked out fine. It's just like the incorporation of women in my job here."
Cima said he's enjoyed teamwork with other Vikings staff members on the stadium and headquarters projects. He also said a parallel can be drawn between his time in the service and current role.
"It may not sound like there's a lot of similarities, but it's learning to function with a team. I enjoyed that when I played, I enjoyed that as a part of the Army process, and obviously here, too," Cima said. "It's all about being a part of a team and loving it."
He said he gets "such a kick out of the younger people who are working in this business."
"They are so smart. It's not traditionally a women's business, but the women involved, [Senior Manager, Construction and Partnerships] Jenny Haag, for instance, is so intelligent and adds so much to the project," Cima said. "It keeps me going. It keeps me young. When I wake up in the morning, I want to go to work. It was that way when I was in the service, and it's been that way since I've been doing this, so it's been very enjoyable."