There is an endless number of ways to decorate the exterior of your home. Maybe you like a bed of flowers or out-of-season Christmas lights along the gutters. But there’s one popular decorative trend that does a lot more than make your front yard aesthetically pleasing.

People all across America have been illuminating their porches with light bulbs — specifically, green ones. And while this unique choice may look like a trend left over from past St. Patrick’s Day, its true purpose is to send a vital message to anyone who sees it.

In November of 2015, Matthew Shuldham of Staten Island, New York, ventured to his local Home Depot looking for something that would catch his neighbors’ attention: a light bulb. More specifically, a green light bulb.

Matthew Shuldham / Facebook; Evelin / Flickr

It should have been a simple process, but the hardware store didn’t have a single green bulb in stock. In fact, nearly every Home Depot in the area had sold out of green light bulbs completely. But why?

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A cashier at one of the stores said, “Several people had come in and bought them all out.” Indeed, it seemed there was some sort of green-light trend spreading across the country…

U.S Air Force

Matthew was actually trying to participate in a country-sweeping event sponsored by Walmart, it was meant “to establish visible national support for those who have sacrificed the most for our country.”

This movement became known as ‘Greenlight A Vet’ and since Matthew’s father was an American Marine in the 1970s and ’80s, he felt that changing a single porch light bulb to green was the perfect way to honor his father. But why green?

Department of Defense

“Green is the color of hope, renewal, and well-being,” the Greenlight A Vet website stated. “‘Greenlight’ is also a term commonly used to activate forward movement.” Makes sense, but there was something more…

The explanation continued: “The simple gesture of changing one light to green creates a beacon of support and a visible symbol of our commitment to ‘greenlight’ veterans forward as valued members of our communities.”

Alabama Today

Matthew wasn’t alone in wanting to participate in this admirable mission. The GreenLight campaign tracked online “acts of support,” and as of April 2018, the total exceeded nine million!

Greenlight a Vet

One of those green lights belonged to veteran Wilmer Warren of Greenville, North Carolina. He didn’t just buy bulbs for himself, either; he bought some for his neighbors, too, hoping to bring them into the campaign.

WNCT-TV 9 On Your Side / YouTube

“I think they’ll pick up on it,” Wilmer said of his neighbors, “and realize that there needs to be participation.” But with green lights popping up all over the country, that begs an important question: how do the actual troops feel about all of this?

WNCTV-9 On Your Side / YouTube

After all, in America, there are already plenty of ways we honor the troops: cities regularly host parades, restaurants often offer discounted meals, and charities in every state raise funds to help service members everywhere. Is a green light bulb really going to make an impact?

Scott M. Ash / U.S. Air Force

North Carolina’s WNCT News sought to answer that question when they visited the home of Shaun Dezern, a wounded warrior, active duty sailor, husband, and father. He had a lot to say about the green bulbs.

WNCTV-9 On Your Side / YouTube

“With what’s going on in the world today, we’re going to be asked to [go to war] for a long time, and we need more than just a thank you,” Shaun said. “We don’t get to leave behind what we saw, what we did.”

WNCTV-9 On Your Side / YouTube

The veteran elaborated on his three tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan: “I was shot once in the knee, through and through,” he said. “And once in the shoulder, through and through.” And that wasn’t even the worst part of his time overseas…

WNCTV-9 On Your Side / YouTube

“A good buddy who was sitting right next to me was killed,” Shaun said. “I came home. It’s been a long journey home.” Since his return, Shaun has spent hours in the hospital undergoing intensive surgeries.

WNCTV-9 On Your Side / YouTube

And those green lights? Seeing a green light out when you’re driving, whether it’s in an office building or a neighborhood— it’s support,” he said. “I see the green light, and I see ‘fight for me.’ I mean, that’s our promise, right?”

WNCTV-9 On Your Side / YouTube

For Shaun, seeing a green light meant someone out there was fighting for him the way he fought for the country. Even his wife Stephanie appreciated the bulbs. “It’s so nice to see him light up every time he sees one.”

WNCTV-9 On Your Side / YouTube

The trauma of war — something veterans like Shaun, Wilmer, and Matthew’s father faced — affects every soldier in their own way. Some return home with physical injuries while others suffer from PTSD, which is why this effort is so vital.

