Jessica Harris, a veteran who gives back to other veterans
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
Where have you called home?
I was born in Washington State, grew up in the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska. I moved to Durham in October 2014 from Tacoma, WA after leaving active duty in the Washington Army National Guard.
What brought you to the Carolinas?
October 2016 will mark two years in the Carolinas. I moved here after spending close to 10 years on active duty in the Washington Army National Guard and nearing the end of my 20 year career. I got a top-level job at UNC which is why I moved out here, but that job was unfortunately eliminated after budget cuts within the department. I was laid-off about 10 months after moving to NC and only one month after I chose to buy a house.
What was it like growing up as an only child?
I grew up as an only child and we moved quite a bit. I think it made me adaptable to situations. Being an only child taught me how to be okay with just being with myself. So many people can’t be alone and I often times love it. I’m not shy about going out by myself. Many people I meet that grew up without siblings are generally confident and outgoing people.
I’ve never been married and I don’t have children. I just have a 130 lb Bullmastiff!!
What is your education and training background?
I have a B.A. in Biology and was a Combat Medic in the Army for 20 years. I’ve taken several entrepreneur courses that are specific for veterans wanting to start their own business and have gained a wonderful network of people around the country that are so supportive.
What is your current occupation?
Founder & CEO of K9 Salute, LLC. K9 Salute is dedicated to providing healthy treats for all dogs as a way to honor our 4-legged heroes. We only create wholesome treats with ingredients sourced in the USA and from local veteran owned farms. Supporting fellow veterans in agriculture that love their animals and are considerate farmers is also a top priority. K9 Salute treats are safe enough for you to eat... but we only recommend it if absolutely necessary and if your pup is willing to share! Our amazing dogs love us every day and serve our communities, let's love and honor them in return with a healthy K9 Salute treat.
What is it like to have your own company?
I work solo now! Everything I do is my decision and what I do determines my own success.
How does K9 Salute give back?
The mission of K9 Salute is to honor and give back to specific charities that help police K9’s get protective vests and to help veterans get service dogs. Right now I’ve teamed up with Vets to Vets United, Inc in Durham as a local non-profit to support. It was founded by a veterinarian and they rescue shelter dogs and train them to be service dogs for vets. My next goal is to partner with an organization that outfits police K9’s with proper gear and medical equipment. I’m also a big supporter of veterans in agriculture. More and more vets are seeking farming as a way of life after leaving the military. I am trying to source as many of my ingredients from veteran owned farms in the region as possible.
The back of my new treat bags will also feature fallen K9’s or other K9’s doing great work within the country.
What was it like transitioning from the Army to civilian life? What inspired you?
My passions are animals and helping the veteran community be successful in life after they leave the military. I love dogs tremendously and they do so much for people, whether it’s as a working dog or a service/companion dog. We’re so lucky to have these creatures!
Today's veterans leaving the military after they've been at war are an inspiring, capable group of Americans. They are more capable than many employers realize or even realize themselves. It’s a hard transition leaving the service, one that I didn’t fully understand until I left. But it’s important for veterans to understand being in the military isn’t our only mission in life.
It was great the first few months, having a new job, not putting that uniform on daily, and living in a new state. But after a few months, reality set it and I missed the Army more than I ever thought I could. I officially retired six months after I moved to NC, and I almost considered staying in the NC Army National Guard because I didn’t think I could give it up. I knew that wasn’t the right decision for me- I needed to take advantage of other opportunities. I served for 20 years so it was time to be done. I looked at my uniforms hanging in my closet everyday while I dreadfully had to put on a pantsuit. I was now sitting behind a desk working on spreadsheets day after day and was not happy and no longer motivated. I knew deep down it was the people in the Army I missed the most. Being laid-off was almost a blessing in disguise. After struggling to find work for more than six months and toying with the idea of my own business for a couple years, I knew it was now or never. So that’s how K9 Salute started.
How do wounded veterans inspire you?
These young people faced their worse day in combat and so many of them of come home to do incredible work. They are professionals and living their life in a way that honors our brothers and sisters that didn’t make it home.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Serving in the military for 20 years is certainly a proud accomplishment. That was never the plan when I joined my senior year of high school. I don’t think most people at 17 or 18 envision a 20-year career, but I found myself taking advantage of all of the opportunities available to me and I excelled in many areas. And then in the blink of an eye 20 years had approached. I loved being a soldier and I was good at it. I loved leading soldiers and taking care of soldiers as a medic, especially in a combat environment. It’s truly the most rewarding job in the military. Being called “Doc” by your soldiers is when you know they trust you with their life. That’s a tremendous responsibility but a very proud one.
I also was the winner of the 2016 "Dream Big” competition held by The Support Center in Raleigh. I was selected as a finalist during the one week voting period and then the winner, selected by the public. This win allowed me to gain full funding for K9 Salute to really get it going.
What do you love about the Carolinas?
One of the appealing factors of this state was that it was similar to the Northwest in that you are close to both the mountains and the coast. I don’t think I could ever live in a state that isn't on one of our coasts.
Where abroad do you like to travel?
I love Greece and have been there a couple of times. The islands are breathtaking and the people and food are wonderful!
What do you enjoy doing during nonworking hours?
I love kayaking and did that a lot when I was in Washington- so I am exploring Carolina kayaking spots now. I’m also a lover of craft beers. Being from the Northwest that’s a must, so I’ve enjoyed exploring the craft beer scene that NC has to offer.