GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers and Fleet Farm are honoring veterans and active duty military through their annual Salute To Service campaign in November.
Packer's running back, Aaron Jones was on hand at the event at Lambeau field to kick off the event, and to honor some special guests who bring comfort to disabled veterans.
"It's just a blessing. I feel like it's coming full circle and I'm honored," says Aaron Jones, representing the Packers throughout the month-long campaign.
"I’m meant for this. I’ve been groomed for this. I grew up in a military household, being both my parents were in the military, my brother is in Air Force now. I just know kind of firsthand what the sacrifices military families make the hardships that they go through," Jones says.
Hardships, retired Army National Guard Master Sergeant, Joshua Zenner knows all too well.
"I had been going through some struggles getting help with therapy and counseling and groups and stuff, and I wanted to try something else," says Zenner.
Zenner retired after serving 20 years in the Army National Guard. It was then he realized he needed some help.
"Before, I was always stressing with anxiety no matter what the situation, good or bad I was just always stressing out with it."
Zenner contacted Patriot K9s of Wisconsin, this year's Packers Salute to Service non-profit partner.
"We are a small organization still however, we do have a good impact on central Wisconsin," says Lani Rethaber, the executive director at Patriot K9's of Wisconsin.
The non-profit provides training and education to both veterans and service dog candidates to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PDSD), depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles.
"We don't just hand them a dog and say, 'see you later.' We bring them all into the fold. We are a family. We are a unit. It's like being back into the military. We take care of each other," says Rethaber.
"We do provide psychiatric service dogs for disabled veterans for free. We are a free organization. Our veterans are part of our family long-term. So after they graduate from our program doesn’t mean they are gone. We follow up with them for the life of that service dog.
"What's so great about this program is that it's the handler and the dog. They're not training the dog to give to the veteran. It is 100% the student with the dog," says Joshua Zenner who was matched with his service dog, Riggs. The two completed the training program to help Zenner cope with his anxiety.
"The sense of accomplishment by completing the program was something I haven't had in a long, long time," Zenner says.
Having Riggs with me just gives me something else to focus on even though he's focusing on me, watching over me. Just having to take care of a dog takes your mind off so many other issues or problems," he adds.
Zenner wants to encourage other veterans who may be struggling with mental health to reach out to Patriot K9s of Wisconsin to see if the program is right for them.
"Just get in the program, get started with it, even if you don’t have a dog yet, even if they don’t have a dog to give you if you don’t have your own, go to the program and just watch it and you have other veterans there going through the same problem," says Zenner
"The classmates that I graduated with and their dogs, I mean they were family. I just say if you are having an issue don’t hesitate, just call."
If you want to contribute to the Packers Salute to Service program, you can purchase a