Master Sgt. Jonathan Dyer / U.S. Air Force

That’s why it was so important for the Greenlight A Vet campaign to let regular citizens support returning soldiers. For just a few dollars, homeowners could let passing veterans know someone appreciates their work.

andrewdecker539 / Instagram

Unfortunately, not every man or woman who has served or is serving receives the love and support they deserve. Army medic Luis Ocampo of Charlotte, North Carolina, and his girlfriend Kailey Finch know this all too well…

Kailey Finch / Facebook

Luis served in the North Carolina National Guard, and in September 2018, duty called him into action. Hurricane Florence hit the coast, flooding cities and destroying homes. The Guard deployed Luis to the riverfront city of New Bern, which the storm hit particularly hard.

Anella Jane / MNN

While Luis and his local soldiers navigated the storm’s aftermath, helping anyone who needed water, food, or what have you, 20-year-old Kailey and their young son Lucian headed for a place they would feel safer without Luis around.

The National Guard

Specifically, she took her soon to Luis’s parents’ house so she wouldn’t be alone for days. She left the family dog at home, where she checked in on him periodically. For a few days, the family lived like this — away from home and apart.

Kailey Finch / Facebook

On September 21, Luis returned home from his brief stint in New Bern. After helping people piece their lives back together, he expected at least a few hours for himself. But once at home, he did not receive a hero’s welcome.

Luis Ocampo / Facebook

With Kailey still at his parents’ house, Luis arrived at home only to be greeted by a curious sight: the dog — who’d been home all by himself — was running around in the front yard.

Flickr

Even more curious was that the backdoor had been left wide open. Either the dog taught himself a new trick and opened the door himself, or some one who should not have opened that back door. Gulp.

Most telling of all, however, was that the window in his son’s bedroom was propped open: someone busted the lock with a nearby shovel and crawled into the home! They weren’t still inside were they?

Luis Ocampo / Facebook

Luis entered his house through the wide-open back door and looked around. There was, thankfully, no one still inside the home. But that was just about the only positive the soldier could take away from what he saw.

Luis Ocampo / Facebook

The intruder flung clothes everywhere. They stole a laptop Luis kept all of his school work on; they stole a video game system, a firearm, and even swiped food from the refrigerator! And they didn’t stop there.

Kailey Finch / Facebook

The thieves took a box of coins Luis’s grandmother collected from around the world — something immensely sentimental to the 24 year old. After surveying the damage, all he could do was stick his face in his hands.

Kailey Finch / Facebook

This was how Kailey found her soldier when she returned home. Wanting to do something to help, she turned to Facebook and wrote a status that she didn’t know would eventually change their lives.

Luis Ocampo / Facebook

“This soldier, my soldier,” Kailey wrote, “lost everything of importance…We are trying to get the word out and see if anyone has any information about who may have taken it. Please share and see what we can find out!”

Luis Ocampo / Facebook

A friend of Kailey’s, Mary Elise Capron, saw the post and felt an overwhelming sense of grief for the couple she loved dearly. She’d worked closely with Luis over the years and knew him as “an amazing soldier and person.”

Mary Elise Capron / Facebook

Mary wanted to help, so she set up a GoFundMe. “I am honored to know [Luis],” she wrote, “and cannot believe something so terrible could happen to someone so dedicated to the service, his family, and school.”

Luis Ocampo / Facebook

Mary set a fundraising goal of $5,000. That, she figured, would be plenty to replace the laptop and firearm, and to repair the broke bedroom window. Eventually, donations flooded in…and they wouldn’t stop!

In 11 days, the GoFundMe raised thousands for the couple, who eventually asked Mary to shut down the fundraiser! They were making too much money, they argued, and didn’t “want to abuse people’s generosity.”

But the public actually asked Mary to re-open the fundraiser after she shut it down at the couple’s behest: they wanted to help out this woebegone soldier! This made Luis uncomfortable, so he and Mary worked out another plan.

Mary Elise Capron; Kailey Finch

Delighted with the public’s enthusiasm to help a soldier in need, Luis, Kailey, and Mary redirected new donations to Soldiers and Airmen Assistance Fund, which helps local Guardsmen facing hardships.

North Carolina National Guard / Flickr

The couple even gave some of the donation money — which totaled nearly $15,000! — to a soldier who’d been living in a hotel after a Hurricane Florence brought a tree down on his home. Luis and Kailey turned a disaster into a positive moment.

“A big part of wanting to give the donations comes from seeing how generous people have been,” Luis said. “And I wanted to pay that back to someone else who needed help.”

Kailey Finch / Facebook