PCSing has its own set of problems—finding a new home, forwarding mail, helping kids cope with new schools and new friends, waiting on household goods to arrive.
But for Yvonne Coombes, a completely unique problem hovered over her recent PCS to Fort Eustis. Along with packing up her family’s typical household goods, Coombes was also responsible for relocating hundreds of dresses from Operation Deploy Your Dress (which safely arrived at Fort Eustis before she did).
Operation Deploy Your Dress was conceived at Fort Bliss in 2015, the result of Coombes and her friends—the co-founders—realizing that the logistics of attending a ball can be stressful for junior enlisted families; buying tickets, finding gowns and accessories, and possibly hiring babysitters can lead to one very expensive night out.
To help solve this problem, the ladies’ original solution was to support a few units by donating formal wear to be given away free of charge. Fourteen months later, what started out as “a few units” became three military installations and a pop-up shop.
Operation Deploy Your Dress is a non-profit that enables any DoD ID card holder to pick a dress (or male formal wear) for a formal event once per year. Operation Deploy Your Dress does not discriminate by rank but there is tiered distribution, enabling junior enlisted spouses to choose their gowns first.
Even though the dresses are given away, Coombes stated that the program is very self-sustaining, with people returning their dresses and often donating others.
Dresses have been shipped in from other states and countries, from both military families and civilians, as people recognize the need and their own ability to support it.
“It’s so rewarding to do something that’s so ‘no strings attached,’” Coombes said, adding that one recipient was able to attend her first ball in 13 years of being a military spouse.
As the original co-founders have PCSed, Operation Deploy Your Dress has expanded from Fort Bliss to also include Fort Eustis and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with one of the co-founders creating a collection location at West Point to serve an upcoming event and hold inventory for the other locations.
There are plans to expand to Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, and Fort Campbell, though Coombes notes that the group is in no rush and wants to do the job well rather than quickly as they get their name out there (spreading the word and volunteering are also appreciated).
“I’m not a girly girl at all, so to be ‘the dress girl’ is a little bit weird,” Coombes said.
Check out Operation Deploy Your Dress’s pop-up event in Arlington, VA April 29-30 at AUSA Headquarters and find Operation Deploy Your Dress on Facebook at facebook.com/operationdeployyourdress. Donations can be made to the addresses included below.
Fort Bliss Spouses’ Association
Operation Deploy Your Dress
|Joint Base Lewis-McChord
Lewis Community Spouses’ Club
Correction: April 15, 2017
An earlier version of this blog post stated that over 5,000 dresses were PCSed; over 5,000 have been received since Operation Deploy Your Dress’ inception but only a few hundred were moved from Fort Bliss to Fort Eustis. Also, an earlier version of this blog post stated that Operation Deploy Your Dress has a location at West Point; a co-founder is located at West Point and collects inventory but there is no physical location at the time of this blog post.