Announcing Operation Orion - an opportunity to help unite a loving K-9 with a deserving warrior.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- First Coast News is launching a new community project called Operation Orion. Why that name? You'll learn about Orion in our reports over the coming weeks.

We're teaming up with K9s for Warriors and the Weaver Foundation for a unique effort -- training rescue dogs to serve veterans diagnosed with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries.

You can help us raise funds to operate a new facility in Nocatee for K9s for Warriors, a locally based nonprofit that gives a new leash on life to warriors wounded post-9/11.

The warriors are paired with K9s. Professional trainers work with the dogs for several months, and then the veterans arrive and get custom training with their own dog. Everything is free for the warriors, including food and housing, while they're here. The veteran takes home his/her certified service dog, which becomes a best friend and, in many cases, a life-saver.

Right now K9s for Warriors operates out of a house in Ponte Vedra on Roscoe Road. It's a nice home with a kitchen, "moms" who help cook, and bedrooms for the warriors.

But it's too small.

Only four warriors at a time can come. The waiting list for the program is a year long.

So a new facility has been donated. Groundbreaking in Nocatee will happen in June. It will be large enough to handle 16 warriors at a time. The number of trainers will jump from three to 10. There will be a basketball court for the warriors, a pool, and other comforts to help them. The budget will need to quadruple from what it is now.

The challenge, therefore, is to raise funds to operate the program. It takes $10,000 per warrior/K9 team.

Local veteran with PTSD lucky to have service dog. Jeannie Blaylock

The Weaver Foundation is announcing a million dollars worth of support. The first $250,000 is a straight gift. After that, the Weavers would like the community to step forward and help. The foundation is promising to match donations given.

So far, K9s for Warriors has helped 111 veterans from 23 states.

Randy, who served 26-and-a-half years active duty and guard duty, is a recent graduate of K9s for Warriors. His service dog, Louie, can actually sense a panic attack before Randy even realizes he is getting anxious.

Randy said he'll be driving down the road, and Louie will gently put his head on Randy's shoulder and lick his ear. That's a signal to Randy to pull over to the side, calm down, and avert a serious problem.

If you'd like to help, you can donate here on K9s for Warrior's website.

If you want to host a fundraiser, please email Jeannie Blaylock jblaylock@firstcoastnews.com. We'll help you get the word out.

Stay tuned for much more coverage on our new project, Operation Orion.

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