Anytime Fitness is partnering with Tee It Up for the Troops, a Minnesota-based non-profit serving military veterans and their families, to help military veterans open their own Anytime Fitness franchises.

The program – dubbed Operation Heartfirst – will offer a $125,000 grant and a $125,000 loan to a number of honorably discharged veterans to provide start-up capital for developing an Anytime Fitness franchise. Anytime provides a grant to Tee It Up for the Troops, which will then offer this opportunity to approved veterans, National Guard members, or reservists. Tee It Up for the Troops also will oversee the selection process and management of logistics.

"This is our way of saying thank you to all of the fine service men and women who've made tremendous sacrifices for our country," says Dave Mortensen, President of Anytime Fitness. "Currently, about 10 percent of our franchisees are military veterans. We'd like to see that number grow even higher. Veterans are some of our best and most successful club operators."

Tee It Up for the Troops will accept online applications from March 16 to May 1, 2015. (Click here for more information.) Among other key criteria, interested veterans must have "a passion for fitness and community engagement."

"We are looking for candidates who are eager to help others lead healthier lifestyles and who continue to serve and support the U.S. military and its veterans," says Tim Wegscheid, president of Tee It Up for the Troops. The program’s first opportunity is for an Anytime Fitness gym in Fayetteville, NC, near Fort Bragg. Selected franchisees will determine the precise location of each of their gyms – some may be near military installations, some not.

Anytime Fitness also will waive its initial franchise fee and ongoing royalty payments for franchisees selected for the program. The company says the selection committee will give special consideration to veterans with service-related disabilities.

"The unemployment rate for military veterans is significantly higher than the national average," says Chuck Runyon, CEO of Anytime Fitness. "That's just not right. Our hope is that this program will not only help veterans operate their own businesses, but also provide jobs for other vets as club managers and personal trainers for many years to come."

The first Operation Heartfirst recipient will be selected by June 1; the first club opening under the program is expected by the end of 2015.