The family dog wags his tail so hard his whole body shakes; the kids turn off the Xbox and jump with joy. Then the spouse comes in for that tearful, happy hug: a soldier returning home from service is a triumphant, picturesque affair — one that’s nearly magic. Or, at least it should be.
When one National Guardsmen returned to his home after a dangerous stint of hurricane relief, he probably anticipated that lovely magical moment: the happy dog, the elated son, and the tearful girlfriend. Instead, however, he noticed some things about his house were not quite right…
Army medic Luis Ocampo lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his girlfriend Kailey Finch and their son Lucian. Luis served in the North Carolina National Guard, and in September 2018, duty called him into action.
Hurricane Florence, a Category 1 storm, smacked the coast with heavy winds and torrential rain, flooding cities and destroying homes. The Guard deployed Luis to the riverfront city of New Bern, which the storm hit particularly hard.
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 Lucian headed for a place they would feel safer without Luis around.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
This was how Kailey found her soldier when she returned home. Wanting to dosomething to help, she turned to Facebook and wrote a status that she didn’t know would eventually change their lives.
“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!”
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.”