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Packers partner with veterans groups for day of service


For Army vet Jon Winker, making sacrifices and adjustments is a part of life.

After joining the Army in 2006, he was deployed to Iraq in 2009 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In November of that year, he was wounded when his left leg was pinned under an armored truck while his platoon prepared for a mission.

He had surgery in Kuwait, flew home to the US, and underwent two more surgeries, expecting a long recovery.

Three more surgeries and as many years of physical therapy later, however, Winker's pain was still getting worse. He tried many things with his doctors to reduce the pain and improve his mobility so that he and his wife could start a family.

In October of 2013, Winker's leg was amputated, just in time to recover before the arrival of his son, Tyler, the following February. The Winker's home, on the other hand, was not quite as prepared for Tyler's birth. The house was less handicap accessible than the family had hoped, and it presented even more challenges with a new baby in the house.

After hearing Winker's story from Mark Bonovetz with Desert Veterans of Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers decided to help.

The Packers partnered with Desert Vets, as well as the Wounded Warrior Project and Being There-Reaching Out for the Families of Our Fallen Military, for a day of service and recognition Sept. 20. Together, the groups helped the Winker family make the home improvements they needed to accommodate Winker's injury.

With the assistance from the NFL's National Partnership Grant, the day began with a breakfast at the Lambeau Field Atrium to honor the veterans groups and bring them together. Attendees from each military group, including the Winker family, enjoyed the breakfast along with Packers alumni Bill Schroeder, Johnnie Gray and Dexter McNabb.

"We're so thrilled to have the opportunity to serve veterans like Jon Winker, who have sacrificed so much for our freedom," said Jessica Micke, community outreach coordinator for the Packers. "Without freedom, we have nothing, so being able to honor these military members with a breakfast and service projects is so meaningful to all of us."

Following the breakfast, several attendees went to the Mills Center Park in Howard to install park benches along Corporal Justin Ross's memorial trail. Ross passed away in Afghanistan in 2011, and the trail has been dedicated in his honor since 2013. According to Ross's father, the park is where his son liked to play as a child.

After installing benches, those at the park joined the rest of the veterans groups at the Winker's house to make the much-needed renovations in and around the home. Eager to make a difference, the volunteers all pitched in to make updates to the interior and give a facelift to the landscaping outside the house.  

Bonovetz, who worked diligently on the project at the Winker's home both before and after the day of service, is a veteran himself. Working with Desert Veterans of Wisconsin, his mission is to help disabled veterans like Winker renovate or update their homes in order to lead happier, more comfortable lives.

"Veterans and their families are so humble. They're always looking for other people they can help," said Bonovetz. "But we wanted Jon to be able to focus on being a husband and being a father. We wanted to take care of the little things as much as we could."

Winker said the work being done at his home would allow him and his wife to spend more time with their son, instead of spending time doing home renovations.

"We're overwhelmed with all of this support," said Winker. "With my injury, there are some things you can kind of predict, but there are still a lot of little things that add up."

By Katie Hermsen,

The Green Bay Packers, along with several veterans groups, came together for a recognition breakfast and day of service to honor veterans. Photos by Cathy Dworak, Katie Hermsen and Alicia Schram,

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