GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Eric Nelson is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He served in the Navy as a cook on a 300-foot-long boat known as an LST, a Landing Ship Tank, that supported operations from the DMZ to the delta.

“I had the luxury of working 12 hours a day seven days a week at night doing all the baking for the 150 to 160 people on the ship,” said Nelson.

Now a half century removed from combat, Nelson’s current mission is to raise awareness about the challenges faced by many veterans, and the resources that are available to help.

“We have veterans out there that have kind of slipped through the cracks. They might not give the right answers to the VA and that slows thing down,” he said.

Connecting vets in need to critical resources has long been a challenge for members of the military. It has been said that veterans are often the most camouflaged when they arrive home from service.

Next month, a new program in Kent County launches called Operation Greenlight. ‘Greenlight’ is a term often used to describe forward progress. The new initiative is designed to recognize veterans in our communities and get them the help they need.

Rachel Wustman of Kent County Veterans Services said the need is apparent.

“‘Falling through the cracks,’ unfortunately we have heard that phrase often here at Veterans Services,” said Wustman.

Kent County Veterans Services says veterans have different hurdles in the struggle to find the resources they need. Program coordinators feel a national effort like Operation Greenlight can better empower and connect communities and veterans through an efficient transition process.

“It’s unfortunate. Assets are sometimes a barrier, sometimes it’s hard to make that phone call to get things started, especially if you’re dealing with depression or a physical ailment,” said Wustman.

As part of Operation Greenlight’s rollout, the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids will be illuminated green during the week of Nov. 11 for Veterans Day. On the night of the Veteran’s Day parade, those on the route will be given green glow sticks to show both appreciations, and to let veterans know help is available.

“The basis of the Greenlight initiative is to bring the plight of the veterans out in the public. I firmly believe we have to help them anyway we can,” said Nelson.

More information and help can be found at